Stephanie Zamora Schilling says focus is critical, especially for startup businesses.
“My favorite saying is he who chases two rabbits doesn’t eat – which as entrepreneurs is hard,” she said.
The keys to a successful startup include careful research and detailed planning and preparation before taking the plunge and walking away from the 9-to-5, she said.
“The myth is that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. … I would argue that successful entrepreneurs are researchers,” she said.
Zamora Schilling was among several speakers Friday morning at a Mid-Continent Public Library small-business boot camp. Seats were filled and many stood for breakout sessions with topics that ranged from “Telling Your Business Story” to “How Do I Know it’s Time to Grow?” The city of Blue Springs, Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Springs Economic Development Corp. were among the sponsors of the free event, and groups such as University of Missouri Extension had information available.
The boot camp drew 69 visitors – the best showing yet in Eastern Jackson County for an event the library holds about three times a year through its Square One program.
Zamora Schilling walked a roomful of people through “From Employee to Entrepreneur,” with some of the nuts and bolts of getting your own business going.
She rattled off question after question that someone starting a new business has to face: How much can you invest? How long can you make it without a paycheck?
“The startup phase is brutal,” she said. “It’s tough, especially when you’re leaving your day job.”
More questions: Where are your spouse and family with all of this? How much are you willing to dip into savings or retirement funds? How much can household costs be cut? Who has the power to say enough is enough is enough and it’s time to go back and get a day job?
“You want to know those things ahead of time,” she said.
And she stressed preparation.
“After you’ve quit your day job is not the time to take business classes. It’s not the time to develop your logo,” she said.
It’s important to be in a position to start billing from day one and turning a profit early.
“Chain yourself to that desk (at your current job) as long as possible because you want to make sure your planning is complete,” she said.
Zamora Schilling also pointed to a wide variety of resources. Mid-Continent has classes and has specialists in business development. The FastTrac New Venture course can be completed in five Tuesdays. The SCORE program has volunteers with business experience who help entrepreneurs and small businesses.
The library also has extensive information on demographics and industries.
Zamora Schilling said she likes DemographicsNow and referenceUSA. She stressed that it’s important to know the industry – what’s growing, and what’s contracting? – as well as competitors. What are the traditional sales channels?
“If you understand how people traditionally buy, you can sell,” she said.
Mostly, it’s about coming to know your customers and their needs intimately and developing relationships.
“No one likes to be chased,” she said. “No one likes the used-car salesman.”
In another room, Sarah Mote of KCSourceLink discussed social-media strategies. KCSourceLink is a resource that several people on Friday described as valuable for startups.
“We have real people who answer real phones,” Mote said.
As for social media, she stressed the need to update frequently – pictures help, video helps a lot more – but mostly to not use every post and tweet to sell, sell, sell. It’s more important to be authentic and to build a community of people with like interests.
“People respond to people, not brands,” she said.
Successful businesses, she said, are less about a product than the solution to a problem that people face.
“You have to love your problem, and help people solve it,” she said.
When reaching out on social media, it’s not just about today’s clients.
“So really think about your community in broad terms, and how you can build that.” she said.