You don’t need an MBA, just a tolerance for risk.


By Jenny Hoff, Photo by Brooke Lark

If you’re inspired by this month’s cover woman, Neha Sampat, who started a company in her living room that has now grown to more than 330 employees, you may be wondering how you could start your own enterprise.

There are many types of businesses you can start. Maybe you have a product you want to develop and test out in the market, or you can offer a service that you know others need. Perhaps you just want to have more control over your own financial destiny, but you’re fresh out of ideas for what to do. No matter what it is, you have options. Here are some ways to get started.

Write it down.

The first step to turning an idea into reality is writing it down. Numerous studies have shown breaking down your goal into small, achievable actions is one of the most effective ways to follow through on what you want to achieve. As Sampat’s MBA professor told her, “Never underestimate the power of clearly written expectations.”

Start small.

When Ann Hegarty and Becky Carpenter, co-founders of the Hill Country Galleria boutique Bokabuku, wanted to start a clothing shop that would provide classy, trendy clothes to a more mature market, they didn’t immediately start looking for retail space. They started with pop-ups out of Carpenter’s home, sourcing clothes from trade shows and selling enough to just cover their costs. “The pop-ups got us a small following; then private parties expanded it. The farmers’ market built even more,” says Hegarty. “So, when we opened up the shop we had people who recognized us.” With this plan, they were able to build a customer base before committing too much of their own money into their idea.

Consider a franchise.

If you don’t have a pressing business idea that you want to get off the ground, or you’re daunted by the idea of handling branding, marketing and accounting, a franchise could be an excellent option. Franchises allow you to run your business, and while you’ll pay a franchise fee, the company will help with the backend system. If it’s already a known brand that does marketing, you’ll be able to concentrate on just running a good shop, with happy employees and customers. Apricot Lane is a new boutique, just a few doors down from Bokabuku, run by a mother and daughter who saw the same shop in Houston and called about franchising. In this case, they invested in and chose all the merchandise, but for a fee they get to use Apricot Lane’s name, branding and consulting services.

Consider scale.

There is a difference between providing a service that you charge for by the hour, like copywriting or consulting, and starting a business that can scale. As you write out a business plan, consider how you could eventually automate your service so that every penny doesn’t depend on your presence. For example, Natalie Sisson, author of The Suitcase Entrepreneur, started her business giving classes on how to effectively use social media. She eventually built enough name recognition that she created pre-taped classes and course materials people could buy and download from her site. Before she knew it, she was making money literally as she slept (in rental properties around the world).

Starting a business isn’t simple, but it’s not as hard as you may think. You don’t need an MBA or even necessarily a great idea, just a good work ethic, some guts and determination.



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