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Entrepreneur 101:
Starting and Running a Profitable Business - Part 1
“Expert Interview with Susan Ratliff”
By Debbie Christofferson, CISSP, CISM

"Entrepreneurism is the heart and soul of the U.S. … and … other countries as well."
-Francine Hardaway, FastTrak, 3/1/07, "The Revolution of Marketing" conference at Grand Canyon College in Phoenix

About our Expert: As a long-time small business owner who has started and sold several profitable companies, Susan owns and operates Exhibit Experts today, in its 13th year of business. She co-hosts a radio talk show "Small Business Power Hour" every Friday morning, on KF1510AM. Susan hosts a wildly successful Women's Entrepreneur Boot Camp, going into its 4th year on January 19.

Debbie: What does it take to start a business?

Susan: It does not take an extensive education or experience, although they help. You can learn what you need in books, online and on the job.

You must be willing to work long hours, work hard at your craft, be able to sell a product or service, and conduct market research to determine if you have something the market needs, and who will buy your product.

You need a marketing background and competent sales team. Many great products and companies fail because they do not know how to market and promote their business, products and service.

It comes down to preparation, practice, patience and persistence. Do market research first, find what people want and give it to them. The biggest thing people lack, and biggest barrier to their success, is a lack of sales & marketing experience.

If you do not know how to sell, or how to market, you will not have a business very long Practice, take classes, and read books.

You need enough money to execute. Sales staff is your starting point. If you have a talent in selling, you can succeed in any industry.

Debbie: What worked for you and what didn't?

Susan: Go with something you're passionate about, and capitalize on your strong skills.

Putting in time to develop clientele and providing extraordinary customer service is a way to differentiate you from the competition. It's the #1 aspect of your business attention, but the majority of people do not have good customer service.

Go the extra mile for your customer. Pay attention to money, and don't spend more than you have coming in. Have a plan to generate income and gradually build the business. Pay yourself first, and then invest back into the business.

Biggest difficulty is hiring good people.

Debbie: How can you get the most bang for the buck on a tiny or non-existent marketing budget?

Susan: Perception is everything. Looking successful may seem trite and presenting a professional image. At start-up, I had no advertising budget. Joining a Chamber of Commerce was my first marketing budget.

I attended events, volunteered on committees, and participated in activities. These get your face out there. People buy from people they like and trust. Trust is built by getting to know them. Week after week, people saw me, they learned about what I did, and that is how my business grew.

Put what money you do have on business cards, brochures, and web site. If you have a substantial web site and impressive brochure and business cards, the perception they create is positive. No one will question your capabilities as long as you deliver.

Debbie: What resources work best for small businesses?

Susan: Chambers of commerce offer excellent value for the exposure, education resources, physical places where you can utilize conference rooms, hold seminars, etc.

Develop your own board of directors (BOD), through other boards, a mastermind group, or from friends and professional associates. A virtual BOD of 10-12 that meets consistently allows you to share and manage problems.

Utilize seminars, books, and stay on top of sales and refreshing your education. Sales 101 and Marketing 101 are important basics, and getting out and meeting other people. Pick events and target organizations you need for your field. Go with an agenda, and leave with something productive.

Coming in Part 2: Resources, Professional Support, Business Plans and facing Failure.

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