Starting a Small Business

Find Your Inspiration
Create your own service department: You don't need a billion-dollar idea—like sneakers with wheels—to start a company. The Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that 55 percent of women business owners are in a service profession, like interior decorator, personal chef, or art buyer. These industries are appealing, says Linda Pinson, co-author of Steps to Small Business Start-Up, "because you don't need a lot of start-up cash and your customers pay right away."

Test-drive your idea: If you want to open a jewelry store, says Victoria Colligan, a founder of Ladies Who Launch, "make a necklace. It costs very little to do that." One choker may be fun, but tying 500 knots by hand at 3 a.m. would require a Zoloft prescription. "It's okay to hate your idea," says Beth Schoenfeldt, co-founder of Ladies Who Launch. "It means you've ruled something out."

Apprentice yourself: For dreams that can't be tried out on a small scale, you might investigate a VocationVacation, which matches you with someone who's happy to help you determine if you, too, are meant to be an alpaca farmer or coffeehouse owner (starting at $549). Volunteering is another option—and free. If you think you want to be an event planner, for instance, help organize your local March of Dimes Walk. ( lists opportunities by zip code.)

Find a mentor: Log on to networking sites like, or, where you'll find profiles of women entrepreneurs. If a story strikes a chord, send the owner an e-mail. "I've found that people are happy to tell you how they did whatever they did," says Nell Merlino, founder of Make Mine a Million $ Business.