‘Business decision-making is an analysis of the impact that each single step will have, identifying the alternatives that may result, and then evaluating again,” says Jeanne Gray, a serial entrepreneur who has started three successful companies in the past 20 years — and who is poised to expand her current business nationally.
Gray will present “Thinking Strategically to Grow Your Business” at the Mercer County chapter of NJAWBO on Thursday, September 8, at 6 p.m. at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Princeton Forrestal Village. Cost: $49. Reservations can be made online at www.njawbomercer.org.
“I think there was always a thread of an idea that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial and creative in business, even when I was in college,” says Gray, the founder of NJEntreprenuer.com. The site is a web-based business designed to give budding entrepreneurs the support and information that Gray herself needed when she opened her first business.
Gray earned her bachelor’s in applied business from Cornell University in 1979 and got her first job at Manufacturers Hanover Trust, which is now JP Morgan Chase. “It was a great place to learn about business,” she says. She obtained her MBA from New York University in 1983 and “walked out of my degree into what at that time was the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
Jobs were few and far between, but she found an “in-between job” working in the New York office of a Florida-headquartered bank and soon found herself making plans to start her own company, which she launched with her brother in 1985.
The business you plan isn’t the business you run. The company Gray started made wooden toys that eventually were sold at FAO Schwartz. While that was certainly a coup, the toys never did well and the company morphed into a design prototype studio for the cosmetic industry and then a broker/manufacturer of displays for the cosmetic industry.
That may seem like a big turn in heavy traffic to an outsider, says Gray, but the transitions did happen logically and strategically. Her brother had worked as a designer with Revlon for several years and had contacts in that industry, making it an excellent choice to move from toys to cosmetics.
The company’s “best work,” she says, was assisting with the launch of the Trish McEvoy cosmetic line. “It was as hot then as Bobbie Brown and MAC are today,” she adds.
Being prepared to change your company’s plans also means being prepared to change your own, Gray says. By 1998 she was ready for another change.
“There are a lot of good things about being in business with your family, but it was time for me to move on,” she says. “I had done my research and I felt that technology was the wave of the future.”
She joined a small technology company and was a part of an executive team that changed it from a local company “with high schools as clients” to a national entity with clients such as American Express and CoinStar.
In 2003 Gray was ready to be back on her own. Having helped two businesses grow, she decided that her third company should focus on helping other entrepreneurs do the same with their businesses. Again, she looked to technology and the Internet and founded NJEntreprenuer.com.
The company, headquartered in Westfield, “helps entrepreneurs to establish their business goals and prioritize their activities to achieve successful business growth,” she says.
The isolated business owner. “One of the things that almost all entrepreneurs tell me is that they never understood how isolated they would feel working solo as a business owner,” says Gray. “I know exactly how they feel. There is so much you need to know and no one to turn to. When I was starting my first business there wasn’t even the Internet to help me.”
NJEntreprenuer.com gives business owners a forum to find information, meet other business owners and venture capitalists, network, and develop the resources they need to be successful. Information on the website is free to users.
The site is supported by advertising from a wide range of for-profit and non-profit business resources and organizations. In addition, NJEntrepreneur.com has held three conferences in the last three years to bring entrepreneurs together to network and learn through workshops and panel discussions. Several entrepreneur breakfasts are held throughout the year. All are designed to remove the isolation from entrepreneurs.
Strategic growth. In business, there is no standing still, Gray has learned. She is about to launch a new series of websites that will eventually take her business to all 50 states. “I’ve spent the last year building a new contact management system that will handle the additional sites, and I’m anticipating the launch of the first two sites soon after Labor Day,” she says. The sites will be called PAEntrepreneurToday.com and NYEntrepreneurToday.com.
But Gray hasn’t jumped into expansion lightly. A lot of planning and development have been involved. She knows there is a market in other states, not only for the resources the website offers, but for advertising and sponsorship dollars as well. “I get calls all the time from people in other states who have found our site on the Internet,” she says.
Write that business plan. The first thing any new business owner should do is write a business plan. The business plan should include an executive summary that captures the main points of the business. “It is a great communication tool that will help the entrepreneur tell others about the business,” Gray says.
While many new entrepreneurs are more interested in developing a product, a website or a marketing plan, writing a business plan and referring to it will help to keep the business on track, even when things don’t go according to plan.
Once the plan is written, show it to people who have a wide variety of business experience to get their feedback. “You will get a different perspective from someone who is in the midst of starting a business than from a person who has been successful for several years,” she says.
Learning to think strategically is not a trait that just occurs naturally. Instead, it is a discipline that can be learned and is essential for a business owner’s success, says Gray. Without it, a business may grow for a while, but ultimately that growth will slow or stop as decisions are made on the spur of the moment without looking at their overall effect on the business.