‘JT & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at JTandDale.com.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am nearing 30 and starting to look at what actually interests me when it comes to a career. I would like to use my business degree to start my own company. However, for someone who has never been part of a small business, I am nervous and clueless. I do have an idea of what I would like to do — open an online clothing business for young women’s fashions, something along the lines of LuLus.com. Where do I start? — Tracy
Dale: Here are some of the things you do NOT need in order to start a business: a business plan, partners (especially if friends), investors, industry knowledge, experience or lots of cash.
J.T.: I think that covers just about everything all the how-to-start-a-business books recommend.
Dale: I hope so. The way to start is as a hobby, while keeping your current job. You don’t need the pressure of watching your cash, or your relatives’ cash, dwindle. Instead, find a particular type of clothing, or some beginning designer to represent, and create a small website. Make it fun and lively — hey, it’s just a hobby, right? Will it work? Probably not, but it just might, and you’ll learn a lot, and should it start to go over, the additional products and money will find you.
J.T.: Part of the start-up process is educating yourself on how others have done it. I would contact the people at LuLu’s and ask them where to start. I realize that sounds odd, since you will be a competitor, but they know they have a great site, so your desire to copy it is a form of flattery. Additionally, find other online businesses that you might want to imitate and reach out to their people. You’ll learn a lot, but you may just find yourself working at one of these companies for a while to get a “working education.”
Dale: Hearing that, I am reminded of one more thing not to do: Pick a business and imitate it. If you try to be a me-too, you are certain to fail, for you will always be just a copy, and the original is available. Instead, learn from many. For instance, when I looked up LuLus.com, I also saw Lululemon and learned it started by specializing in women’s yoga gear. And there’s a Lulu Guinness, who is “famous for exquisite, witty handbags and accessories.” What you should learn from these sites is not how to imitate them, but how to find your own small niche, like they did, and work to create something singular and wonderful.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm, JTODonnell.com, and of the career management blog, CAREEREALISM.com. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com.
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