So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur

I recently sat down with Josh Dunn, President of Premier Media Group, to interview him about how to achieve success as an entrepreneur. A lot of people have great entrepreneurial ideas; but how do you get started? What are the first steps to turning the vision into reality? I know several people who have the practical experience of having started their own business or non-profit. Josh stands out for his passionately positive yet pragmatic motivation as an entrepreneur, and also for his generosity and instructive abilities as a mentor for students. My time with Josh yielded such a wealth of helpful advice that this will be a two-part blog. Part one will cover advice on becoming an entrepreneur, and part two will be Josh’s advice to interns and his philosophy on mentoring students.

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

“Clarity” was the first word Josh said when I asked him that question. He let the word stand alone for a moment before adding to it. You have to know what you want to do well enough to sell it, and that means you have to have well-defined goals. Motivation is fueled by unwavering persistence and passion. You need to be your best customer. You have to be able to sell your idea to yourself and believe in it enough to sell it to potential supporters, bankers, and clients. When you launch an idea, very few people will be supportive, and you need to be able to handle having someone you thought would support you not support you. Josh pointed out that creativity is not enough. You can hire creativity, but it is very difficult to hire someone else to sell your idea.

Define who you want to be before you start selling your idea.

Josh knew exactly who he wanted to be. That’s why he named his company Premier Media Group. Premier means top quality and Josh has been consistently intentional in presenting top quality not only in his product, but in himself; “You have to show you have your stuff together. How you dress sends a message about the level of quality you offer. The first impression is the one that counts. If you dress high quality it gives the impression of high value.” Josh’s target audience was middle and high income households, and those income levels won’t look at something of low quality and value. Josh also gave himself room for expansion. He named the company Premier Media Group, rather than Premier Magazine Group, to allow growth to spread in a diversity of directions.

Some of the basic steps to starting your own business:

Whiteboard your idea. Put it on paper in practical steps. You should be able to look at your notes and clearly see what action steps you need to take to start turning your vision into a solid plan of action. Makes sense, but what if you don’t know how to do some of the work that needs to be done?

Get people to help you. This is where you start selling your idea to gain supporters. Josh’s advice is to find people who can mentor you in the area where you are in need of knowledge and skill. If you don’t know anyone ask around until you find someone. Josh suggested SCORE as a good resource for finding people who are willing to mentor others. SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a nonprofit association of working and retired business owners who donate their time and expertise to mentor entrepreneurs. Click here to go the SBA (Small Business Administration) web site and see the list of SCORE offices throughout the United States.

Josh is a firm believer that you need to meet people who you want to be like; people who are like minded. Choose your mentors well and show appreciation for their help. They can be a support system for you when you hit challenges – not if – when. This gets back to what Josh said about unwavering persistence being critical to success. Your motivation for success is your hunger for the goal.

To be successful you need to be willing to be uncomfortable. There are many layers of time commitment you will have to make, financial issues to deal with, and concerns about if there’s a real market for your idea. Then there is the fear. Josh emphasized that there is a lot of fear; it comes upon you in the day and in the night, and you have to be able to tame it. This is, of course, especially hard if you’ve had a bad day. Basically, you deconstruct it. You speak the truth about what you know is going well, and you remember the successes you have had so far to rebuild your confidence. You reach out to your support system. Sometimes you simply have to reprogram your head. At the same time you have to admit you are struggling, and accept that things are going to be rough sometimes. When Josh was getting started he made between 500 and 600 cold calls, and 75 said yes. He understood that he was asking companies to risk real money, and he accepted the fact that the risk was too high for most of them. Those who said yes had real expectations.

With real money comes real expectations. Find out as much as you can about the expectations, but know going in that you can’t find out everything. There will be surprises, and you need to be prepared to address them. Josh is empathic about NEVER going into a partnership with anyone; “The money and expectations involved make it weird. It’s VERY rare that it works out. Hire, contract, seek advice, but don’t ever partner. Work with people who are brighter and better in their particular space.”

Develop a business plan. Before you do this, do your research and conduct surveys. Do NOT do your survey on the internet only. Get out there and talk to people. Josh says, “We’re losing the value of high-touch because we like to hide behind high-tech.” Face-to-face contact can open unexpected doors. Don’t talk to the people who love you. Talk to people who will speak the truth; like community experts. Say; “This is what I’m thinking …” not “This is what I am going to do”. Leave your ego at the door and listen. Then incorporate the ideas into your plan. Josh still uses this practice even though his company is successful. He had an idea for a new magazine, 425 Business, that would allow Seattle’s Eastside business leaders and entrepreneurs to engage with one another. Josh describes it as “a conduit to connect”. He surveyed, and 20 advisors gave him the thumbs up saying “Thank you, we’ve wanted this for so long.” He was careful to make sure there was a community need and desire for it before he went forward with it. Study the market closely, and ask; why have others failed, is it doable, what makes my idea different? Once you’ve vetted your idea to make sure it works back it up with your work ethic.

After you have a business plan create a financial model and budget. Do more surveys to find out what it will cost to make/produce/create your product or service. Then test it. Provide a net for yourself while you’re in the development stages. Josh had a job and developed his own business on the side. He included a small salary for himself in his business plan, borrowed money to get things going, and then sold his way out of the debt.

Create a structure of life balance.  Josh lives this. He has well-defined times when he is being a worker, a husband, and a father. And he doesn’t let the work disrupt his home life; “That’s time I’ll never get back. My wife and kids know and appreciate how hard I work, and they know that when I am with them I am fully with them. At the end of day, it’s about living a happy and healthy life, and if you build that in from the beginning it becomes the structure of how you live.”

Those are a few of the words of wisdom Josh had to offer. Next month I’ll share his advice to students in internships, and his philosophy on being a mentor.

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Julie Miller

Julie Miller, M. Ed., is the Internship Program Manager for Interdisciplinary Arts & Science at the University of Washington Tacoma. She also teaches career development at UW Tacoma, and is a Dependable Strengths local instructor. Prior to working in higher education, she was the Director of Volunteers and Interns for a non-profit organization.