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In being a business(wo)man here’s what I know…you make mistakes and learn from them, you work hard when you hardly want to, and you make sacrifices of your personal life that makes you feel out of the loop when folks start talking about good times!  But if you believe in your business venture, like I do, you surrender those insecurities and know that one day, it will all pay off.  

Even though I’m still learning and I’m hoping a year shy of being Fortune’s definition of successful, I came up with a few rules that I would like to share with you.  I’ve had several people mentor me on my business.  And I thank God for magazines like, Entrepreneur & Success, who for less than $10, have provided so much insight from others who’ve already made that cross over into the promised land of success!

Rule #1 – If you’re going into business for yourself or even considering it…go and volunteer your time for any job that challenges you mentally and physically.  The mental and physical labor that you will endure operating your business will immediately decipher if this is truly a passion or something you loved seeing someone else do.  Remember, lots of people do a great job at what they love to do.  However, they may make it look easier than it really is.  Are you capable of working with less than three hours of sleep under your belt?  Are you willing to offer outstanding customer service, even when you know your customer is wrong?  Work for hours, spend all of your money maybe even your savings to invest into what you know has potential success?

Rule #2 – If you’ve decided that this business venture is what you truly want to do, start studying the people that are already good at it.  I immediately began studying Martha Stewart, Dean & Deluca, The Cake Girls (Chicago), Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes), Buddy Valastro (Cake Boss), Georgetown Cupcakes (DC Cupcakes), Crumbs, Sprinkles, and CamiCakes.  Let’s say you’re going into the jewelry business, start studying the designers you love.  These designers are your teachers and it is your assignment to learn as much about how they started, how they operate, who they market, what they make, and what makes them great!  I would even go so far as to even order jewelry from a designer I love to see how it’s mailed, packaged, and created.  I would take it apart and try to put it back together again!  If you haven’t read Steve Jobs biography, I would highly recommend that you do.  I’m a bookworm and I love the Apple brand.  It gives a close look of how Jobs created the Apple brand and made it more than a great product but a pop culture phenom! He was just as attentive of the way it was manufactured as to the way it was designed, packaged, and advertised!

Rule #3 – Test your product!  When I was a teacher, I would oftentimes bring my cakes to school.  While it was always received as a “sweet” gesture, no one ever realized that it was my own focus group session.   I listened to praises, criticisms and suggestion…in an effort to choose the right happy medium for my product!  I would reward my students with cake, and there’s one great thing about kids…they are sincerely honest! Sometimes brutally!  But you have to embrace it because it will only make your product better.  Some people may say, “well I can’t afford to spend money and give my product away!”  You can’t look at it like a quick buck…it’s research…something that most people often skip because all they want is to make money.  If money is driving your passion, you’re more susceptible failing at your business! Unfortunately, there are companies like Fubu..who used to be great but never invested in the research to determine how to make their customers loyal for a lifetime.  They went with the trends, not set the trends…eventually starting with FUBU, selling it and adapting other brand names that are unknown to the original fan base! Keep your fans loyal…don’t do all that work to attract them, make them happy and then abandon them for dollars and cents…only to be at their mercy again with a new venture! 

Rule #4 – Embrace the mistakes…even the expensive ones!  This is a life lesson…turn your mistakes into teaching moments.  God knows, when we make a mistake, especially one that costs us, we will never put ourselves in a situation like that one again.  I made the terrible mistake of hiring a PR agency that I could not afford or knew much about after appearing on Next Great Baker Through that mistake I learned that no one knows what you can and can not do, like you do!  Also, I realized that everyone who says, I can help you, are not always equipped to help you.  I’m a foodie person, not everyone has the experience of dealing with someone who prepares time-sensitive, perishable items.  It’s easy to promote an author, a DJ personality, a sports figure, or a clothing when you have a rolodex of contacts that support them.  But, how do you promote someone or something that relies heavily on a particular market that’s foreign to you?  Realize that when dealing with third parties, there’s their business and your business…you should only be concerned about yours!  And if they’re trying to maintain their business relationship with you, they should always protect and foster meaningful actions to promote that.  If they’re not working for you, then they’re wasting your time and your money that you probably could have invested in something more beneficial to your company the first place!  From that situation, I became very protective and frugal about my business ventures.  Never again, would I leave myself open to being at the mercy of someone else’s ideas that did not match my own or the reality of my pockets!

Rule #5 – Know your elevator speech!  You need to have a ‘press play’ button whenever you meet anyone that gives a hint of curiosity in your business.  Pretend you’re in an elevator and Donald Trump enters.  In the time it takes him to get to his designated floor, spill the vision of your business.  Pitch him the why and how you’re making your business a top priority.  Have your business card ready and your good/service either on you or a website to direct him towards.  I always keep a fresh Gabby Cake on my person when I know I’m going to be in a public place.  You just never know! Someone could say, “dang I have a sweet tooth!”  Cue…have you heard of Gabby Cakes…just a tiny cake!  It’s a smaller portion of a standard cake size, but it doesn’t make you feel guilty after you’ve endulged.  I have flavors that many of us love to eat, but hate to admit we’ve eaten after we’ve weighed ourselves!  Here’s one of my popular flavors, Sweet Potato!

Like I’ve said before I’m still learning…there’s a lot more to add to this list and I would encourage you to do so.  Many organizations encourage you to write a business plan…but I feel that business plans are only contingent upon truly understanding how you personally feel about your business!  You have to know your business, understand your personal weaknesses and strengths before you can SWOT out your business’s.   You have to know what your business role models have done and become great doing, before you can really understand your vision or mission!  I hope this helps someone out there…please feel free to let me know if it did! 

God bless your business venture!