Learn to Be Your Own Boss: Interview with Melinda Emerson

Melinda Emerson

Would you like to start a business but have no idea of what to begin with? If you fancy being your own boss, becoming an entrepreneur could be a perfect opportunity to make your life into what you want it to be.

To give you a bit of handy advice on how you can succeed in achieving this, we’d like to share our recent interview with Melinda Emerson. Being CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda is a renowned small business expert and a #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter according to Forbes.

Every Wednesday Melinda hosts #SmallBizChat on Twitter where she communicates with entrepreneurs and small business owners. She is also an author of a bestselling book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works.

Learning such incredible experience is exactly what you need to start and grow your business. Here’s your portion of this valuable knowledge.

How did you come to be an entrepreneur?

I started being an entrepreneur because I got my dream job and then I hated it. I always wanted to own my own business. I was inspired by Oprah Winfrey who started a business while being a journalist. And that’s what really gave me the idea and the courage to even think I could do it too. When I graduated from college I worked in television as the producer for 5 years. Then in 1999 I quitted and started my first company, Quintessence. So that was how I became an entrepreneur.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

I started my career as a television producer. So I decided to do what I knew which is what a lot of entrepreneurs do, right? But being a television producer and running a video production company were two entirely different skills. I learned a lot of expensive lessons because I never walked into a business school. For the whole 4 years I was in college I aimed at journalism degree. So I discovered a lot of hard stuff, for sure.

What were your main challenges on the way to becoming an entrepreneur? Do you face them nowadays?

I think that what I first started as a business and what business is now has changed a lot. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 16 years. Nowadays your competition really is global, it’s not in a thirty-mile radius of your business location. You do have to have on online strategy, you do have to have a great website, you do need an understanding of the social media and you do need to make sure that your website is mobile friendly so all these people who run their whole life with a smartphone can buy from you.

I also think that a big difference between my first business and the business as it is now is that you do have a much shorter runway for your company to take off. You don’t have the opportunity to fumble around in the dark until you get it right. You do have to figure out who your niche target customer is from the very beginning. That’s because every small business owner has two major problems: limited time and limited resources. So it is extremely important to have a marketing target you can actually hit.

Do you think that entrepreneurialism is something that is in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?

I definitely think you can learn entrepreneurial skills. But I don’t know if can learn being a visionary. I’m not so sure you can learn to be brave, I mean those things have to be in you. Can you learn accounting principles? Yes. Can you learn business plan software? Sure. But can you learn to be confident? Well, you get motivated to be more confident, yes, but you have to be willing to be a true leader. You have to be competitive, compassionate, humble, coachable. Some of those things are just born in your personality while some of them can be learned.

I think vision and willpower are exactly the things you are born with. But if you don’t believe in yourself, no one is going to buy what you’re selling. I think that’s part of what really takes to be successful in business.

What are the three skills that a person should own to become an entrepreneur?

To my mind you need to evaluate what skills you have and what skills you need to run your particular business. I always tell small business owners that they should go work part-time for business like the one they want to start so they can get a real knowledge of what skills are required to run their particular kind of business. I don’t want to see entrepreneurs start a restaurant just because they like to eat. I want them to start a restaurant because they know something about running a restaurant.

And then I think they need to be able to figure out who is their paying customer and what is their unique value proposition to the marketplace. Those things are critical.

Then I think they need to write a business plan. It doesn’t have to be a 40 pages long manifesto, no! It has to be 10 solid pages that explain how your business runs and how you plan to achieve your goals. One of the best ways to build a business plan is to use some free business plan software online. You can look at the bplans.com and check out some great samples of business plans there. You can also go to enloop.com and use their software to build your plan. It’s just that simple.

I believe people should start their businesses while still working because it takes 12 to 18 months for a small business to break even, let alone replace your corporate salary. So I think part of their strategy should be figuring out how they are going to work and run a business at the same time.

What’s your most memorable experience as an entrepreneur?

I have to say that it’s almost a negative memory that inspired me to be an entrepreneur. I had an awful boss who was mean-spirited, jealous and unsupportive. That’s what really spurred me to start my own business. It’s also taught me that how I treat my employees is going to be key to my long-term success in business. I have always prided myself on trying to grow and mentor my employees and my vendors as well. I think I owe this quality precisely to the fact that I had a mean boss and so I learned how not to treat your people.

Forbes named you #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. How do you feel about it?

I love the fact that I have the opportunity to serve the small business communities. My mission is to end small business failure. Everything I write or tweet, or all the media interviews I give is all about giving people little nuggets of information so they can live their dream as an entrepreneur.

In my travels of doing that Forbes named me the #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter and I’m very honored to have that distinction. But for me everything is about serving the entrepreneurs, I’m always looking for the opportunities to do this better.

What systems have you set up in your business to help it grow?

Well, I’d like to talk about the Emerson planning system which is in my bestselling book, Become Your Own Boss in 12 months. It’s a system I’ve been talking about – helping people develop a life plan and a financial plan, then evaluating their business concept, determining their niche target customers and then building a business plan and launching what’s working. That’s probably the system that I’m most known for, it’s described in my book. I also updated the book with a 2nd edition in January 2015 and included a lot of social media information in there.

One thing that I want all small business owners to understand is that you really only need to focus on one social media site and it really need to be the social media site where your best target customers spent all their time online. Don’t use Facebook because you like Facebook, use Facebook because that’s where your target customers are. So you’ve got to figure out the right platform for your business and what you’re selling.

Once you’ve figured that out, one of the most important things to remember is that no matter what you share, it has to be helpful. Don’t spend any time bashing your competitors. The second thing is to engage people, learn their names, thank them for sharing your content, become a part of the community by showing up consistently and staying a valuable part of that community. You should always seek to add value online.

The third thing I’d like entrepreneurs to do is just listen carefully. Don’t assume you know the culture of different social media sites. Somebody like me, I tweet on average 32 to 36 times a day. Well, that would not work on Facebook! I would irritate the whole lot of people on Facebook doing that.

So that is the reason why you’d want to make sure that you’re using your particular social media platform according to how your audience is using it.

Then you have to promote yourself with care. It is really about sharing other people’s content over your own. I’d say that you should share content in a 4:1 ratio of your own. That includes other people’s blog posts, videos, infographics – share that. I mean when you first reach out to social media what you’d really want to be doing is friendraising. And the #1 thing you could do to have friends online is share their content. Content is king, right? One should really think about this when trying to leverage social media.

Do you use any specific software or apps to save your time?

I use apps for my daily social media posting all the time. For example, I schedule all my tweets and posts to go out across my social media platforms via Hootsuite and SproutSocial. Other apps I’ve got on my phone are WordTracker to track keywords and Basecamp to track all my communications. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to backup all my files in the cloud. Of course you just have to use apps, you wouldn’t want to waste your time sitting in the airport. Like I said, time is one of your most critical issues to deal with.

Thanks Melinda for a great chat and practical knowledge she eagerly shared with us. If you’d like to learn more from her, you can follow her on Twitter or check out her insightful blog.

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