Turn Your Bright Idea into a Thriving Business — A Q&A with Melinda Emerson

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

How’d you like to be your own boss? Sounds great, right? You’re not alone. A recent study found that 63 percent of people under the age of 30 want to start their own business.

Coming up with ideas is not an issue — even big ideas that have the potential to turn into a big deal. You know, like all those startups that get bought for millions of dollars. But here’s what’s holding you back: Plotting out time, raising money, and recruiting help to get those ambitious ideas off the ground. “Success will not just happen to you,” says Melinda Emerson, author of Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months. “You have to plan for success. Make sure there’s a market out there for your idea, and go for it — that’s how you’re going to be successful.”

Real Business spoke with Emerson about how to turn a dream idea into a thriving business — while holding down a day job.

Let’s talk about wild or very ambitious ideas for a business. Are there any ideas that are too ambitious to even try, or should you just go for it?

I don’t believe in the concept of an idea that is too much. I believe the world is still waiting on a better mousetrap, and they don’t care who comes up with the idea as long as it saves them time and money. If you have a wild idea that you know somebody needs, go for it. Just do your homework.

If you’re working a day job and have an idea for your own business, how do you get things rolling?

If you’re still working a full-time job and decide you want to become an entrepreneur, you’re in the best position possible. The first thing you have to do is start saving your money. You should be saving 20 to 40 percent of every single paycheck.

Do a new budget and look for ways that you can eliminate expenses. The money to start your business is going to come from your right or left pocket. People who have savings have options, so start saving as much as you possibly can to fund your business idea.

How much money should someone aim for to start a business?

There are three pools of money that you need to have. Number 1, you need at least a year’s worth of money to sustain your household. Secondly, you need to have emergency savings — cars break down, kids need braces, all kinds of things happen. And then you want to have the first year’s worth of working capital for your business.

You have your idea and things are in place. At what point can you quit your day job?

I don’t believe in people quitting their job before they start their business. The reason is that it takes 18 to 36 months for a small business to break even, let alone replace your corporate salary.

Start your business on the weekends and evenings, and do both until it hurts, frankly. You should not quit your job until your business is really sustaining itself and showing a modest profit. That could take anywhere from one to three years.

Melinda Emerson

Melinda Emerson

How do you recruit help and convince people that your idea is going to be very successful?

You need to spend a year networking, fundraising, meeting people in your industry, and talking to your friends and family about your idea. See if anyone has excess capacity that they can loan you. Sometimes it’s not just money. You need some elbow grease and sweat equity to help you until your business can be somewhat sustainable.

Start talking with people about your idea to make sure there’s a real market for your product or service. They worst thing you could do us fall in love with an idea and start a business because you like it. Make sure there’s somebody out there with a problem that’s willing to pay for [your solution].

Is there a danger that your idea will be stolen if you tell people about it?

There’s too much concern about ‘Oh no, I can’t tell anybody this because they’ll steal my idea. They might be true but they can’t execute it as well as you so I really don’t think small business owners should be worried about that.

Now if you’re coming out with a proprietary product that needs to be patented and trademarked, you don’t want to share the exact details — inventions are different. But I really think there is enough business out here for everyone. You need to get help and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to people about what you’re trying to do.

As far as approaching people, what should you have prepared to show?

The first thing you want to invest in is your website — that is the number 1 sales tool for any small business. The reality is that people are going to Google you before they ever call you. Start establishing your website, have a great way to engage people on your site, and make sure you’re using social media and have a LinkedIn profile.

Put some social proof out there demonstrating your expertise, so when people decide they have a need, they’re going to check you out and you’ll be ready to do business.

Do you have any advice for people who may be struggling with their business? At what point should they throw in the towel?

Give yourself 24 to 36 months before you hang it up. You’ve got to understand that successful businesses aren’t built overnight. Now, as you’re moving along, you’re going to learn a lot of lessons. Some people view those as failures, but I don’t. Here’s the thing: You never fail in business. Either you win or you learn.

Running a business is a spiritual journey as much as it is anything else. You’re going to be pushed and pulled in ways you never thought possible. But it’s definitely worth it, because when you get that first big customer or first big order for your product, you will never have a better feeling in your professional career than that. I say go for it.

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comments (1)

  1. shayla jones

    This article was AWESOME! As a small business owner,one yr in, it can get discouraging. I didnt have the monies saved up as i shoyld have, but i stepped out on faith and just did it. Im learning and growing so much and see how business is starting to take off. Im a huge networker, still no mentor, but i read, reasearch, and ask questiins where i can. Anyhow, thus article was a great read and something i need to hear!! Thank you!


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