Starting a business is not for everyone. You need a strong constitution and the ability to face failure. Because if statistics are any guide, you will likely fail.

But the web makes it easier for first-time entrepreneurs to tap into that spirit of risk. What do these go-getters have in common? They likely started a “business” in childhood (a lemonade stand, a paper route, etc.). They’ve likely used their own money to fund their dreams (and are likely to have maxed-out credit cards, as a result). And they are less averse to risk than the average human.

Check out this video by for insight into the mind of the entrepreneur.

Thumbnail image courtesy of iStockphoto, morganl

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Image: Mashable Composite, Getty Creative, mustafahacalaki

When my business partner Claire Mazur and I developed the idea for our company, Of a Kind in 2010, establishing our voice was a serious undertaking. We were creating a website to sell pieces from up-and-coming fashion designers and also to tell their stories, and we knew that figuring out how to speak to our audience — not just what to say but also how to say it — would be key in shaping people’s perception of what we were doing and selling.

Having come from the world of magazine editorial, cementing that tone was something I was excited to tackle. And though this project was especially crucial to our ecommerce business with its content-heavy approach, really, every company under the sun has to think about the voice and the personality of its messaging — how do you write an Instagram caption or respond to user feedback if you don’t know what your business sounds like? Do you open customer service emails with “Hey, Kanye!” or “Dear Mr. West?” Below, four tactics that have helped us define our vibe that we think will serve you well, too.

1.Know who you’re talking to

Before Claire and I started Of a Kind, we spent time identifying our target customers. Initially, we were talking to these imagined people — think Kate, the corporate creative who mourned the loss of Domino magazine and loved Michelle Williams’s style. But now that we’ve been in business for nearly four years, we have some knowledge — data! — re: who our customer is: She’s a 30-year-old woman who shops at J.Crew and Etsy and reads Refinery29 and The New Yorker.

Having this intel means we can not only create content that we deem relevant — say, “22 Bikinis for Grown-Ass Women”—but we can also make knowing references. We can namecheck Regina George (Mean Girls!) and Joan Didion, and she’ll get it.

Granted, not everyone who comes to our site fits this bill, and we have to walk a fine line. Plenty of publications avoid going down this road at all for fear of alienating a reader or a potential one, but it cuts the other way as well: If you do it right, you show your fans that you really get them and become fast friends.

2. Consider your familiarity with the person on the receiving end

Our ad copy doesn’t read the same as our newsletter content, which is different from the tone of our customer service messages. When we’re encountering someone for the first time— say, in a display ad — we play things a little straighter. We don’t use words like “rad” because we think people have to warm up to us — and that we have to warm up to them.

Bottom line: You need to consider both the context and your relationship with the person consuming each drop of content you produce. You wouldn’t want someone to stumble upon a tweet and be put off by your company because you come off as too insider-y, and, on the flipside, it’d be a bummer to alienate a super-user by responding to an email about a tech glitch in a way that read as too chilly or impersonal. The same way that social-media experts say you need to create different posts for the various platforms you’re using — well, you need to establish different iterations of our company voice for each of the ways and places you’re talking to people, too.

3.Create a banned word list

Sometimes it’s easier to define what feels wrong than what feels right, so start there. We don’t use “bauble” or “frock” — women’s magazine words that people don’t say in real life. Anything that’s aggressively fashion-y — or French — is also on the no list (i.e. “au courant”).

If you’re a food app targeting sophisticated home cooks, maybe “jiffy,” “nosh” and “kid-friendly” are off-limits. Or a beauty site with a teenage audience? Perhaps you decide to steer clear of “luxurious,” “dewy” or “pamper.”

Building this document is a good way to discover whole categories of words that just don’t fit your brand, and having a sheet to reference is a stellar way to teach others the writing style — it helps give the whole issue of voice some hard-and-fast rules that everyone on your team can follow.

