Five Career Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: UMGC Alumni Share Their Stories

Do you dream of becoming an entrepreneur? Of driving every aspect of your business, of creating innovative solutions to problems, of the freedom that comes from owning your own schedule? If you answered “Yes,” you’re in good company. In the United States, alone, there are more than 27 million entrepreneurs, and that number is growing.

“Being an entrepreneur provides you with the feeling that you are controlling your own destiny, with unlimited income potential,” says Carla Jones, career advising specialist, in UMGC’s Career Services office. “It also affords you the opportunity to create your own schedule to focus on work that is truly important to you.”

Knowing how to get started can be daunting, though. Here are five pieces of real-world advice from fellow UMGC alumni entrepreneurs and one of UMGC’s career experts on how to bring your dreams of business ownership to life.

  1. Have a clear understanding of why you’re launching your own business.

Starting your own business is exciting, especially if you’ve been dreaming of doing it for a long time. After the initial glow wears off, though, you’re left with hard work—and lots of it. If you understand what’s driving you, it can help keep you motivated during the long days and nights you’ll spend creating a business from scratch.

Jessica Lathrop ‘13, lead design and marketing manager for Girly Momma Designs, LLC, is driven by the desire to create a better life for her family.

“While earning my bachelor’s degree online through UMGC, my goal was to start an online business that could bring extra money into our household, as a military budget for a family of five can be a bit tight,” she explains.

Keeping that top of mind helps her stay focused no matter how tough her days are.

  1. Don’t be afraid to start small.

Although you may dream of being at the helm of a multi-million-dollar enterprise you build from the ground up, you have to start somewhere. Most often, that means starting small and expanding the business over time.

When Vindya Wijeweera ‘16, managing partner, Rockland Spirits Japan, and her husband were in Japan, she saw a tremendous business opportunity for high-quality, exotic products and spirits in the Japanese consumer market.

How did she get started on this venture? “At a very small scale with actually carrying the product samples in our personal luggage when we traveled back to Japan after our vacation in Sri Lanka,” she says. “We obtained a commercial import license for a portfolio of spirits and alcoholic beverages from Sri Lanka and commercializing the product in Japan.”

Lathrop also grew her business gradually, first selling her products on eBay and Etsy before selling them on Amazon. Her from-home enterprise eventually became a business with a two-story office with four employees.

  1. Make marketing a top priority.

Marketing can make or break a business—especially a fledgling one. That’s why it’s important to have a detailed marketing plan.

“Establishing a well-thought out marketing plan will help business owners to differentiate their products or services and demonstrate value to their customers,” notes Jones.

Having a marketing plan also can help you get a handle on your expenses, as well as how you’ll need to allocate your time. Marketing activities include developing and maintaining a company website and social media presence, advertising and other efforts that get your products in front of potential buyers.

“Having a detailed marketing plan is something I would recommend to anyone trying to launch a business,” says Lathrop.

A big marketing impact doesn’t have to come with a big price tag, though. “We spend little—if any—money on advertising and rely on our products to be items our customers are excited to purchase,” she notes. “We rely largely on our bootstrap marketing techniques and finding amazing influencers willing to showcase our glasses on one of their online videos.”

  1. Be flexible.

You might launch a business with one product or service in mind and realize along the way that something else might work better.

Ten years ago, Lathrop started her business selling customized party supplies and personalized t-shirts—and business was booming. In 2016, she was sidelined due to unexpected health problems. She and her husband decided to move the family to Spain and streamline their product offerings and operations in order to have a more relaxed lifestyle.

“In 2017, we launched a brand of couple’s stemless wine glasses that are sold in pairs, with popular catch phrases, such as ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’ and ‘Netflix, Chill’ on the glasses,” she says.

Wijeweera also knows that in business—as in life—things don’t always go as expected. That’s why she always has a contingency plan. “It’s always good to calculate risks involved and have a backup plan in case the first plan of attack fails,” she advises.

  1. Learn as much as you can.

When you launch a business, it’s likely that you don’t know what you don’t know. Being underinformed and underprepared can put you at a greater risk of failure, though. The antidote: learn as much as you can about the local market, your competition, regulations and anything else that will give you a leg up.

“Study the market. Get involved in the local business community with [networking opportunities] to understand the various cultural practices and dynamics of the market,” she says. When she did this with her own new business in Japan, “I was able to quickly identify the distribution tier system in Japan for the beverage market.”

In the end, the hard work and sacrifice is worth it for most entrepreneurs.

“No entrepreneur will ever tell you that the road to success will be easy. But with the proper planning, persistence and mindset, the rewards of having your own business will far out way the challenges,” concludes Jones.