Happy New Year! I hope you are had a warm and relaxing winter break and an energizing and productive start to the year. I’m starting the new year with some in-person mentorship and speaking events that I’m very excited about.

Big January Happenings

  1. WBEC DMV SAGE Program – I am mentoring for this program, powered by Capital One, and it kicked off with an in person meeting last week! When I was first starting my business, two people I spoke to were SAGE mentors and one became my first client. I feel truly honored to be able to give back during this 6 month program.
  2. Dressed for Success DC – Speaking of when I started my business, I also have the opportunity to speak for Dressed for Success in DC this weekend.  In terms of mission, mine could not be more aligned with Dressed for Success. From their website, the mission of Dress for Success Washington, DC is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.

Last year, I had the opportunity through WPO to attend the NAWBO and WPO National Day of Service where I connected with Susan Kyles. She asked me to talk to her clients about entrepreneurship and things to keep in mind when starting a business. Putting together my presentation reminded me of all the lessons I learned and mistakes I’ve made over the past 5 years in business so I wanted to share a few of those here.

Starting up Dos

  1. Do the free stuff first -This is advice I give to anyone starting out. The information out there is so abundant and overwhelming and when it comes to small business owners, there are plenty of companies out there taking advantage of a business owner’s anxiety about what they don’t know.

Certification is a great example; people come to me saying they hear that diverse business certifications can cost $20,000 and take up to 3 years. Not so! But I do know that the  minute I registered my business with SAM.gov, I immediately got hundreds of emails making wild claims.

For this reason, I’m always willing to talk to business owners -for free – about what their options are. I will also direct them to the resources that can help them, for free.

For example

Another example is getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.  This tells the government that you are a separate taxable entity and allows you to provide a W9 to clients without your social security number on it. There’s probably more to it but that’s the basics. I’m embarrassed to say I actually paid for an EIN when I set up my company through a widely known incorporation service. Getting an EIN is free! You simply apply directly through the IRS. But I was lured in. If I had gone to a women’s business center or other free service designed to help startups, they would have told me that, too.

2. Do hire experts

Once you’ve exhausted the free services, get the help of an expert that’s right for you. When I started my business I was acutely aware of all the things I wasn’t doing. I threw money at problems which required entirely different solutions. At one particularly frustrating point, I followed a Facebook ad to a woman who promised to solve all my problems and on the basis of those recommendations ended up purchasing a wildly expensive CRM which promised to do it all.

Reader, it did not in fact, do it all.

I blame neither the ad, nor the woman, nor the CRM. I just wasn’t ready for it. As the sainted head of my marketing team at SocialLight , Nicole Krug, put it, “You bought the corvette before you had a driver’s license.” I am still with Nicole and no longer use that CRM.

3. Do surround yourself with other entrepreneurs.  No one will understand what you’re going through like other entrepreneurs. A recent study shows that most people start their companies for freedom and passion, not for money. But even this passion needs to be stoked . Surrounding yourself with other business owners who understand what you’re going through will be very important to find vendors, mentors, and even just people to vent to.

I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family and even after supporting entrepreneurs for decades, never saw myself starting my own company. It was not until my need for freedom and flexibility along with a passion for creating a solution I knew entrepreneurs needed made starting my company the only option. My husband runs his business which was a huge advantage. I also benefitted from organizations of other business owners who help me with my books, marketing, innovation, solutions for clients and, most importantly, the encouragement to keep going.

These are only a few things I plan to share with the Dressed for Success group this weekend. I look forward to letting you know how it goes.

Since it’s the first month of the year, here’s a preview of some items you’ll be hearing about in Q1.

  1. WBENC Conference in March – The conference has moved from June to March this year. I’ve been told we’ll be going back to the June schedule but I think it’s perfect timing for WBEs to reach out and start the year off right. Also, we’ll be in Nashville and I can’t get enough of live music so I can’t wait.
  2. Sustainability – Last year, I started offering a course about B Corp certification which turned out to be excellent timing because WBENC Corporate members are very focused on how diverse suppliers can help them meet their sustainability goals. Now Diversity Masterminds offers a Master Class in Creating a Sustainability Statement to meet the need of corporate members and suppliers. I’m also planning to become B Corp certified this year and looking forward to learning from that process.