4. When in doubt, err on the side of approachable and conversational

I was going to start this point by saying “Unless you’re a super-serious financial institution or something,” but then I realized that doesn’t actually hold: The online bank Simple does a fantastic job of being direct and informative … and friendly and accessible. In most cases, buttoned-up, big-word copy feels artificial, like it’s trying too hard or has something to prove, and users can see right through that. Ultimately, you want people to trust you and connect with you, and that’s a tough ask if they feel like you’re wearing a mask.

What are your rules for your brand’s voice? Tell us in the comments.

Erica Cerulo

Erica Cerulo is the co-founder of Of a Kind, a website that sells the pieces and tells the stories of emerging fashion designers. Before launching the company in 2010 with Claire Mazur, she was an editor at Details and Lucky. Follow her More

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In the Bootstrapping Business Series, Mashable talked to a ton of entrepreneurs about how they got started, what tools they live by and what they wished they had known at the beginning. The result is a deep pool of tips and tricks for aspiring business owners who are looking to raise money, start a tech startup or build their brand.

From selecting the best employees to putting together an awesome workspace, the little decisions are the ones that add up and will make you successful in the long run. Take a look at a roundup of 10 of these solid primers below. Have tips of your own? Tell us in the comments.

1. What Founders Wish They Knew Before Starting Companies

The entrepreneurship journey isn’t an easy one — developing a product, scaling a business and growing an audience are intimidating tasks that necessitate endless hustle, ambition and passion. And even if you have all of those qualities in spades, there’s still a good chance your venture will fail.

But one in 12 startups succeed, and these businesses are healthy, growing and maybe even profitable. But that’s not to say there weren’t bumps in the road. We’ve asked some founders for things they wish they knew when they started their companies, in the hopes that it’ll help you and your startup avoid a fatal flaw.

Read the full story here.

2. 10 Tips for a More Beautiful and Functional Home Office

If you work from home, you owe it to yourself to set up a proper office space. It’s vital you have somewhere to concentrate that’s separate from your home life — and is hopefully a nice space to spend time in. A good working space is even more important if you operate your small business out of your home.

To help you out on this rather specific front, we have pulled together some useful tips from experienced home-workers and chatted with home office expert Lisa Kanarek, founder of

Read the full story here.

3. 4 Ways to Grow Your Customer Base

Once your startup hits the market, there’s reason to celebrate — but this is only the beginning. The next step is growth, either indirectly through user acquisition or by bringing in additional customers. You know your product is performing well and has a few happy users or customers, so how do you get the word out?

The challenges faced by early-stage startup are unique. There is no existing user base to piggyback on with network dynamics and little data to determine the most effective entry points that lead to a paying customer. Also, many startups are too small to bring on a PR staff, and most founders are not educated in the best tactics for reaching out to media. The good news is that social media can enable you to reach potential customers without depending on traditional outlets, and sometimes these tactics will work hand-in-hand.

Read the full story here.

4. 4 Hiring Tips for Your Lean Startup

There’s a ton do when you’re first starting a company. Each co-founder or employee executes several job descriptions jumbled together, and it seems a simple solution to just hire a new person and delegate away responsibilities, never to be worried about again. This becomes especially relevant post-funding, because it suddenly becomes plausible to hire with the intended result of getting more done faster.

But this isn’t necessarily true, according to Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology. “As you add people to a team or project, there is an increase in communications overhead that makes everyone slightly less productive,” he explains.

It may seem counterintuitive to do anything slow when following lean startup methods, but Ries’ point stands: To continue executing effectively, you must not introduce a point of friction to your team. Finding the right person is paramount, and worth the wait.

Read the full story here.

5. 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Freemium for Your Small Business

One of the most difficult things about bootstrapping a startup is utilizing the right resources to optimize efficiency and promote growth. And, it doesn’t help that the best tools for the job often come at a pretty hefty price. It’s easy to feel shortchanged, especially when the apps of your dreams feel like a mouse-click away.

