Katrina Parris
Photo: Sage Sohier
You want to start a jewelry line? Open a stationery store? Become a florist? These women left behind corporate offices and dead-end jobs to follow their dreams—and they're giving you the benefit of their wisdom.
Be Open to Anything
"A friend asked if I wanted to do a food trade show with her. I brought a few products with me, not expecting to sell or anything—and suddenly we got all these orders! I had no idea how we were going to package or prepare so much so quickly, but I never say no unless I completely understand why it can't be done. I think how you approach obstacles is a big part of being successful—you can't give up."
—Alisa Barry, Chef and Owner, Bella Cucina Artful Food

Make an Announcement
"I sent out an email to everybody I knew, announcing what we were doing. For me, the act of saying 'I'm starting a literary magazine' was as brave as actually doing it. When I said it with confidence, people believed me—and I believed me."
—Maribeth Batcha, Publisher, One Story, a literary magazine

Build Your Own Board
"I had to learn so much. I took classes at the local center for nonprofit management and read everything I could get my hands on. I realized the smartest thing I could do would be to surround myself with an advisory board of people who knew more than I did."
—Meredith Blake, Founder Break the Cycle, a domestic violence prevention program

Take Ownership
"There's no store without the concept, so from the very beginning, we trademarked every single thing involved in the look of the store."
—Ninel Pompushko, Founder, T-Shirt Deli, a custom t-shirt store in Chicago.
Read her story

Hone Your Business Skills
"There's a perception out there that you can't be an artist and a businessperson at the same time. Artists are told 'Don't bother with math.' But you have to balance passion and analytical skills. Knowing the business side of my job gives me the ability to take risks in every aspect—from dealing with banks to new designs—and I love that."
—Annie Morhauser, Owner and Creative Director, Annieglass, which produces luxury, handmade glass table art

Next: Why you shouldn't quit your day job just yet
Do It Yourself
"When we opened, we used our savings and did all the renovation work ourselves—stripping the floors, sanding them, plastering and painting."
—Miko Branch, Co-Founder, Miss Jessie's Salon
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Be Prepared for the Unexpected
"A good thing to remember is that once you open your door to the public, you never know who's going to walk through. I've had people bring in shopping bags of every shape and size imaginable, overflowing with pictures. At first I panicked, but now those are my favorite projects. They let me puzzle the pieces of someone's life together."
—Anne Goldenthal, Owner, Album Arts

Don't Quit Your Day Job
"It was pretty obvious that I would have to find a way to support my music habit. So I went to work as an assistant at a Wall Street investment bank and wound up as a VP and business manager of corporate research. I would do the radio show on Saturdays and tuck whatever gigs I had as a musician into whatever time was left."
—Laura Cantrell, Musician
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Ask Around
"I put ads in the paper, went online, and went to decorators, but I had no luck. One day I went to a fabric store and asked the owner if she knew anyone. She did, and now that person is our lead seamstress."
—Nan Barbera, Founder, Prince & Company, a luxury bassinet maker

Educate Yourself
"To get the full picture of how to run a retail business, I applied to the Gap's retail management training program. Essentially, the company paid me to learn design, marketing (which is how to get publicity for your products), planning (meaning, have enough money on hand to pay the bills), and production (how to buy zippers from one factory and buttons from another and ship them to a third where they make the garment)."
—Jordan Veatch-Goffi, Founder, Doce Vida Fitness
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Next: How to get help
Take Charge
When the 735-room, filthy, decrepit Times Square Hotel (a.k.a. Homeless Hell) went bankrupt in the late 1980s, I wanted someone to turn it into quality supportive housing—with employment services, a clinic, and caseworkers right in the building. Not a shelter but permanent, dignified housing. Because I'd been development coordinator for Catholic Charities of Brooklyn, I knew what questions financiers, tenants, and the city would need answered, and I wrote up a plan. Everyone I talked to was too overcommitted to take it on. They all agreed, though, that someone really ought to do it. Finally, I thought, 'Oh, someone is me.'"
—Rosanne Haggerty, Founder, Common Ground, a nonprofit that aims to end homelessness
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Don't Be Afraid to Be Different
"I didn't have a showroom. I was totally freaked out about that: I live above a restaurant, and buyers had to walk through a side door near the dining room to get to my tiny apartment. But people loved coming over. I'd serve cookies and have a fire going. They said it was a relief from the other showings they'd been to. Sometimes when you're forced into doing things in an unexpected way, you make a big impression. And with so many people out there, being yourself is the only way to stand out."
—Lana Bilzerian, Knitwear Designer

