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A Million Dollar Business -- What Does it Take?

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I've been a "serial entrepreneur" since before the Internet boom made it fashionable (and even during the bust when many went running back to their corporate jobs!). I've been involved in the early stages of over 15 businesses, mostly in technology, telecom and digital media. I've started businesses in Japan, Russia, Latin America and the good old U.S. of A. I've survived coup attempts in Russia and Internet bubble bursts in New York and have lived to tell the tale. I'm currently co-founder and COO of ApplyWise, an online college admissions counseling program. I spend a lot of time mentoring entrepreneurs -- particularly women and young entrepreneurs just starting out. But, at the same time, I'm going through start-up pains myself again.

What I love about entrepreneurs and particularly women entrepreneurs is how so many have overcome adversity and turned their problems into opportunities. Sometimes they create their businesses out of necessity and sometimes they create something out of pure passion and often it is a combination of both and often they are juggling family and work, teaching themselves new skills because they have to and never taking "no" for an answer. For women, particularly in this iffy economy, starting your own business is a smart thing to do.
Some stats to keep in mind:

- Small business represents more than 99.7% of all U.S. employers.
- They generate 60-80% of net new jobs annually
- Women own 40% of all U.S. small businesses and employ more people than Fortune 500 companies combined.
- There are almost 11 million women owned businesses, but only approximately 250k have revenues over $1 million.

I was shocked when I first heard that last stat. Why is that? Access to capital? I do a weekly radio show called "Launchpad" on WOR Radio in NY with my mom, Joan (yes, we were the first mother/daughter radio team before Martha and her daughter!). We just interviewed Nell Merlino the founder of a great organization called Count Me In (Nell was also the brains behind "Take our Daughters to Work Day"). Nell told us that women could not even take out a loan in their own name until 1974!! At that time, women owned only 5% of small businesses in this country. Today, it's closer to almost 50%, but still less than 3% of these businesses are over a million dollars in revenue. Nell started a fantastic program called Make Mine a Million Business Program (makemineamillion.org). Their goal is to get a million women owned businesses to a million dollars in revenue by 2010. They've got events running around the country to select women-owned businesses which they think can reach the million dollar mark. They are giving these business owners mentoring, money, networking and support to help them grow their business to over a million in revenue. So far, over 30 businesses they've helped have hit the million dollar mark. They've got an event in New Jersey on June 3rd to pick the next bunch of winners. So many of the entrepreneurs they're working with have such inspiring stories. Like Ellie Whalen -- we also spoke to her this week. She and her sister were marketing executives at major brands -- Swatch Watch, Christian Dior, Kenneth Cole. But they were exhausted and never felt well. They started doing research into homeopathic ways to feel better. They ended up started a business called "Sprayology". Now, they're in much better health and are doing something they love -- selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of homeopathic and vitamin oral sprays.

That's the key I think -- follow your passion. And make sure you have something that someone else besides you would want to buy! Steven Covey author of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic, was quoted in Entrepreneur magazine. To figure out what kind of business lights your fire and will keep it burning for the long haul, he suggests asking yourself three questions: Do I like doing it? Am I good at it? Does the world need it?

"If you have a passion that you're good at but the world doesn't need it, you've got a useless passion," says Covey. "If you're focusing on what the world needs and sell out your passion, you sell out what is uniquely you. But if you can make a living doing something that you're really good at and like -- what a combination!"

I'm heading to a wedding in Vietnam the end of this week. Some friends whom I met in Moscow are getting married there -- a lot of the guests were young entrepreneurs who went to Moscow in the "cowboy" days when it was still risky and daring to start businesses there. I should have some good stories of entrepreneurial businesses and what's going on in Vietnam when I get back.