I believe that there is no better way for a woman to succeed than to have her own business.
I went through the information technology revolution and was on the bleeding edge of both technology and the acceptance of women in the workplace.
I left the corporate world after 35 years with my self-esteem in tatters and reputation tarnished.
Why? I had written a book in which I discussed:
- Women in the workplace
- My path-breaking case in the State of New York Human Rights Commission on behalf of all my women colleagues worldwide
- How to cover your butt if you are being discriminated against, sexually harassed, and denied equal job opportunity
After 30 years of successfully climbing the ladder near to the top as I could go, I gave up the quest to break the glass ceiling amidst a lawsuit against the company I loved working for. I put “SuperWomen Do IT Less” (First Edition 1992) into the closet, and became my own boss.
It had never been my dream to own my own business and become an entrepreneur. But when I felt as if I was under assault in my position as an account executive and global account manager for the largest oil company in the world, I knew I had to do something for myself and my family’s well-being.
I became an entrepreneur.
How do you begin to become self-sufficient and use your innate abilities to build your own company? It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, education, and a willingness to focus on the long term.
While working full time, the first thing I did on my quest to have my own business was to take a course on entrepreneurship at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX. A friend recommended it to me, and it was the single most important thing I did on my journey as a business owner and operator. It taught me the most important thing: How to prepare a business plan and work that plan.
I decided to buy a small, boutique hotel like one I used to stay at near Cupertino, CA, where I often went for business. It had 21 rooms with a suite that had a conference room for small meetings with my clients. I used it for presenting new products and negotiations for future business. The hotel also offered a buffet dinner in the evening, an open bar for the guests to help themselves, and a huge cookie jar that you could raid at any time, day or night. Our customer service was terrific.
Once you decide what you want to do, you have to do your homework. To do that, you must go to school to learn the essentials for the type of business you want to have. One course that is invaluable to any business owner is accounting—you must know your numbers every day!
Choose the industry you want to be in, and then figure out your expected expenses and the level of income you’ll need to get into that business. Decide where you want to live and work, how much money you will need, and where to get it. It may take all your savings and lots of guts to put it all on the line.
I took a course on innkeeping through a company in Florida, found through online searches and reviews. Not only did I learn a lot about the ups and downs of the hospitality industry from David Caples of Elizabeth Point Lodge, Fernandina Beach, Florida, but I also made a great friend.
Through his class, I learned what to expect as far as occupancy, cost of goods, insurance, taxes, real estate needs, and more. It helped me put together a business plan that was realistic and not just numbers thrown together. The course also brought in experts in the field who provided insight as to what could be expected from this type of business.
Find the right location
Some of the parameters I had for my new business location included things I knew benefited me in my years of sales and marketing out of Dallas:
- An airport within 25 miles. As someone who sold computers and covered a five-state territory, this was very important for work. It would also be important for guests flying in from other countries and state.
- A business community with diversity. Sports, industry, healthcare, arts, and leisure all make for good tourist and business traffic. Purchasing my inn coincided with the purchase of Nations Bank by Bank America. It provided me three guests each week from Sunday to Friday for almost a year.
- An area with attractions and beaches. Sports stadiums, amusement parks, recreation facilities, and great weather—all good things for annual events and visitors.
- A marketing area within a three- to four-hour drive. Weekend visitors supplement business travelers. Generating newspaper coverage was essential for getting people from West Palm Beach on the East Coast to St. Petersburg on the West Coast.
If you were to choose a business to buy strictly on your liking coffee or tea or exotic pets without educating yourself on each of those industries, your chances of success would be limited by your lack of knowledge about your marketing potential.
I hired David Caples as my consultant for the purchase of an inn in Florida, and he introduced me to a realtor who showed me properties for sale.
I did my research, prepared my business plan, and sent it to several financial companies for financing. I got an SBA loan and purchased my business within months of beginning my search.
Learn from your mistakes and successes
The first year of my business was a loss. I learned some great lessons in the first year:
- No matter how much you plan, you cannot account for unforeseen events that have a negative impact on your business through no fault of your own.
- Believe in yourself. Be cautious but do not be afraid to go all-in for your business. If you do your homework, you will make decisions that sometimes may be wrong, but they result will be a valuable experience.
