What’s After the 'Aha!' Moment?

By Features FOXBusiness

Success stories are as varied as the entrepreneurs who’ve lived them. So unfortunately, there’s no precise formula for moving your great idea ahead. Still, some common themes emerge from those who’ve followed the dream: move quickly and decisively, but stay patient and persistent.

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Consider Justin Esch. One late night in early 2007, Esch was sitting at Wet Willie’s bar in Miami with a colleague he hardly knew. After a few rounds of drinks, Esch’s business idea came up in conversation.

“He asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” said Esch. “I told him I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he asked me some of my ideas.”

The next hour would change both of their lives forever. Within minutes, Esch started telling Dave Lefkow about creating a salt that tastes like bacon.

“He thought it was great, but that there had to be something out there like it already,” explained Esch. But after looking it up on their phones, Esch proved to Lefkow that there was nothing similar to it on the market.

“I Googled him wrong,” said Esch, “and then we bought the domain name, Bacon Salt, when we were still out. It was probably around 2 a.m.”

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From there, the two made a series of smart moves. They signed a business partnership agreement that Esch said “you can literally download online.” They were also very strategic from the beginning.

“We knew a lot about online branding and how to protect your idea. So we bought related Web domains and went after all the intellectual trademarks to block potential competition,” said Esch.

This brisk behavior is a good way to be, explained Anita Campbell, one of the leading small business experts in the country.

“You need to get started,” she explained. “Don’t plan too long or make it too big because you might talk yourself out of it.”

It certainly worked for Esch, whose multimillion-dollar business has been featured everywhere, from Oprah to Jon Stewart to FOX News.

But Esch’s innovative product was, in many ways, creating a field of its own. If an idea has been around for a while and you’re hoping to put a new twist to it, Campbell suggested you should work in that industry if you haven’t already.

“Spend some time in a business because that’s where you learn and a lot of that is hard to quantify,” said Campbell.

Consider the patience of Tawny Ong.

Once Ong, owner of Tawny’s Desserts, decided she wanted to get in the cupcake business, she quit her job at insurance giant MetLife and took a job at Magnolia Bakery, a famous bakery in New York City.

“I didn’t even know how to bake,” she said. “So I knew I needed the experience to learn about everything from how to make the batter to how to deal with customers.”

She spent more than two years there, honing her abilities and learning from all the experience.

“It took awhile. But once I felt ready, I left…I think I was getting a little too comfortable there,” said Ong.

Since going out on her own she has baked cakes for Lady Gaga and NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and is planning to open her first store in New York City in spring 2011.

Here are more useful suggestions from Anita Campbell:

•Get professional advice – go to Score.org. Campbell explained that Score advisors need to sign contracts and will not steal your idea.

•Start investigating the costs for opening and running a business. Talk to landlords, investigate what equipment you will need and estimate startup costs.

•Invest in online software like Business Plan Pro, which will help you write a business plan if you don’t know how to already.

•Don’t quit your day job -- develop your business for as long as you can. (Remember to check your work’s policies about moonlighting and make sure they allow it.)

•Break it down to see how much you would make per month, and then break it down per day. You need to project your day-to-day sales to know whether or not your business idea is viable.

• Make sure you have six months of living expenses before you start a business.

•If you can, self-finance because you don’t want to start a business in debt

•Don’t talk about the idea with a lot of people until you’re far enough along that you can get public users. People can and have gotten their ideas stolen before.

•And remember, to be an entrepreneur you need to be a self-starter: have a strong vision and be self-motivated, even when things aren’t looking good.

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