Survival Skills for New (and Not So New) Entrepreneurs: Guest

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So you finally decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge! Huzzah!

Whether you triumphantly dropped your resignation letter on to your current boss's desk or were (finally) downsized by that guy, you are excited about starting the company you’ve always dreamed about.

Skipping down the well-worn path of start-up businesses reality starts to sink in. Perhaps it's the first out-of-town conference you attend and there is no corporate-funded limo waiting to take you to the hotel.

Or perhaps you received one too many phone calls and job listings from well-meaning family and friends because “sweetie you know the economy is bad -- I’m just a bit concerned.” As the night wears on, these messages result in a long night of worry, one too many glasses of wine or scoops of ice cream (pick your poison) and a bout of frustration.

So how do new entrepreneurs cope, stay positive, and resist the urge to run back into the seductive, yet flaky arms of corporate America? Executive coach, founder, and managing director of Stewart Management Group, Dr. Mary Stewart-Pellegrini, strongly advises budding business owners to have a plan, work the plan, and be ready and open for opportunities that may come your way. “Don’t just take anything -- but do consider everything,” says Stewart-Pellegrini.

Being no stranger to creating opportunities as a consultant, I realize how challenging, yet rewarding, launching a business can be, so here are some more tips to keep you focused and ready for opportunity:

1. Have a strong financial plan for survival. Panic sets in and bad decisions are made when you are in dire need of money. Pellegrini stresses that you need to understand how much money you need to make given the business you're in, and that your financial plan should include the cost of doing business and reflect the industry you're in. For example, if you're in fashion or marketing/PR, you have to allow for up-to-date clothing in your expenses.

2. Create strategic relationships; get rid of the “expense account/corporate card” mindset. You fund everything, so your money has to go further and be appreciated. Pick two large hotel chains and airline partners and participate in their rewards programs (faithfulness is rewarded with free tickets, stays, and much-needed upgrades). Shopping at a select number of boutiques or with your favorite salespeople at large retailers normally nets VIP customer discounts and pre-sale phone calls so you have first pick of reduced merchandise. Don’t forget to be kind to people. A cheery chat I had with an airline customer service agent resulted in a surprise upgrade to first class, where a fair amount of networking gets done.

3. Build a strong network. “Find successful people who have been business owners in your industry for at least 10 years and get to know them," says Pellegrini. "These are the people who can look at your business plan and give you good advice.”

4. Treat yourself well. Pellegrini suggests a relaxing morning ritual like prayer, meditation and/or exercise, and taking time out to dress for success, as you never know where opportunity may meet you. This means not wearing ripped up sweat pants and faded T-shirts while shopping at Whole Foods.

5. Develop a circle of positive friends that mutually support and advise each other, celebrate wins and examine losses. Keep naysayers at arm’s length.

6. Get your mind right. “Just because you do not have a big contract yet, don’t begin to doubt your abilities,”advises Pellegrini. “If you were capable in corporate America, you have the ability to do well outside the corporate structure. Don’t factor out who you are in the industry.”

7. Take a break to celebrate your hard work and recharge your batteries. Take a weekend trip, go to the spa, play golf… do what makes you happy.

8. Keep a journal of lessons learned. Pellegrini suggests organizing these succinct entries by industry, this way you can track your progress and analyze what was successful (and what was not), and keep abreast of industry nuances and trends.

9. Secure an executive coach for help with planning and unbiased strategic thought.

10. Keep an open mind. Flexibility, innovation, continued learning and the ability to respond to changes in the marketplace has allowed me to flourish as a corporate consultant and freelancer. Gone are the days of solely leaning on traditional ways of doing business. Now, more than ever, innovation and out-of-the box thinking is critical.

Jetta Bates-Vasilatos is founder of Twist Communications and a life stylist with 10+ years of award-winning consumer engagement/strategic planning experience for luxury and global brands like BMW and Coca-Cola. She also serves as an on-air correspondent and writer with a focus on luxury and experiential tourism, lifestyle, sustainability, and personal finance (how to be chic yet savvy). Jetta has appeared on stations such as WCIU-TV, KBS-TV(Korea), ABC-7, CLTV and KBC-TV (Kenya), writes for national print publications such as Essence, Recommend, Ebony and HomeStyle Design and is the host of the Jettasetting segment on WVON radio.

Visit her website, find real-time tips on her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter: @jettaset.

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