Getting through the First Year. (Entrepreneurship)

Article excerpt

Starting a business is somewhat like preparing for a final exam. There's organizing test information, managing study time, and then taking the actual test. But sometimes, despite taking careful steps before opening shop, the first year can still be a learning process. Ebele Mora, the 18-year-old president of Imprint Design Services, a graphic design and printing company in Columbus, Ohio, did lots of groundwork before forming her company in May 2000. Even with laying a foundation, Ebele learned that a big part of running a business is trial and error.

DEVELOPING THE IDEA

Ebele had the right idea when she decided to enter an NAACP ACT-SO Entrepreneurship competition in her state in April 2000. Prior to entering, she studied concepts such as defining her business and its services, learning basic business vocabulary, and marketing and management. She had to write a 20-page business plan and make a five-minute presentation in front of six judges. Needless to say, Ebele's efforts won Imprint Designs the competition. She also took second place in the ACT-SO nationals in July of that year. In all, Ebele has participated in few business competitions. "Those competitions help me define my ideas." she explains, "Each year when I compete. I write a new business plan. In 2001, I called it A Plan for Success ... a Plan for Improvement and Development for My Business in its Next Year.

FINDING THE CUSTOMERS

Ebele's business, which creates materials such as flyers, invitations, business cards, bookmarks, and program booklets, made $3,000 after its first year. For three years prior to starting Imprint Design Services, she volunteered to design the printed materials for a women's arts and community organization. Once Ebele decided to start a company, she had 12 clients waiting in the wings from referrals from the women's organization. Soon, hairstylists and ether self-employed individuals were calling for her services. "Once the word got out about the business," Ebele says. "I began to connect with several mentors." One of those mentors was a graphic designer who owned a software business. Because she used the family's Gateway desktop computer, printer, and paper, Ebele was able to start her company without any money. Within the first month of doing graphic designs, she made $100. Thinking smart, she reinvested the money and bought paper and ink cartridges.

CHARGING THE RIGHT PRICE

Even though Ebele had a fair share of work coming in, there were several things she hadn't completely figured out before starting some of the projects. She was very excited, for instance when a local salon asked her to create business cards for 14 of its stylist. But Ebele didn't figure out what the project would cost her before giving the customer a price. "I hadn't figured out how many pages I could print per ink cartridge," she says. "And even though I printed the cards at home. I also hadn't factored in the cost of having to get them cut at Kinkos." When done, the job cost about $220, barely leaving $25 in profit for all of the hard work. She raised the cost of the business cards several times before coming up with a price that would give her a larger profit. Ebele decided to change a few other things too,

For starters, she began buying ink to fill the prissier cartridges instead of purchasing a new cartridge every time. She also found a supplier that sold paper at a much cheaper rate. In addition, Ebele decided she wouldn't print less than 400 cards per customer. After determining that, it would cost her $14 to produce that many cards, she set her, cost at $28 per order, leaving her with a $14 profit. "The price I arrived at was cost-effective for the customers and profitable for me," she says.

Ebele also stresses that, at times, she didn't put enough value on her work. …