Melinda Emerson on Transitioning From Employee to Entrepreneur

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Have you dreamed of starting your own business but find yourself unsure of how to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur? Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady, joins Brent Leary to share her “Emerson Planning System;” six steps to transition from employee to entrepreneur.

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employee to entrepreneurSmall Business Trends: Can you share a bit of your background with us?

Melinda Emerson: I am an entrepreneur just like you. I was somebody who was getting headaches on the way to work in the morning. I knew that I was meant to do more. In 1999 I started my first company, Quintessence Multimedia which was a video production and a multimedia production company. I ran that company and still have it.

I am a voracious reader. I have read almost every startup business book out there. I literally wrote the book I’ve never read. I wrote the book that would be the advice I wish somebody had given me back in 1999 when I quit my good job and started a business. That is how ‘Become Your Own Boss In 12 Months’ came about.  My life has never been the same since.

You have to evolve, you have to continue to sharpen your own knife and gain new skills. So what I was able to do for myself, and my business, was I started learning social media. It just so happens that when I went out to social media my name, Melinda Emerson, was taken on Twitter. I had to come up with a new name for myself and so that is how I became SmallBizLady. Fast forward five years, that was the best branding accident that has ever happened to me. But that is what happened.

Small Business Trends: One of the other things you are very well known for are weekly Small Biz Chats?

Melinda Emerson: Absolutely. Every Wednesday from 8 to 9PM EST on Twitter, I host a weekly #SmallBizChat where we get on Twitter with another small business expert and answer small business questions. It really has become incredibly helpful for people. If you have a question and you can’t afford a coach, it is a way for you to ask your questions for free and get helpful information and help everybody else, too.

Every Thursday I post the complete Q&A from the night before on the Small Biz Chat on my blog, SucceedAsYourOwnBoss.

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about the book, ‘Become Your Own Boss In 12 Months.’  Can anybody start a small business in 12 months?

Melinda Emerson: Yes; I have developed a planning system called the ‘Emerson Planning System.’ It helps people transition from having a job to having a business. The first step is developing a life plan.

First, you need to figure out what you want out of life first and then you need to build a business around that.

Second, you have to figure out whether or not you can even afford to become an entrepreneur.  You have got to get your money together, because the reality is the money to start your business is going to come from your right or left pocket. You have to be able to afford to leave your job and start a business. You have to have money to support your family, your household and you have to have the money to launch the business.

Once you get that together, the third step is really evaluating what skills you have, and what skills you need to run your particular kind of business. How do you do that? You need to get a part time job working for a business like the one you want to start. Do not start a business in an industry you don’t know anything about. It is a wrongful deed for disaster.

Step four is figuring out who is going to buy from you and why. The most important thing you need to know about your new business is who is your customer and how are you going to stand out and be unique in the marketplace against your competition?

The fifth step is writing a business plan. You really do need a business plan. You do not spend more time planning your vacation then you do figuring out how you are going to support your family in this new business. Think things through.

The sixth step, and this is the secret, is to start your own business while you are still working in your part time job if you can. It takes 18 to 36 months for a small business to break even, let alone replace your previous corporate salary. You are going to need the time to get your money together and to figure out what you are doing and who your real paying customer is.

Small Business Trends: Are some of the reasons small businesses fail led by these principles you just put out there?

Melinda Emerson: There are five reasons why small businesses fail. The number one reason is because people think about what their lives are going to be like running their business. They think some magic person is going to come and lock and unlock the door every day in their business.

The second reason is because people have no network to sell to. People do business with people they like, know and trust. If you are somebody with no friends and that doesn’t keep in touch with people, you will need to keep your job because you are not going to be in business long. Ninety percent of all small businesses get business from referrals. It is extremely important for you to spend time building your network.

The third reason is because people simply do not save enough money before they start their business. What happens is some emergency in their personal life will torpedo their entrepreneurial dreams.

The fourth reason is because people try to sell to anyone they think has money, as opposed to having in a specific niche target customer.

Step five, and this is the deadliest reason, Brent; people don’t manage their household budget. So guess what? They don’t manage their business with one either and that doesn’t make much sense.

Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?

Melinda Emerson: If you are interested in purchasing my book, an autograph copy of my book, go to my website SucceedAsYourOwnBoss. There you can order an autograph copy of my book. It is also available anywhere books are sold.


This interview about transitioning from employee to entrepreneur is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.

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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

9 Reactions
  1. After 18 years with Coca-Cola and now being self employed for the last several years I couldn’t agree more with what Melinda had to say about everything, but particularly about knowing who SPECIFICALLY you are going to sell to! I like to compare it to a radio station trying to appeal to everyone… playing rap, country, rock, talk, and r&b. Who would listen to that station…lol. Not to mention who in the world would buy advertising. Watching your costs is something that can separate you form your competition too.

    [Edited by Editor]

  2. Great job on this one, Brent.

    Melissa rocks; she totally get it.

    The transition from employee to entrepreneur can be challenging.

    I recommend reading a lot about entrepreneurship, and following folks like @smallbizlady to get the real scopp on what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.

    The Franchise King

  3. “Ninety percent of all small businesses get business from referrals.” wow, that is really something to remember! Thanks for the great post.

  4. “Most people take more time planning their vacations than planning their businesses.” This book should be required reading for all small businesses. I agree Brent, it was not enough time with Ms. Emerson. You need to do a whole series on these principles. Going to put ‘Become Your Own Boss In 12 Months” on my Amazon wish list. Thanks again for sharing.

  5. Wonderful story Melinda!
    I am also starting up a new business. Every time I read stories like yours I realize the bigger challenge is within and not outside. If one can convince themself they can do it….they will….

    Great story and I am on my way from being an employee to being a business owner!!

  6. Great article and I love the six steps.
    I too transitioned from an employee to an entrepreneur and it is over 10 years now. It requires a lot of self motivation and I would say one thing…

    Just be a continuous student of life and business.It will help you stay in the entrepreneurial game!