Ask for Help
"I couldn't make all the cookies in my own kitchen, and I didn't want to pay for an expensive industrial mixer, so I called a local restaurant that served only lunch and dinner and asked if I could use their mixer in the mornings. They said, 'yes.'"
—Debbie Godowsky, Owner, Cookies Direct, which sells care packages to send to kids in college
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Split Your Time
"I couldn't quit my job, but I did take a lower-paying position that had more flexible hours. Then I signed up for night courses in flower arranging at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and at Parsons School of Design. I started taking orders out of my house."
—Katrina Parris, Founder, Katrina Parris Flowers
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Take Rejection in Stride
"I knew how to make up a business plan. Much more daunting was the idea of getting a bank to lend me $1.5 million. I was turned down 32 times by male bankers. My 33rd presentation was to a female banker in New York. She didn't even let me finish my pitch before agreeing to give me the money."
—Catherine Hughes, Founder and Chairperson, Radio One

Next: What you can learn from your customers
Get Feedback
"We wanted to see if our cakes would sell, so for months we held tasting parties for friends and family. We asked guests to write comments anonymously on cards. Mostly, people said nice things, but they also said 'too moist,' 'too sweet,' and 'needs to be more pineapple-y'—which sort of got my mom's back up. My mom worked on the recipes until people thought the cakes had just the right amount of moistness, sweetness, and flavor."
—Norrinda Brown, Co-Owner, Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
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Build a Network "I've participated in a number of stationery shows, and along the way I've struck up informal relationships with other entrepreneurs. We compare notes across the aisle; it's good to talk to others who are going through the same thing, and together you can brainstorm ways to partner on future projects."
—Kim See, Founder, Kemse & Company, which specializes in multicultural stationery design

Follow Your Customers
My taste wasn't completely resonating with my suburban customers. My sales weren't as good as they could be, and the people who were buying had come up from the city. Obviously, I needed to move downtown, but rents aren't cheap. Still, in 2005, I did it. My sales went right up."
—Chandra Greer, Owner, Greer, a Chicago stationery store
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Mentor Others
"I didn't have a lot of money to pay assistants, so I called the youth employment service at my son's high school and advertised for art students. They sent me two great girls."
—Pam Older, Founder of the jewelry firm Pam Older Designs"

Toot Your Own Horn
"Women, especially Southern women, are taught to be demure. When I first opened, I didn't want to be a show-off and name my company after myself. Instead I called it WSG (Wilson Services Group) Consulting. Huge mistake. No one could remember it. Plus, my expertise and talent are what clients are buying. We rebranded this year as Robin Wilson Home. Business is booming."
—Robin Wilson, Renovation and Design Manager, Robin Wilson Home
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Next: Enjoy the rewards
Negotiate with Your Employer
"I left [my] job and started doing freelance production work—party decorating, floral and production design, trying to figure out where I wanted to be in the business. Then I got a job with Formica Corporation. I made a deal that they would pay for me to go back to school for interior design."
—Courtney Sloane, Founder, Alternative Design
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Stay Calm
"You can't allow yourself the luxury of being overwhelmed, because then you can't do anything."
—Kathe Padilla, Founder of Zambian Children's Fund, which supports an orphanage and a school in Africa
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Be Creative
"Putting together the financial structure [was the hardest thing]. It was the part I knew and cared the least about; no bank would help me. One day I woke up and said, 'I have to make this a creative project, too.' I developed my own alternative bank, borrowing small amounts from people who believed in me. I was able to pay them back in four years, and by that time I was bankable."
—Stephanie Odegard, President, Odegard Inc., a rug design and import company
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Enjoy the Rewards
"Now a business trip is to wine country or a food festival. I love it all. You can't serve ad copy at a dinner party, but a beautiful cheese tray is always a big hit."
—Sara Vivenzio, Founder, Cheese School of San Francisco
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Have Faith in Yourself
"First, take it easy. Because it's your passion, you can get carried away and burn out. Second, take small steps. I've seen a lot of people with great vision who don't go anywhere because they want the end result immediately. Third, don't try to figure out what sells. You are the one thing other businesses can't duplicate."
—Teresa Chang, Founder, Teresa Chang Ceramics
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Be Your Own Boss


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