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3 start-up tips for aspiring small business owners

February 21, 2014

Serial entrepreneur Adrienne Graham shares her journey of entrepreneurship and offers start-up tips for aspiring business owners.

My name is Adrienne Graham and I’m a serial entrepreneur. Sounds like EA (Entrepreneurs Anonymous) doesn’t it?

I guess I’ve always had the characteristics that entrepreneurs should have. I knew at an early age that I wanted to be my own boss, create jobs for others and control my own destiny. Though my core expertise has been in recruiting, I have evolved over the years and have had a few businesses…some successful, some not so successful. But through it all, I never quit. I began my very first business at 24 years-old while I was a single mom. I had no idea where my path would take me, but I knew that I wanted to build something that allowed me to be present to raise my child and leave a legacy for him. I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. In fact, some of them think I’m out of my mind. But I wouldn’t choose any other path but entrepreneurship. Plus, I get to control my own destiny.

Entrepreneurship should be viewed as another option when planning out your life and career. Believe it or nor, it is a viable option for those who go into it with the right mindset, intent and ability to learn and grow. It truly makes you stretch every muscle you have and use some you weren’t aware that you had. It’s an exercise in patience, perseverance and passion. Trust me, I’ve been tested, told no, failed and hit obstacles far more times than I care to discuss. But I believe in having an authentic brand. And it’s important for me to share my failures as well my successes. For those who do it right, it can mean legacy and opportunity. My success hasn’t been overnight, nor easy. But, I’m glad I chose this journey.

It may not seem like it now, but back at the turn of the last century, being a small business owner was essential and entrepreneurship in the Black community was even more so. There weren’t big corporations and companies with an abundance of jobs like today. People had to rely on their special “thing”, that skill they had that could be turned into a business. To them, it was a way of life and a way to feed the family. I tell my son as well as my community that small business ownership is essential in times like this  where work opportunities are scarce and unemployment is high.

Entrepreneurship used to mean survival. I admire people like the incomparable Madame CJ Walker, the first Black millionaire, who saw a need and created not just income for herself, but also opportunities for others. I believe she ushered in another evolution of entrepreneurship that the likes of Mary Kay Ash took note of during her time. You see, entrepreneurship to me has never been about how much money can I make. It’s been about how can I affect as many people as possible in a positive way and create jobs for others in addition to building a life for myself and a legacy for my child.

It certainly hasn’t been an easy road. Entrepreneurship involves taking risks, making decisions that may sometimes be unpopular and doing things you probably hate. For some people, sales and marketing are extremely scary. For others, it’s raising funding. There will never be an entrepreneur who doesn’t experience some form of setback or obstacle. The more you mentally prepare yourself for it, the more likely you are to succeed. You should get comfortable with asking for help too. Many times entrepreneurs are so prideful they don’t ask for help until it’s too late. I know all to well because that was me once upon a time. I got so big and full of myself at one point, that when I started experiencing struggles I was too ashamed to ask for help. I thought that if people saw I was struggling, they would lose respect for me. That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when you’ve aligned with the right kind of people who want to see you succeed. Needless to say, I wasted a lot of time being caught up in my pride and damaged my business. People want to help. But you have to be open to accepting that help if you want your business to survive and thrive.

Mentoring is important in entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, I believe it’s my duty to give back and bring others up. Sure, we’re all in business to make a profit and to create lives for ourselves that keep us comfortable. Hopefully, until the end. But, I always challenge myself to see how many people I can help in the process. I don’t see me hiring people to do work for me for a paycheck. In my company, it’s about learning and growing. The more I invest in my people, the more they give of themselves to my company. And the more results I deliver for my clients, the better their lives become. So, entrepreneurship is never just about me.

I serve as a mentor for a startup accelerator in Omaha, Nebraska called Straight Shot. I offer advice to up-and-coming entrepreneurs on ways to launch and grow their businesses. This fits in total alignment with my own business, where I consult clients on growth strategies to grow their business in any economy. Being a mentor helps me steer aspiring entrepreneurs in the right direction and give them the guidance I didn’t have when I started out. I don’t regret it because entrepreneurship is my chosen path and the struggles and triumphs I’ve experienced made me into the businesswoman I am today. But, I always said if I had the chance to help others avoid some of the major pitfalls, I would take it. Everyone has to walk their own path. However, I feel established entrepreneurs have a duty to reach back and educate those who come up behind us.

If I could give aspiring small business owners and entrepreneurs three pieces of advice, I’d share what I’ve learned that have been simple, yet impactful.

1) Prioritize: Never chase the money first. If you build the right foundation, get the right people in place, and create great products and services, the money will come. Customer acquisition should be your first priority.

2) Adapt: Never limit yourself to just one version of your plan. Be adaptable because life changes on a dime. Entrepreneurs have to be ready to shift at any given time. If you’re too rigid in your plans, you could end up failing. Be flexible enough to change. A set back doesn’t mean “no”, it means “not right now” or “not this way”.

3) Network with doers. Never hang around people who refuse to move forward. Align yourself with visionaries and game changers who are about forward movement. They are always mindful that what got them here won’t get them there. Use social media to further surround yourself with a power network of people you can leverage and with whom you can return the favor. A real network consists of people you can give to and receive from where everybody is a winner.

I salute the entrepreneurs of the world who are out there taking risks and creating a better life  for themselves and others. Entrepreneurship is something that, while everyone isn’t equipped to be one, should be tried at least once. I’ve done it many times and it never gets old for me. In fact, as you read this, I’m happily working on my next venture!

Adrienne Graham is the Founder & CEO of Empower Me! Corporation (www.empowerme.org), a Growth Strategies consultancy with brand extensions in media, publishing and small business and entrepreneurial education. She provides Strategic Business Growth consulting services to companies with high growth potential to assist clients in creating processes and strategies to effectively run, grow and position their business for success. She helps clients get paid more by giving away less for free, allowing them to be more profitable and NOT be a broke brand. She is the host of Views From the Top Radio Show the publisher of Empower Me! Magazine, and the creator Empower Me Institute, Empower Me! Radio, Empowered for Growth TV and Next Level Business Strategies. Her writing and shows focus on Career Management, Networking Strategies, Entrepreneurial Success and Small Business Management.