A restaurant offering locally grown produce, a holistic health and supplement shop, a green cleaning service, a pottery gallery–all examples of entrepreneurial ventures in the West Michigan area. But starting a business requires time, research, and money, and if you're interested in making your unique skills and big dream into a lucrative venture, you have to take the right steps to get there.
Nicole Nicolas is the director of marketing and communications at Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW). Though she has seen some business ideas fail, there are some tried and true steps to take in order to make a business a success.
When someone comes to Nicole with an idea for a business, she first asks them, "Have you written your business plan?"
A business plan is essentially a roadmap, a very detailed one, that gives the background of the entrepreneur, related to their skills and finances, and outlines the product or service, marketing ideas and financial planning of the business before it starts.
"You definitely need a business plan. You need to get it down on paper, and really do the research before-hand because how many businesses fail the first time around? That way, you can be one of those successes if you build your business plan first," Nicole says.
Click here for a sample business plan.
Despite the economy, Nicole has seen no shortage of entrepreneurs. However, financial roadblocks often hit business-hopefuls early on. Without enough money to start up a business, women need to secure financing through loans, grants or other government assistance programs. Grants are a long shot unless the business is a non-profit organization or highly specialized in a technological field, Nicole says.
Establishing the business entity is another initial step to take. Learning the different kinds of business entity–sole proprietorship, limited, corporation–will help to protect business owners, Nicole says.
Financial hang-ups turn many business ventures into a pipe dream for women, but what also creates obstacles is lack of self confidence.
"No one is an island, you're not alone," says Nicole. "There is always someone that can assist them to grow relationships with peers…Especially the way women are. We like to be more relational verses transactional."
Learning to be your own boss is easier said than done. Most women coming from the employee status have the skills necessary to provide products or services, but struggle to secure "business acumen."
"They're really good at what they do, but they don't know how to run their own business," Nicole says. "That's where the business plan comes into play."
Networking also comes in handy to gain poise as well as to develop business relationships in the community. Nicole says in West Michigan, there is a strong network of professionals who can help women with the management, marketing and financial aspects of starting a business.
To learn more about starting a business in Michigan, visit the Michigan Business One Stop.
Written by: Erika Fifelski was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys cooking, sewing, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses. Photo: Celal Teber.