Entrepreneurship (4-20-05)

Dear Zelda,

I never thought I'd be asking a dog for advice, but I've been impressed with your story.

I am a sales rep for a large company, but am tired of the bickering and office politics.  I think I'd be better and happier on my own.  I have an idea for a new item I think campers and hikers would like to include in their backpacks and I'm thinking of quitting my job to pursue this.  What do you think?

Individual with an Idea

Dear Individual,

Congratulations on coming up with your big idea!  Before you ditch the day job though, I think you should take the time to ask yourself some tough questions and get your bearings:  Is the idea unique? Why do people "need" my product?  What organizations or businesses would buy or endorse it?  A good book about these issues is Kick Start Your Dream Business, by Romanus Wolter.  Another great resource to check out is a book by Jane Applegate, called 201 Ideas For Your Small Business. Applegate writes, "I see that many entrepreneurs make the same fatal mistake.  They fail to take the time to determine whether or not a market truly exists for their product."  Since you already work in sales, you might consider looking for a sales position with a company that sells to your potential market so you can gain industry expertise, and get to know your competition inside and out.  Go to outdoor equipment trade shows, network, and attend the workshops.  Develop a business plan to serve as a map that takes you from inspiration to prototype to marketplace.  And, to make sure that your idea remains YOUR product and translates into YOUR profits, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at 1-800-786-9199, or go online to www.uspto.gov for an overview on patenting and trade marking. Reading Patent It Yourself by David Pressman could help you save some legal fees.

Also, beware of invention development companies, which are often more interested in their success than your own.  At the same time, think about people you could trust and would like to work with, who might be able to provide you with necessary skills, important feedback or just moral support. When my owner Carol decided to start making greeting cards, she sought the help of lots of friends, whose talent and expertise in everything from photography to business plans has been literally indispensable in getting us where we are today.  It can be easy to get lost in the woods on the way to the summit, and it's no easy hike-don't do it alone.  Know the path before you start, make sure you're well supplied, carry a good map or two, and once you're underway, be sure-footed like a mountain goat.


Dear Zelda!

My question for you is this...My sister and I (both in our forties and newly single parents) are trying to start a creative venture on our own.  We have a couple wonderful ideas but are having trouble implementing them.  We saw your "mom" on The Oprah Show, and were totally inspired for the first time in a long time.  We would love any guidance we can get on how to get a new product off the ground, since our only experience is having babies!  Is it totally hopeless Zelda, or is there a road map out there somewhere?  We are positive, creative, energetic women and want to make better lives for our children and ourselves.  Please advise...

Raring to go...but don't know where to start!

Dear Raring,

Babies have been your business . . . now make business your baby.  Nurture it, and it will grow. Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men and expanding them twice as fast.  That should make you feel hopeful, not hopeless.  Begin by reading as much as you can about marketing a product or service, both at the library and bookstores.  Two books were written for you:  Dive Right In the Sharks Won’t Bite: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Guide to Success by Jane Wesman, and The Girl’s Guide to Starting your Own Business by Caitlin Friedman & Kimberly Yorio.  Along with very useful information like assessing finances, writing business plans and hiring employees, they will tell you how to be a boss “without being a bitch”.

However, before you invest any money in your new business you need to talk with business owners in the industry to find out what they’ve done right and what they’d never do again.  Carol researched the greeting card industry and then created something unique to the industry… me, a live dog with a real name and wisdom.  Once you’ve done your research then come up with an eye-catching name and logo (high school art students can be clever designers).  Not always fun, but important, is to write up a business plan that includes your financial and marketing/PR strategy.  That will be your road map.

To register your business and apply for a federal Employer ID number (EIN), call 800-Tax-Form.  If you need to get a copyright call 202-707-3000, or go online to http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright.  If your venture is in retail, you may need a state sales tax number.  Check with your local city, county and state to see what licenses you need, even if you’re operating out of your garage.  Get business cards, a CPA, and a lawyer who specializes in business.  Save every receipt and vender bill and put your business name on everything.  You should also check with your local women’s business organizations.  Women who've been in business may share helpful information.  There’s a lot to do, but just take it in baby steps. From cradle, to pushcart to corporate office, this baby could be up and running before you know it.  Paul J. Meyer once said, “Enthusiasm is the yeast that raises the dough.”


Dear Zelda,

I, too, am an English Bulldog who is very photogenic and quite a ham.  How did you go about marketing yourself?  Our breed now seems to be everywhere I look.

P.S. Do you ever get dry skin?  If so, how does your mom help you with it?


Dear Maggie,

My credo was three-fold: “Waddle and Wrinkles Work,” “Savvy and Slobber Sell,” but “Perseverance, Patience, and Pudge Prevail.”  Carol’s was two-fold:  “Why Bee Normal?” and “Think big, but watch every penny”.  While I consulted with Cheryl Tiegs, Carol scoured the town for my fashions and accessories, found a photographer and a printer, and then approached local ad agencies to see if they needed a seductive bulldog with bow-WOW.  Once the cards were produced a friend and partner helped Carol land some PR slots on local TV and facilitated some newspaper and magazine exposure.  By this time, the cards were getting rave reviews and selling like hotcakes.  With the success of this test market, Carol decided to rent a booth at the annual New York Stationery Show.  Using her experience in marketing and design, she ‘bet the farm’ and took out a full-page ad in the show catalog.  That did the trick, and got everyone’s tail over to her booth.  Meanwhile, I was home honing my Häagen Dazs-fueled modeling ethic.  From there, we appeared on such TV shows as Good Morning America and The Oprah Show.  While Carol chatted with Charlie Gibson and Oprah, I listened and looked sexy.  Book publications, signings and speaking engagements kept coming.  As she looks back, Carol feels she had all the pieces that fit the puzzle: me, a unique idea, a they-don’t-come-any-better photographer, a partner with experience and expertise in PR, a marketing and design background, supportive friends, a risk-taking gene and plenty of self-confidence and credibility.  She firmly believes that if you leap, a net will appear.

As far as dry skin goes, neither Zoe, ZeeZee, nor I have ever had it.  However, “The skin is the first place where dietary problems show up,” says Dan Carey, D.V.M.  You might not be getting enough fatty acids, B-vitamins, or minerals such as zinc.  Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn, D.V.M, Ph.D., could be of help to your owner.  Sounds like you’re itching to go to market.  If a door won’t open, scratch at it.