• June 2013

Lean in or Get Out: 11 Tips for Using Your Expertise to Create a Wickedly Successful Business

By Vickie Milazzo
“Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman”

­Long, relentless workdays. Stagnant wages. And uncertainty­. Will you get that promotion you’ve been working crazy hours to get, or will it go to the boss’ favorite? Will you even have a job next year at this time? In corporate America, you can stay late, schmooze with the higher ups, put your all into every project, and there’s still no guarantee that you’ll land on top.

So it makes sense that many women are reluctant to make a focused effort to lead in the workplace. What to do to take charge of your success?

Get out! When you’re bright and talented, you can make your own way by starting your own business.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the message behind Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” is good. But for some women, corporate America just isn’t and never will be a good fit.

Sandberg has famously said that she leaves the office every day at 5:30. But for most women (and men) trying to work their way up in today’s companies, that just isn’t a realistic choice. Particularly if they want to get promoted, get a raise, or even just stay off the chopping block when layoffs are made. What’s lacking for many women working in corporate America is control, control over their own destiny.

And it just so happens that now is a great time for women to be going out on their own. A recent American Express OPEN study shows that women-owned businesses are playing a significant role in job creation (second only to publicly traded companies) and that the number of women-owned businesses has increased by 59 percent since 1997.

It’s advice I have taken myself.

In 1982, I didn’t like the direction my life had taken. A registered nurse with a bachelor’s and master’s degree and six years of hospital work under my belt—I wasn’t happy. I still wanted to be a nurse, but on my own terms. So I applied my nursing expertise to a completely different industry and built a multimillion-dollar company.

Of course, starting your own business doesn’t mean you’re going to leave long work days in the past. In fact, you may even be trading in a 60-hour work week for an 80-hour work week. But here’s the thing: you’ll know where you’re going to end up. And yes, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. But I don’t know many women who are afraid of that. And since I’m going to be working hard my whole life, I might as well be working hard for myself!

Here’s how:

  • Don’t be bridled by your job title. When it comes to thinking about what kind of business you should start, job titles are too limiting. What are your actual areas of expertise? How could they be transitioned into a low-cost business?
  • Follow the right path for you. When people think of starting a business, often they dream of coming up with the next Google or Facebook and becoming billionaires. But really there are two distinct paths to take when thinking about the kind of business you want to create. One is inventing something that’s never been done before. The other is starting a more conventional business, such as becoming a consultant, opening a franchise, or starting a retail business.
  • Learn from the best. Observe what other businesses are doing. Explore areas that show growth potential, and look to see what need you can cover that isn’t currently being filled in your market. Find a successful company similar to the one you envision owning, and study how it started and how it grew.
  • Get the basics right. Will starting your own business be rewarding, exciting, and maybe even fun at times? Sure, absolutely. But it won’t be easy. You’ll have to get a lot right to make it work. If you can get some basics right, right out of the gate, you’ll be off to a strong start.
  • Put it on paper. You can think about your business idea all day, but until you really get it all down on paper you can’t truly see where the strengths lie and what holes need to be filled. Writing out your business plan is the best way to think through everything.
  • Form strategic alliances. The saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” But really it’s about knowing the right people. If you don’t know them, you’re going to have to do some networking to form the strategic alliances necessary to keep your business moving forward.
  • Put together a power team. Don’t seek out just one mentor or take advice from just one person. Everyone you meet has the potential to be a mentor. The big advantage today is that a mentor doesn’t have to be a physical person. Tons of books, websites, blogs, podcasts, etc., out there offer great advice. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to connect with people far and wide who know what you need to know.
  • Know that everything is marketing and marketing is everything. Having a great idea for a business is one thing, but if you can’t figure out a way to sell it to everyone else, you’ll be stuck. Marketing is complicated. It can be easier and cheaper because you can do a lot with social media for free. But because it’s so easy, practically everyone and their mother are taking a piece of the marketing pie. So, it can be difficult to get the attention of potential customers.
  • Keep evaluating along the way. You’re absolutely going to hit obstacles along the way. That’s just the nature of business ownership. But you can use each obstacle to improve your business. Evaluate what’s happening at each roadblock. Why did it pop up? If customers don’t seem as thrilled about your product as you thought they’d be, why is that? Maybe you’ve packaged it in the wrong way. Or maybe you’re targeting the wrong demographic.
  • Beware of “great” bad ideas. A caveat to the previous tip is that sometimes things just aren’t working because your “great” idea is a bad business idea. No matter how much you chase after a bad business idea or how much blood, sweat, and tears you put into trying to make it work, at some point you have to realize it just won’t.
  • Expect icebergs. No enterprise is unsinkable; the Titanic sank its first time out. Businesses fail. But when your enterprise has a solid foundation, and when you run it like an experienced CEO, only an enormous iceberg can knock you off course.

This is a great time for women business owners. If you’re tired of staying late at the office for a promotion you might never get, if you have a vision that just can’t be fulfilled sitting in a cubicle all day, if you’d rather be sweating it out at your own catering business than in a C-Suite office with a view, I strongly recommend you exit the corporate world. Walk out the revolving door of your office building and start your own business. If leaning in just doesn’t appeal to you, then get out!

Inc. Top 10 Entrepreneur Vickie L. Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD is the author of The New York Times bestseller, “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman.” In 1982 Milazzo pioneered the field of legal nurse consulting for registered nurses. She has appeared on national TV and radio as an expert on entrepreneurship, career advancement and legal nurse consulting. Milazzo’s television appearances include ABC, CBS, FOX & Friends, NBC, Bloomberg TV and many others. She was also a contributor to the National Public Radio program, “This I Believe®.”

Check out Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman.

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