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‘Apprentice’ ex-star: 10 tips to start a business

Carolyn Kepcher, known for her work overseeing contestants on NBC’s “The Apprentice” alongside Donald Trump, offers advice for budding entrepreneurs.
/ Source: TODAY

Carolyn Kepcher, known for her work overseeing contestants on NBC's “The Apprentice” alongside Donald Trump, offers advice for budding entrepreneurs.

If you’re contemplating a startup, consider this top 10 list my “Business Startup Litmus Test.” In my book, if you have these, you have the best possible start. If you’re lacking in any of these areas, it’s in your best interest to step back and fill in the gaps.

1. Passion
Being an entrepreneur means living, breathing and talking your idea. You have to be able to sell your concept to anyone, and that means selling with passion. Your audience needs to feel your enthusiasm and your conviction that you have the right idea at the right time. Make your passion and enthusiasm visible to everyone — how well you do this can make or break a deal.

2. NetworkNobody can start a business without help: financial, management, marketing and more. Join every network, every team, every board that’s closely related to your business. There are a number of resources on the Web that can help you as well. You’ll be surprised to find how many people are willing to help you by introducing you to the right people.

3. KnowledgeIn order to bring your concept or product to market, you have to be prepared to answer every question, especially if you are presenting in front of potential investors or clients. Know the answers to these basic questions: Is there a need? Who is your market/demographic? How will you bring it to market? Is it a viable concept? Who is your competition? What makes you different?

4. Strategic partnersHow do you bring your product to market? You can’t do it alone. Find out what avenues are out there for help. Approach potential distributors or marketing partners with creative ideas on how you can mutually benefit from an alliance.

5. Raising money
This is always the hard part. If your business idea requires outside money, you will probably try to raise it from friends and family first. We call these kinds of investors “angels.” When asking them for money, make sure of one thing: They can afford to lose whatever funds they decide to give you. Never make the mistake of begging your friends and family for more than is reasonable given their own financial situation. If the company goes belly-up, you certainly do not want to be responsible for losses that might have an adverse effect on their lives.

6. Contribute what you can afford
What’s good for your angels is good for you: Only put into your company as much money as you can afford. When thinking about opening a business, don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Earmark an amount that will not interfere with the necessities of your lifestyle. Do not tap into funds that would be used to pay the mortgage, take care of your children’s needs, education, health care or other regular expenses.

7. RelationshipsRelationships are everything. No matter who you speak to, who you worked for, who worked for you — it is imperative that you don’t burn bridges. This may sound like a cliché, but you never know when you may need to reach out to someone from your past. At the same time, it is important that you are continually building new relationships and understandings with people who can help you in the future.

8. Take it slowWith regard to networking and building relationships: When introduced to somebody who might be able to help you, start a dialogue, get to know the person and help him or her get to know you a bit. Only when a relationship is formed should you begin to talk about your business ideas, pose questions or ask for help. If you jump in too quickly, you may turn the person off and lose his/her help altogether. Another consequence of rushing: You may be revealing too much to the wrong person — someone who might steal your idea, reveal it to competitors or hurt you in some other way.

9. Informal board of directorsWhether or not you are starting the kind of company that legally requires you to have a board, you should create one anyway. Assemble a group of knowledgeable friends, colleagues and associates who are willing to meet with you from time to time to look at your plans, review your decisions and act as general advisers to your enterprise.

10. Computer and Internet savvy The world of business runs on software, e-mail and the Internet. You can’t even make a credible approach to big-time investors without a PowerPoint presentation. Every company worth its salt has a Web site. You need a good working knowledge of computers and the Internet, or you need to be prepared to hire smart people who can help you out.

Carolyn Kepcher, founder of fwm (Finding What Matters at and former star of “The Apprentice,” hosts a contest to find the next breakthrough idea or a new small business to apply for a chance to win one of three amazing grant packages. For more information, visit