How to start a successful business, from a consultant and coach who's built multimillion-dollar companies

"The first place to look [for business ideas] is anywhere you have expertise and experience."

Jennifer Kem.
Courtesy Jennifer Kem

Serial entrepreneur Jennifer Kem has had a hand in building multiple million-dollar businesses. First, there was the underwear shop, J. Boudoir, she opened in her then-home-state of Hawaii in 2006. That became a $10-million-business within 18 months, she says, in part because Sara Blakely's Spanx had just come out and "I was the first that carried Spanx in the state of Hawaii."

Then there was her consulting company, KemComm, which she founded in 2009, which consults with corporations on brand building and which she sold in 2018 in an eight-figure deal. And today there's Master Brand institute, "a consulting and educational campus," she says, which offers entrepreneurs brand building courses, virtual events, and one-on-one coaching.

The latter came as a result of Kem asking herself, "What could I do that would make me feel like I'm really helping people?" Realizing she had exactly the background to help others build their businesses, she opted to do exactly that.

Here are four pieces of advice Kem would give budding entrepreneurs and side hustlers looking to get their ideas off the ground in 2021.

Ask yourself: What's your 'expertise and experience'?

"If you don't have the clarity on what you should offer," says Kem to any entrepreneur trying to figure out direction, "the first place to look is anywhere you have expertise and experience."

Your expertise is your resume, she says: The list of work-related activities you've done and background you've accumulated that could help the practical side of building your business. Starting from a place of expertise "will give you confidence," says Kem, because at least for the parts of the business you won't need to be going for help on, you'll know what you're doing.

Your experience is "what I call your stories," says Kem. That is to say: What happened that led you to believe you should offer this product or address this problem?

Take Kem's first business. Before Kem opened J. Boudoir, she'd travel in and out of the state for meetings for her then-employer, Verizon. And what she noticed was that every time she got on a plane back to the state, women, herself included, were always carrying a Victoria's Secret bag.

"Hawaii, at the time, didn't have any place you could buy proper underwear," she says. And she realized she could meet that need.

Starting from a place of experience will "create trust with the market," says Kem, "because you can tell real, authentic stories."

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Figure out your impact goal

Once you know what your product or business is, create a long-term impact goal, thinking about "how many lives you're going to help and support," says Kem.

Take the example of one of Kem's clients, a salon owner who figured out how to offer her clients curbside service early on during the pandemic and wanted to help other salon owners do the same. She realized she could build an online course to teach them how to do it.

If you're that salon owner, consider how many other owners you want to help by the end of the year: 100? 200? 1,000? That's your impact goal.

Having a specific number in mind will help hone your activities going forward. It will also help with your income goal.

Figure out your income goal

As a business owner, "you need to make money," says Kem, "so you need to have an income goal."

Once you've figured out your impact goal, your income goal becomes a lot easier to figure out as well. Just "put a simple math equation around [your impact goal]," she adds.

[Starting from a place of experience will] create trust with the market because you can tell real, authentic stories.
Jennifer Kem
Serial entrepreneur

Say you're that salon owner and you want to sell your course for $10. If you've decided you want to reach 100 other salon owners this year, your income goal is 10 x 100 = $1,000 in gross income for the year.

This, too, will help you focus moving forward and guide you in making some of your day-to-day decisions. Write both your impact and income goals down, and keep them where you'll always see them.

Figure out your 'hows'

"Once you know your goals," says Kem, "you'll architect your concept plan around that." Kem calls these your "hows."

Once you know what problem you're trying to solve with what product, you know how many people you want to reach in a given year, and you know how much you're aiming to make, breaking down your day-to-day activities becomes much easier.

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Take the example of the salon owner again. If you know you want 100 people to buy your product by the end of the year, you might plan to reach out to 10 people every week to make sure that, though not everyone you speak to will want to buy your course, you've reached out to enough people to meet your goal.

Your experience comes in especially handy in building your daily, weekly, and monthly hows. If you're coming up with a product that you know the market for, you'll also know where and how to reach that market. That salon owner, for example, knew that her colleagues in the business spend time on Instagram, so that would be the place to advertise her product. She also knew dozens of other salon owners personally, and could plan to reach out to them directly, according to her weekly goals.

"If you think of entrepreneurs," says Kem, "there's the balloon and there's the tether." The balloon is your creativity and your stream of ideas. "The tether is what keeps you floating but grounded and getting things done."

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