10 Secrets to Starting a Successful Business

By Locke Hughes

Owning a company comes with pretty exciting perks-you get to be the boss, you decide who your co-workers are (if you want any at all!) and you make your hours. But getting a business off the ground can be daunting. How can you ensure that people buy your product or pay for your service? How do you compete with similar companies? How do you come up with a winning business idea in the first place? The women in the following slides have the answers. Let their success stories inspire you to make your dream a reality.

Rita Goldberg, 62, Sunrise, FL

HER BUSINESS British Swim School, with locations in FL, MD and IL

THE CONCEPT Schools that teach skills plus safety

EARNINGS $2.2 million in sales last year

HER STORY Rita swam competitively in Britain until she was a teen, but it didn't cross her mind to turn her hobby into a career until years later. "One day I accompanied a friend to her child's swim lesson, and as soon as I saw the coach interacting with the kids, I knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Rita remembers. She quit her teaching job and opened her own swim school. "Each day I go to work excited to help my students learn skills they'll always have," she says. Photo by Keith Lathrop/Hair and Makeup by Georgette Rojas.

Her Success Secrets

FIND EXISTING RESOURCES "I realized there are pools at health clubs, hotels and rental developments that sit empty all day," Rita says. "So I decided to rent that space to save the cost of building pools as I expanded the company."

KEEP A "MOM-AND-POP" FEEL Rita ensures that each of the 13 British Swim School locations has a welcoming staff and personal touches to make nervous students-and parents-feel comfortable. "We gear our teaching to each child's personality-we don't have a cookie-cutter approach," says Rita.

Renée Maloney, 43, and Cathy Deano, 58, Mandeville, LA

THEIR BUSINESS Painting with a Twist, with 62 franchise locations in 15 states

THE CONCEPT An art class where friends drink a little wine and have a lot of fun while learning to paint

EARNINGS Over $1 million in 2011

THEIR STORY After Hurricane Katrina tore through Louisiana in 2005, friends Cathy and Renée felt compelled to help their community recover its spirit. "We came up with an art class paired with BYOB wine, which would give people a creative way to burn off stress," recalls Renée, who managed an orthodontic practice at the time. She and Cathy, a caterer, tried out the concept in Cathy's backyard. As an artist friend taught them step by step how to re-create a portrait of a woman, the two followed along and produced frame-worthy paintings. "The idea worked, even for nonartists like us, so we decided to go for it," says Cathy. Photo Courtesy of Painting with a Twist.

Their Success Secrets

PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS Before starting the business, Cathy and Renée had collaborated on several successful fundraising projects for their children's school. Cathy, who's more creative, handles marketing and copyrights, while Renée, who's more business-minded, is in charge of finances and personnel.

GIVE BACK TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS "People like to support companies that give back," says Renée. By designating one night a month when at least half the proceeds go to charity, Painting with a Twist locations have attracted new customers.

Talia Bahr Goldfarb 39, St. Louis


THE CONCEPT Velcro belts for children or anyone with dexterity issues

EARNINGS $2 million in sales since launching in 2004

HER STORY When Talia's toddler's pants became too big after potty training, she searched for a belt he could fasten himself. "I couldn't find one in stores," Talia recalls, so in 2004 she and her sister, Danielle, perfected a Velcro belt simple enough for a 2-year-old to fasten with one hand. Photo Courtesy of Talia Goldfarb.

Her Success Secrets

DON'T LET INEXPERIENCE HOLD YOU BACK "I wasn't intimidated by large chain stores because I didn't know I should be," says Talia, a former social worker. She cold-called retailers and looked through magazines. "I found names of editors and mailed them our products," she says.

BE PATIENT In 2006, Talia gave a Myself Belt sample to a woman at a disabilities expo. She knew a buyer at QVC, who ordered 2,000 adult belts four years later. Talia also developed a friendship with a buyer at Stride Rite, following up every few months until she landed a $25,000 account.

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Mary Tatum, 47, Janet Rickstrew, 49, Denver


THE CONCEPT Empowering women to handle home repairs and projects on their own


IMPRESSIVE STAT The company is on track to end 2012 with a 25% increase in gross sales.

THEIR STORY In 2000, Janet and Mary noticed many of their female friends were becoming interested in DIY projects. "With the booming housing market at that time, more women were living on their own, and they wanted to maintain their homes without hiring a handyman," explains Mary. The longtime friends came up with the concept of "tool parties," where sales consultants sell tools, then show how to use them. Photo Courtesy of Erin K. Sturga.

Their Success Secrets

MAKE A COMMITMENT When a national TV program mentioned Tomboy Tools on-air, their website received more than 60,000 hits in 20 minutes. "We quit our day jobs to focus on the company completely," says Janet. They both sold their homes and dipped into retirement funds. "It required total commitment-and some sacrifices," Mary says.

LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMER "The first tools we manufactured were blue-we were afraid people wouldn't take pink seriously!" recalls Janet. But when they introduced a pink hammer in 2005, women went crazy for it. "That taught us to listen to what our customers wanted, not what we thought would sell," says Mary.

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Cinnamon Bowser, 41, Alexandria, VA


THE CONCEPT A mobile manicure/pedicure business that makes house calls and services conferences and events


EARNINGS $200,000 last year

HER STORY "I wanted to treat a pregnant friend to a pedicure at home, but I couldn't find a salon willing to send someone. So I decided to start a company myself. While I was working full time in public relations, I enrolled in a business planning course at a women's business center and read every nail industry trade magazine I could. I even took a manicure/pedicure course at a cosmetology school! I spent two years learning about business ownership and the nail industry before launching my company, to help avoid costly mistakes." Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan; hair & makeup: Susan Heydt.

Her Success Secrets

SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES "When I was ready to launch, I contacted the organizer of a women's conference in my area to offer our services in the future. We did the conference and were booked the entire day! The women I met there spread the word and soon our phone was ringing off the hook.

BE MEDIA-FRIENDLY Start with local print, online, TV and radio, and work up to regional and national outlets. Most of all, be consistent. We got a lot of media attention because I stayed in touch with my contacts."

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