Tips for Turning a Dream Idea Into a Business Reality

Entrepreneurs shared success stories and career advice during The Dream Project conference.

By + More

Have you thought about ditching your day job in favor of an entrepreneurial dream? Teneshia Warner, founder, CEO and chief creative officer of Egami Consulting Group, a marketing firm specializing in linking brands to urban consumers, did just that when she left her role at IBM to pursue her goal of serving as Russell Simmons’ mentee. She earned that role via persistence and by refusing to take no for an answer. Warner’s firm organized The Dream Project, a one-day conference in Atlanta to bring together a “generation of dreamers” and inspire entrepreneurs to achieve their goals.

Several key messages emerged at the event to help budding entrepreneurs and those who want to grow existing businesses:

Always be the best at what you’re doing. Kevin Liles, currently founder and CEO of the artist management company KWL Enterprises, rose from an unpaid intern to president of Def Jam Music Group in seven years. He explained how making his boss look good helped propel his own career. He admonished the crowd to “always show up for work,” but not just physically. It doesn’t matter your job, when you make a point to do it to the best of your ability, people will notice.

Uncover your key skills. Lisa Price, founder of the beauty and skin care product company Carol's Daughter, said she believes entrepreneurs must discover what they are actually capable of doing. Price suggested you not only focus on what you can do well, but you should discover what you love to do. The time, effort and energy needed to succeed in business requires more than just skill; it calls for a passionate interest. “Don’t go into business only for the money," she noted. " You need to be prepared to give up the money at first.”

Liles shared a similar message. He explained that he originally went to school to become an engineer for the potential salary he could earn, but he had no passion for it and did not complete the degree. “If you are dedicated to the mission, nothing will stop you,” he said.

You have a right to pursue your dream. Once you identify your goals, move to accomplish them. Randal Pinkett, season four winner of television's "The Apprentice " and current president and CEO of the consulting firm BCT Partners, reminded attendees of several truisms he said he believes:

  • “Failure is one day meeting the man or woman you could have been.”
  • “You are never old until your regrets outnumber your dreams.”
  • “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world actually do.”

Keep an eye on the future. If you want to succeed, you need to expand your knowledge beyond your subject or product expertise. Many entrepreneurs would prefer sticking to what they know well. However, the most successful business owners know it's important to understand their own product or service and know how to market it. Price reminded business owners to never become complacent and to be aware of where things in your field are moving, so that you can stay ahead of the crowd.

She noted that Carol’s Daughter almost missed out on being successful marketing its products via YouTube and video, as well as on Instagram. While the company is now catching up, she noted it was a little late in the game to recognize how important those networks were to connecting with the company's audience. Price suggested that you ask how you and your dreams fit into the future of your industry. “How are you going to survive the change?”

Target your marketing. Once you understand what you’re good at and what you have to offer, be sure you focus on your audience. Social media tools provide access and resources to connect directly with your market, but you need to determine the best networks to use them well.

Nakita M. Pope, owner and chief chick of Branding Chicks, which specializes in marketing and strategy for small businesses, advised that entrepreneurs learn about and understand their audiences before jumping online. For example, she explained, “Don't create your logo before you figure out what you do and who it's for. What is your priority?” When you authentically align your brand to your audience, you’ll have the opportunity to consistently connect to your customers via social media and other channels.

Hire an expert. Seven Hughes is creative director and owner of 7th Wonder, Inc., a firm offering direct marketing and branding strategies. He explained that finding a small business consultant who understands the aspects of business growth and development that you yourself don't understand will prevent you from making costly mistakes. “You don’t want someone practicing on your product," he said. "Find people who can have you outrunning your competition from the moment you start.”

Erica Barrett, CEO and founder of Southern Culture Artisan Foods, agreed. She said she would have made " tens of thousands of dollars in mistakes" without hiring expert help to launch her product and design her packaging.

Miriam Salpeter, owner of Keppie Careers, is often quoted in major media outlets for her job search and social media expertise. Author of three books and a sought-after speaker and coach, she leverages her extensive background and successes to teach job seekers and entrepreneurs how to easily use social media marketing to accomplish their career and business goals. Salpeter also provides strategic advice and support regarding interviewing, résumé writing and personal branding.