- If you hire a consultant, listen to what he or she is telling you and do not think you are so special that you can go against history. David taught me in class that the inn had to be at least 11 rooms to make a profit. I bought an inn with six rooms and it took three years before we were able to make any money. We bought the home next door and added six more guest rooms and lots more space.
- Know your competition. Everything has to be sold and your product will have competitors. They will share your markets. Know who they are and what they offer and, if they are really great, find out why. If you have a great business, others will emulate it. Welcome it!
- Do not use your own money to buy or support your business. Arrange a line of credit with your merchant bank and use that money to support your expenses. You have to be able to handle the ups and downs. When 9/11 happened, we had finished our most profitable year in 2000. Our business was on the market. Suddenly, all travel for business was canceled for months. We had many cancellations. But, we had a line of credit that covered us for all the time we needed.
- Spending money on advertising even before you open your business. As you grow, continue to add an increase in your budget for advertising every year. Do not let up when you think things are great. Nothing will help you grow your business more than advertising. Research and know your target audience. This is essential for any business. Even if you feel the pinch, continue to put the money in media that provides customers.
- Know where your business is coming from. Track your business clients through a software application that is applicable. This data is the company jewels used to target marketing where you get the most return for your dollars. The bigger the market, the more you need to spend.
- Support your local tourism bureau or other organization that supports your industry. Volunteer to work shows and booths and provide support for projects that benefit the community.
- Computerize all of your business activities through an application program; i.e., we had a property management application that kept track of all our guests and everything associated with that guest: income, visits, company, referrals, particulars, and all reservations for all years. When I sold the business, I could show our average daily rate and all income (including cash) and expenses per guest/property for the entire length of our business. This is essential for you to have to sell your business and to put together the plan you will need to sell it.
- Build your community relationships. Through partnerships with companies such as Off-shore Sailing School, NOAA, Bank of America, The Piper Clinic, and other local and national businesses and hotels, we were able to build substantial weekday business by setting aside rooms on a weekly basis at special rates for corporate clients and have the ability to provide the large hotel neighbors with rooms at any time day or night when they had overbooked.
- Support your local non-profits. We would provide rooms for visiting judges for the local art festival, paid musicians for special concerts, and we provided rooms to be auctioned off at fundraisers. These donations led to guests visiting our city for special exhibits or fundraisers. Once, it resulted in a visit by the photographer Clyde Butcher; another time, the chairman of the board of one of the largest stock brokerage firms in the U.S. came.
- Hire help and train them to be great at what they do. I used to pay my housekeepers several dollars more than the local hotels. They worked from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. or so and had to be there seven days per week. They were given commissions when they answered the door or phone and booked a guest. Give them health insurance even if you can only pay a portion of it. Have a payroll company do all of the taxes and insurance and you will save yourself time and money by not having to do it yourself. Plus, if you outsource these functions, you will never be expected to advance an employee pay if they receive their check from the payroll company.
- Have a bookkeeper and a CPA. Use an accounting software application so that you can provide your CPA with your financials as often as needed. If you have a company that takes in a lot of cash, make sure that you put it into your books. If you don’t, when you want to sell your business, you will be hard pressed to prove your success.
- Pay yourself. Pay your FICA. This will beef up your social security retirement fund. Do not underestimate the value of having social security when you are 65 years old even if you make millions in your business. You worked for it!
- Have policies and procedures in place on how you run your business. Have insurance and legal documents in place before you open your doors. Make sure that your customers know what is expected of them when they give you their business, as well as what they can expect from you. It is essential for your company’s future to have professionals work with you on legal and insurance matters. One mistake can result in a loss from which you cannot recover.
- Celebrate your customers with great service and remember to thank them every opportunity you get. Keep your website up-to-date with what is happening in your business and encourage them to comment. Offer them exclusive offers through a special channel. Repeat and referral business is the bread and butter of any company. It can make or break you. If there is a dispute, remember the customer is always right. If the customer is wrong, accept her point of view and let it pass.
I loved my innkeeping business. When I sold it after 10 years, I made a considerable amount of money on the sale and set myself up for the future. When you are an entrepreneur, you are solely responsible for your success or your failure.
You do not need anyone to tell you what to do and how to do it if you get a good start and have done your research. You must love what you are doing every day and have confidence in yourself that you know what you can or cannot do.