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Erik Gerdes, 30, hooks his rope into the bolt above his head at Cinammon Slab wall at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Ore., Friday, March 16, 2007. (Deanna Dent)
Erik Gerdes, 30, hooks his rope into the bolt above his head at Cinammon Slab wall at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Ore., Friday, March 16, 2007. (Deanna Dent)

Entrepreneurs

Ten powerful strategies from The Risk Takers Add to ...

Few things can rattle your world more than the loss of a job. But faced with the resultant soul-searching, some recent pink-slip recipients are refusing to be casualties of the latest recession. Instead of quietly joining the ranks of the unemployed, they're resolving to seize control over their career and become their own boss. They're pursuing an entrepreneurial dream.

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Is launching a business today a high-stakes risk? Of course. But it's never been easy to build a successful business, in any era or in any economy. The right business idea at the right time can overcome all manner of obstacles. An ordinary person today still has the potential to catapult a start-up company into an industry leader. But reaching that goal requires tireless commitment and sound business strategies.

Here are 10 broad strategies that the entrepreneurs profiled in my new book used to build their multimillion-dollar (in some cases, multibillion-dollar) businesses.

1. Go on a treasure hunt and find an underserved niche. Identify and then cater to the particular needs of a market niche that competitors have neglected or ignored. Develop a specialty in which your business clearly excels. Remember, even a huge multibillion-dollar corporation can't offer everything to everyone. Many niches are too small for them to consider.

2. Spot a new trend and pounce. Look for emerging consumer needs and desires arising from a shift in cultural, economic or technological trends that signal new market opportunities. Act quickly. Don't be tentative.

3. Just start! Stop the excuses. The "perfect" time for a business launch will never present itself. Don't give would-be competitors the opportunity to beat you to the punch. Get moving. Set short-term goals and deadlines that bring you closer to opening for business.

4. Buck the conventional wisdom. Ignore those who say, "It won't work" or "It's never been done that way." Veer away from established formulas and ways of thinking. Look at so-called industry best practices with a hyper-critical eye. Dissect them, slice and dice them, contemplate different "what if" scenarios in your mind.

5. Exploit your competitor's weakness and make it your strength. Take a critical look at your competition from the perspective of a customer. Listen closely to the needs and complaints of prospective customers during sales calls. This will help identify competitor vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Find ways to eliminate such deficiencies in your own customer service and products, then go a step further and make sure you excel in those areas.

6. Hit 'em where they ain't. Set your sights on areas that your competitors have neglected or ignored. Learn to anticipate new areas where there might be a demand for your services and position your business to be there ahead of your competitors.

7. Save your bucks and get noticed without expensive advertising. Get your creative juices percolating to come up with ways to expose your brand to the masses. Don't be shy, be bold. Chutzpah often works. Brainstorm with colleagues, friends and family. Have a little fun with this strategy.

8. Trust your gut. Develop and learn to use your intuitive powers. They are valuable business skills, particularly when you're about to enter uncharted waters and everyone is telling you to play it safe. When the pressure is high and chaos threatens, keep your composure and rely on your gut-level instincts.

9. Never let adversity or failure defeat you. Don't accept the limits others or circumstances place on you. The ranks of successful entrepreneurs are filled with men and women who refused to stop believing in themselves. As an entrepreneur, you'll surely experience stressful moments that will test your faith. Just remember, the antidotes are persistence and resiliency. Believe in your business idea and in your own commitment to seeing your business succeed.

10. Never stop reinventing your company. Continually look for ways to introduce new products and services for existing customers and for newly identified market niches. Think of complacency as a genuine threat to your long-term bottom line. Never let your guard down.

Renee Martin is co-author of The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies for Success (Vanguard Press). This article is adapted from information in the book.

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