We asked Joan Smith, Ph.D. CEO of Linear B Systems, “What is your best advice to women entrepreneurs wanting to start a company or business?”
- Identify your niche. That is the hardest part at the beginning, i.e., figuring out what you offer to your potential customers that they can’t get elsewhere. And be prepared for that niche to morph into something else as your business finds other opportunities arising from that initial specialty. I think that niche identification continues to be a challenge, especially throughout the life of a tech business since that domain is itself so changeable in focus. It’s not always easy to figure out the best growth path, particularly if there are competing options and it is impractical to focus on more than one. If you think you chose the wrong option then step back, re-evaluate, and see if it just needs more time or if a new direction is called for. What skills do you and your staff have that could be channeled into a more successful option? We’ve been in business for almost 9 years and these are choices we continue to work on.
- Get your business certified as a WOSB at both State and federal levels. Be careful that your Board members or executives do not have roles (in other businesses) that could jeopardize your certification. And get whatever other “disadvantaged” certifications you can, as quickly as you can: veteran, minority, etc. It’s easier to do this at the beginning than to do it later on.
- Monitor your cash flow every month, and try to stay in the “black”. Any short-term period could be negative as long as the red ink goes black in the following period. How long is that short-term period? That will vary by how much of your own cash you have to cover bills pending getting paid for work you have done. There’s always a gap between earning the money and getting the check. With some government contracts, the payment delay can go on for months.
- Keep at least some of the profits in the business as a cushion against future payment delays or as a savings account to fund future growth. Hiring a new employee costs money, and you will need to foot the bill for those costs while waiting for your customer to pay.