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From Garage to. . .?
Netpreneurs Discuss Growing Your Business, Your Way

Layla Masri's 
5 Tips For Choosing Clients

Small businesses, like small groups, depend upon the relationships between people for success. That's certainly true of the employees on your team and your advisors, but also of your clients and customers. For whatever reasons, if you choose the wrong clients at the wrong time, they can torpedo your efforts—and it may be more your fault than theirs.

1. Avoid clients who don't have a clear goal. They may still pay you, but they'll drag you all over the map, and sometimes with nothing to show for it.

2. Beware of unrealistic goals. Whether it's a timeline, budget or other factor, if you’re not sure you can deliver, don’t take the business. Walk away from it.

3. Make sure your personalities match. The goal is to succeed, not butt heads. Don't minimize the importance of being able to work together smoothly.

4. Avoid people with rigid, preset goals. Sure, they're paying the bill and deserve good service, but micro-managers are micro-managers, and it may be you who pays the price.

5. Only use and agree to technology you can investigate and work with. With so many claims being made, don't let someone else commit you to the wrong tool for a job.

 

(Tysons Corner, VA -- April 20, 2000) With all the headlines about venture money, IPOs and acquisitions, we sometimes forget that most entrepreneurs are pursuing a less flashy route to their dreams. Manageable, self-funded growth may not be the path of least resistance, but it's the one most entrepreneurs follow for a variety of reasons, not the least being the ability to build your business, your way. In fact, the vast majority of companies never go public. Slightly over 95% of them have less than $1 million in revenue, and only about 4% are even in the $10-$12 million range.

This morning's Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets meeting focused on that more typical entrepreneur who, with a dream and an idea, is an important engine in this growing economy. The panel featured three self-funded netpreneurs, all of whom started in a garage, home office or dorm room like most of their colleagues. Each is now at a different stage along a path of steady growth, and each sounded more like proud new parents than stolid businesspeople. Speakers Layla Masri, owner and Senior Creative Director of Bean Creative; Lisa Martin, founder and President of LeapFrog Solutions Inc.; and Patrick McQuown, co-founder and President of Proteus, offered insights, lessons learned and contagious excitement in describing the paths they've followed in building a business of their own.

"This is our baby," beamed Masri, who started Bean Creative with her husband as a sideline while both were employed at another company. "We nurtured it. This is our heart and soul in this business, and we got into doing it because we wanted to do things our own way."

That's one of the main reasons all three panelists are not actively searching for venture money or acquisition right now, even though McQuown says he gets several calls from VCs or possible buyers for Proteus a month. They're anything but anti-growth, and they don't reject the idea out of hand, but they have long-term goals for cultivating a going concern. LeapFrog Solutions Inc., for example, has expanded its concept of a home-based, "virtual" alliance of marketing specialists to one that will soon include office space. Like Proteus, it's getting noticed.

Said Martin, "When you get funded you have control issues, and just because you get your first round of funding doesn't mean that you are going to get your second round of funding. I just want to be educated."

Control was a recurring theme, both in avoiding its "dark sides," like micro-management and stubbornness, but especially in the positive focus on managing controlled growth.

"Going into this," said McQuown, "there was one cardinal rule that I knew I needed to follow, and still follow to this day. I knew I needed to have more money coming in than I had going out. I didn't need an MBA for that."

Like all netpreneurs, they have to run at Internet speed, but that doesn't mean jumping at every seeming opportunity or biting off more than they can chew.

No small business person can ever afford to become a control freak. Their personal touch and ability to adapt quickly are among the advantages they have over established players. That means going the extra mile for customers, selecting and relying upon the right professional advisors and, most importantly, creating an environment to attract and retain the best employees.

"You have to make sure that you are listening to what your team wants to do." Urged Martin, "When you bring people on board that have a can-do attitude and they see your vision just as clearly as you do—sometimes even more—you've got to hear them out."

The panelists provided a wealth of practical suggestions for netpreneurs seeking a similar path, from recruiting, to culture, to managing virtual teams. "There are different styles and approaches," commented Mary MacPherson, Executive Director of Netpreneur.org in her wrap-up to the session, "but there is clear consistency on the need to focus on your people, hire people who complement you, focus on your customers, manage the kind of work you bring in—and believe in yourself and your dreams."

In addition, each panelist had their own particular message to reinforce. For Martin it was the importance of energetic networking to which she credited much of LeapFrog Solution Inc.'s new client acquisition. For Masri, it was the importance of "feeling like a company"—displaying the ingenuity to seem bigger than you are and roll with the punches. For McQuown it was the importance of serendipity and personal reward.

"There is nothing more fun," said McQuown, "than starting your own business, being your own boss and watching something grow."

Copyright © 2000, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.

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