5 On Your Side

Tips to tap into your inner entrepreneur

Posted April 28, 2009 5:51 p.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2009 7:24 p.m. EDT

— The threat of job loss has a lot of people considering their options. One alternative is to start your own business, but are you cut out to be can entrepreneur?

Audra George has entrepreneur skills. She took her passion for cooking rum cakes and turned it into a business.

“I decided to give it (rum cakes) to some friends and co-workers, and then all of a sudden, everyone started to ask me to make it for them. And it just kind of grew from there,” George said.

About a year and a half ago, George took a rum cake to A Southern Season, a landmark gourmet market at 201 S. Estes Drive in Chapel Hill. They wanted to start selling her cakes and other creations as soon as possible.

“I was in shock, but I was amazed and surprised and elated all at the same time,” George said.

However, then she had to figure out labeling, packaging and how to get all those cakes made. George said she knew she needed guidance and asked Fred Gebarowski, director of entrepreneurship at Wake Technical Community College, for help.

Gebarowski said a lot of his students are either laid off or think they might be, and are considering starting their own business.

Among Gebarowski's first step is to help students figure out whether they should go into business for themselves.

“They either do it for the wrong reasons, like they want to get rich quick and don't want to work for anyone else, or they don't really have the background and characteristics for being an entrepreneur,” Gebarowski said.

Gebarowski said the next step is to clearly define your product.

“How is your product different from your competitors' product? If it's not a new idea, you need to make sure you've defined it so it differentiates itself from other products,” Gebarowski said.

Just as important, Gebarowski said, is having a solid business plan that details finances, as well as legal and management structures.

"Do you need to have a business plan to be successful? No. Do you need a parachute when you jump out of an airplane? No. But in both cases, I think having one raises the probability of having a successful outcome,” Gebarowski said.

Gebarowski also said someone really needs to have passion and perseverance, like George. Since she was recently laid-off, George's cake creations business has now become her full-time job.

“It's exciting and scary at the same time. But I've gotten so much good feedback from all of my customers that I'm confident with hard work, and with the right marketing behind me, I'll make it successful,” George said.

Something else start-up business owners need to have is an exit strategy, Gebarowski said. For example, if one partner wants out, how will you handle that?

Also, many successful small business owners say they have never worked as hard as they did to get their businesses going. So don't start a business thinking it will be easier, Gebarowski said.