But don’t despair. Over the last few years, startups benefited from the so-called “freemium” model — a company offers the basic functions of an app suite for free, and then charges more for premium features and bigger storage space. A classic example is newsletter platform MailChimp, which is free for a few subscribers, but as your userbase — and business — grows, so does the cost, increasing incrementally according to your number of subscribers. Taking advantage of freemium options can help you put together the enterprise arsenal of your dreams while also maintaining that shoestring budget.

However, it’s important to note that choosing freemium doesn’t automatically guarantee satisfaction. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you hedge your bets within the freemium system — and benefit like a high-rolling VIP.

Read the full story here.

6. 10 Must-Have Tools for Entrepreneurs

For many entrepreneurs, the startup journey transforms them into more of a generalist than they likely were in a position at a larger company. This calls for specialized tools. The vocation-centric applications and programs no longer cut it.

Productivity is essential when you have a lot on your plate. Time is money, so when an app is able to help you do more faster, it becomes worth paying for. Other apps will streamline communication or collaborative processes and reduce the friction of working in tandem with team members.

Of course, no entrepreneur is all work, no play — taking a break will give your brain a rest, and it’s important to have options on hand that let you re-center your chi.

Read the full story here.

7. 4 Ways to Budget Your Business Like a Pro

Nobody likes to talk about budgeting. Even more, budgeting is sort of a drag to do — but all can agree it’s incredibly important.

A few companies have launched software to make budgeting faster and easier. Plus, options for interaction with fellow entrepreneurs on sites like Twitter and Quora enables relevant feedback so you don’t pay excessive amounts for a service you don’t need. Read on to discover a few ways you can manage your company’s spectrum of debits and credits without too much stress.

Read the full story here.

8. 8 Tips for Building Your Brand on the Cheap

When starting your business, we know there’s a lot to handle and think about. There’s your (growing) team, your intellectual property, product management and a pinched budget, all while you’re trying to navigate the waters of entrepreneurship.

But even without millions your brand can make an impression. All the free social media tools are a great start — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest are key, but there’s more you can do to make an impression. We’ve rounded up eight ways to build your brand on the cheap — because there are more important things to spend money and time on, like your product and talent.

Read the full story here.

9. 7 Tech Upgrades for Your Small Businesses

There’s nothing better than a shiny new piece of technology, but not everyone can just splurge for a laptop, tablet or iPhone every time another one comes around.

With so many tech upgrades and accessories on the market to turn existing hardware into even more powerful mechanisms, it’s not unusual for small businesses to save time, money and a whole lot of headaches by implementing a few simple add-ons.

For example, some small businesses are using systems that turn mobile devices into landlines to help make conference and video calls more user-friendly and less expensive. The AudiOffice by Invoxia features a dock equipped with speakers for devices such as the iPhone, iPod and iPad, and thanks to apps such as Skype and FaceTime that allow businesses to communicate with each other via chat, small businesses can cut down on communication costs.

Read the full story here.

10. 4 Ways Startups Can Leverage Employee-Owned Tech

The concept of BYOD, or “Bring Your Own Device,” has gained plenty of traction as the mode du jour for budding startups. And it’s easy to see why more companies — both big and small — are willing to take the plunge: The savings involved in allowing employees to utilize their own devices for work can be staggering.

But don’t get too caught up in the savings, or you’ll expose yourself to a world of risk. What companies gain in convenience and extra cash can be lost in poor control and flimsy policy. The unknown elements that can happen with a BYOD policy have led critics to call it “Bring Your Own Disaster,” and it’s easy to see how even the best intentions can lead to a serious security breach or aggravating compatibility problems.

Thinking of switching to BYOD? Here are four things to keep in mind when crafting and enforcing your policy. It’s important to note that the preferences and cultures of each company are different, so use your own needs as a guideline to developing a BYOD system that works for you.

Read the full story here.

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