From the Main Streets to the back streets to the World Wide Web, New Yorkers are making it impossible not to eat, shop and party local. But to bring you some of the best dining and lifestyle options around, someone had to take a risk and make an investment by starting a business in an up-and-down economy that trends towards chains. In our March issue, we shared three stories of Long Island businesses that went national. Perhaps that inspired you to take a leap and start your own business, or maybe it simply gave you a new appreciation for entrepreneurship. To help you take the next step and give you a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to own a business, I got insight from seven locals on everything from creating successful business plans to choosing the perfect name.
Long Island Pulse: What are things you wish you knew when you started?
Patty Barr, The Elegant Organizer: Be prepared to sell yourself and don’t be afraid to get out there. I learned during the first year that it is OK to fail. Every time you speak to someone new, it is always a new opportunity–BE PRESENT!
Ralph Capozzi, Capozzi & Co. Salon: Better leadership skills. A true leader knows that when his business falls short, it is ultimately his/her fault. A true leader pulls, not pushes. A true leader explains the “why” in what we do to help the people he leads to understand the job in front of them. All of which I learned through the years of being in business and evolving with education I sought out.
Pulse: How do you handle wearing lots of hats?
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: Coffee helps, but it’s just about having a “doer” mentality and making good hiring decisions. With the right people by your side, it keeps things moving in the right direction. As a startup, you’re constantly trying to push a boulder up a hill. The harder you push, the more work is going to fall from it…how you handle that will determine success.
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: Excel in time management. Put on a hat, don’t get frazzled and scattered, prioritize and be present.
Ralph Capozzi, Capozzi Salon & Co.: Working with schedules and different personalities throughout my career has made me very pliable, thereby allowing me to change from hat to hat.
Pulse: Does it ever get a bit lonely at the top? How do you deal with that?
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: Sometimes when you have to make difficult choices the majority doesn’t agree with you, it feels lonely. To deal with that situation, remind yourself of how you got to where you are now, go with your gut and do what you think is best. Just have confidence and understand that this is part of the process.
Karen Marvin, South Shore Paddleboards: By involving my staff and family in my decisions, I never really feel alone. One tip I would share is that you can’t think you know it all. Other’s opinions and ideas help grow a business. Don’t be a know-it-all because no one knows it all.
Pulse: Who do you turn to for advice? What are characteristics new business owners should look for in a mentor?
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: I have a few friends, and old bosses [who turned into] friends, who I whole-heartedly trust. Successful business owners who turned nothing into something, put a ton of heart into what they do and are humble about it. Those are the characteristics I value in business people. Beware of the sharks; there are a ton of them out there.
Patty Barr, The Elegant Organizer: I have a coach I visit with every other month to talk through obstacles and celebrate successes with. I look for [someone who is]: a good listener/sounding board, knowledgeable, nonjudgmental, able to give constructive feedback, honest and candid, able to network and find resources, a mentor to others and always building people up.
Pulse: How do you get your staff to buy in and how can others do the same?
Esther Fortunoff, Fortunoff Fine Jewelery: Creating a sense of team and mission and ongoing communication about what is happening to the firm is critical to the success of an organization. Sharing both the successes and failures amongst a group of dedicated employees enabled us to create solutions and opportunities.
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: Involve your staff in the process and listen to their ideas. Make your employees feel important and appreciated. Lead by example and encourage their ideas and empower them.
Pulse: What should owners look for during the hiring process?
Esther Fortunoff, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry: Hire someone you want to spend your days with because you spend more time with employees than with anyone else in your life. Don’t hesitate to hire someone outside of your industry; a smart person can always learn about the industry if they have a strong background and a sense of being on a team. A red flag is someone who talks about “I” rather than “we,” because at the end of the day it is the team that creates a successful organization.
Karen Marvin, South Shore Paddleboards: Looking for people with prior experience in my field is a plus, especially people who actually love the sport of paddleboarding. If they love what they’re doing then it really doesn’t feel like work to them. They’re happy, I’m happy and now my customers are happy.
