With the number of minority-owned businesses increasing by almost 46 percent to nearly 6 million since 2002, it’s prime time for corporate climbers who have hit a glass ceiling to enter the entrepreneurs’ circle. “You work your nine-to-five to make a living, then you work your five-to-nine to make your fortune,” says Elon Bomani, author of Dynamic Diva Dollars: For Women Who Aren’t Afraid to Be Millionaires. “Having a side hustle is no longer a choice. In 2011 it’s a necessity.” Before posting a sign that says you’re open for business, take stock of the numbers—from start-up capital to overhead expenses to first-year projections. You also must develop a sound business plan and enlist an A-team of advisers. To help your side hustle blossom, we asked two successful entrepreneurs—a stationery designer and a justice of the peace—how they grew their businesses into thriving ventures. And then we tapped the expertise of business consultant Melinda F. Emerson to up the game of these savvy businesswomen with more strategic advice.
TANEA SMITH, 35
BY DAY: EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
BY NIGHT: STATIONERY DESIGNER
SIDE HUSTLE EARNINGS: $600 PER MONTH
While on maternity leave from her job as an executive assistant in New York City, Tanea Smith developed a business plan for an online stationery boutique, She’s Got Papers (shesgotpapers.com). For seed money, Smith used the $25,000 she and her fiance, James, had saved for their 2007 dream wedding. “By midnight the wedding would have been over,” she explains. “But my business is our future.” Her various card collections—which include a playful line of baby business cards, as well as lines celebrating loving yourself—feature witty catchphrases. The mother of two still has her day job, but is currently negotiating a licensing deal. She would continue to be in charge of creating the designs, but her licensing partner would take control of production, including moving She’s Got Papers beyond stationery and onto pillows, calendars and coasters. “As a business owner, you can’t be so steadfast in your original idea,” says Smith. “The market may demand you tweak it to help your business grow.”
“To become a nationally recognized brand that is sold in stationery stores, hotels, museum gift shops, bed-and-breakfasts, spas and boutiques.”
THE PATH TO SUCCESS
1. Build a professional team.
Smith’s first order of business was hiring an illustrator to execute her designs. Andrew Morrison, president of the New York-based Small Business Camp, advises adding an accountant and an attorney to your team. Smith also consults with business insiders and trusted friends for guidance on everything from pricing to paper quality. To learn more about mentoring programs for entrepreneurs, visit score.org and sba.gov.
2. Switch up the merchandise.
Every item that your company markets is not a winner. In Smith’s case, some of her favorite cards just didn’t click with customers. Be flexible, she warns. If the market dictates, Smith will put favorite items on sale or even discontinue a product.
3. Make every moment count.
By definition, having a successful side hustle means juggling multiple responsibilities. Smith spends six to seven hours a day on her venture. At lunch, she makes conference calls and creates designs. When the kids are asleep, she often manages the business until 1 A.M. Weekends are set aside for fulfilling orders. Morrison recommends using your vacation to attend industry conferences to generate buzz about your business. The Gale Encyclopedia of Associations located in your local library can help you find industry trade groups.
THE EXPERT’S ADVICE
Melinda F. Emerson, founder of MFE Consulting, LLC, a Philadelphia-based small-business consulting firm, gave Smith these tips on how to partner for profit: “Smith survived phase one in business and attracted an investor. Now it’s critical that she consult the right financial adviser and accountant, and find a lawyer who has experience with licensing agreements for small businesses.
“A partner is like a new husband. Smith must make sure that her partnership agreement is written as much in her favor as possible. In addition, she needs to keep creative control, especially since her new partner will have financial control. Any agreement must state clearly who owns the current and future designs when and if the two part ways. In addition, the terms of how the partnership will end must be clear.
“For this intrepid entrepreneur, growing She’s Got Papers into a household name means focusing on a niche customer. Smith should consider developing custom stationery products for direct sales marketers such as real estate brokers or insurance agents. These customers constantly touch base with their clients around birthdays, births and holidays. Nonprofits such as The Salvation Army, which communicate with large donor bases and clients, could also be potential targets.”
CRYSTAL BROWN, 36
BY DAY: EXECUTIVE AT THE AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
BY NIGHT: JUSTICE OF THE PEACE
SIDE HUSTLE EARNINGS: $1,600 PER MONTH
Crystal Brown never imagined having such a hard time finding a minister to perform her wedding ceremony 11 years ago. Frustrated after being turned down a few times because she is Baptist and her husband is a Jehovah’s Witness, Brown applied for a Justice of the Peace (JP) license shortly after she was married. Today, in addition to her fulltime job as an executive for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, Brown marries couples in her home state of Massachusetts. In most states, you don’t need to be a member of the legal community to become a JP, but your application must be accepted by the state, which makes the process competitive. “I feel like marrying couples is my calling,” says Justice Crystal, as she is known. “The fact that the money is good is a bonus.”
“To officiate weddings every weekend, even during the off-season, and to become a full-time justice of the peace when I retire.”
THE PATH TO SUCCESS
1. Establish an online presence.
Before you can sell anything you have to tap into a community of interested buyers. Setting up her Web site, justicecrystal.com, provided Brown with a constant flow of requests from couples. Morrison also recommends leveraging social media, and advises ambitious entrepreneurs to set up Facebook groups instead of a Facebook page, as the former allows you to better communicate with your customer base.
2. Network strategically.
Don’t be afraid of riding a related business’s coattails when starting out. For instance, Brown avoids expensive vendor entry fees by simply registering as an attendee at bridal fairs. She then leaves a stack of business cards at each wedding vendor’s table, if allowed. That way when couples book wedding services, the vendors can recommend Brown’s services as an officiant.
3. Create a profitable niche.
The right business strategy should maximize what you can do with the time you have. Brown spends only four hours a week booking dates, making phone calls and tracking down new business, but can easily earn $400 in a weekend. To differentiate her services, she’s written more than 40 ceremonies for couples to choose from, and wisely partnered with a popular local wedding destination—a butterfly conservancy—to become its official JP.
THE EXPERT’S ADVICE
Small-business guru Emerson offers Brown smart strategies for growing her business: “Brown’s Web site is her greatest asset other than her expertise, but she must increase its functionality. She could add a public calendar feature so that brides will know her availability. Giving clients the ability to pay and schedule themselves on her calendar will reduce administrative tasks. She could integrate a free calendar system from tungle.com or plancast.com.
“One of the most compelling things about Brown is her personal story about finding someone to marry her and her husband. For maximum success, she should update her Web site with a blog feature to share her story and offer visitors tips on nuptial dos and don’ts. Offering a free wedding etiquette e-book for groomsmen and bridesmaids on her site is another good move.
“To generate contacts, she could create an e-mail marketing list by joining groups on Facebook for brides, especially in Massachusetts. Facebook groups are also great for publishing links to blog posts. This JP has created scripts for 40 different types of services. She might consider selling those to other officiants and ministers. She should also investigate if she could earn referral fees from the wedding venues promoted on her site.”