Ralph Capozzi, Capozzi Salon & Co.: I find that when an applicant shows a desire to learn and tells me what they can do for the business, it can be a positive sign. In our industry warmth is very important. Remember we are physically touching our clients for more than 30 minutes. There must be a genuine sign of caring and I believe that shows up at the interview.
Pulse: Your business name can be a huge decision. What are some tips for choosing the right one?
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: To me, it has to be something you can completely get behind and have it translate exactly how you want it to. Something that, when people see your brand, everything just makes sense. Always go with what you know.
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: First you want to make sure [you have] a domain name that matches your name. Find out if it’s trademarked and do research that already has that name or similar to it.
Pulse: How important is it to have a business plan and what should it define?
Patty Barr, The Elegant Organizer: I came from a corporate hotel management background and it was crucial to develop a business plan on an annual basis. I took that criteria and used it for my own business. [The criteria is]: a clear statement of your business mission and vision, benchmarks you can use to track your performance and make changes as you go along, an analysis of your competitors including opportunities and threats, a portrait of your potential customers and their buying behaviors, an assessment of your company’s strengths and weaknesses, a budget and timeline for achieving your goals and objectives, a marketing calendar and an email blast campaign, monthly and yearly action plans by employee.
Pulse: Do you recommend getting an accountant?
Anthony Taccetta, Anthony Taccetta Event Design: We have an outside source that handles our accounting and it’s extremely helpful especially when it comes to a growing business. An accountant helps you manage payroll and produce graphs so you can see how the ratio changes over time.
Pulse: Do you recommend keeping your day job while starting out? Why or why not?
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: I left my day job around six months into this. The time came when I knew how much harder, and how much more time I would have to put into this to make it work. Working during that time allowed me to remain financially stable and still fund the startup costs of the business.
Karen Marvin, South Shore Paddleboards: I went in it full time from the beginning. I felt I had to give a 100 percent of my time and it wouldn’t have been easy to split my time between two jobs. I was also fortunate enough to have my husband, Bill, and his job to support and keep our family and household going.
Pulse: What are some good apps and tech resources for business owners?
Esther Fortunoff, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry: Go To Meeting for conference calls.
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: Producteev and Quickbooks.
Patty Barr, The Elegant Organizer: Dropbox, Basecamp for project management, Quickbooks, Wave for accounting, Wunderlust and Paypal.
Ralph Capozzi, Capozzi Salon & Co.: I love Perch. It allows me to follow what other people in my industry are doing on a daily basis. Competition keeps us moving forward!
Pulse: Do you prefer a home office or one outside the home? What are the pros and cons of each?
Esther Fortunoff, Fortunoff Fine Jewelry: Having a residential home office has been critical for my business. It allows me to work on my own schedule so I can still enjoy other aspects of my personal life. The “con” of the home office is that it is difficult to separate work from personal and I must force myself to do this sometimes.
Anthony Taccetta, Anthony Taccetta Event Design: Even though being at home is perfect for some, I like the fast paced environment of an office where I can do face to face with my colleagues.
Pulse: How can people sell themselves without being sleezy?
Patty Barr, The Elegant Organizer: Hold volunteer positions in organizations. This is a great way to stay visible and give back to groups that have helped you. Be awake–you can be at the grocery store and there might be an opportunity for business or a partnership. Keep business cards in your pocket.
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: Say yes [when] you’re invited. You want to put yourself out there.
Pulse: Any tips on how to use social media to sell yourself/get the word out about your products?
Christopher Vetter, Sail Away Coffee: Quality content and a consistent rate. Let your product do the talking. We use our networks more as a form of display rather than constantly trying to sell.
Andrea Correale, Elegant Affairs: Find interesting [content] to post everyday, anything that links to an article. It doesn’t always have to be about the industry. Look at it as a personal blog.
Anthony Taccetta, Anthony Taccetta Event Design: I have my own YouTube channel that features my web series Life of the Party and details all of the process of designing an event.