Spark & Hustle's Tory Johnson on Her Entrepreneurial Success

by Kevin Casey on May 25, 2012
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Tory Johnson’s career trajectory should provide ample inspiration for anyone with an entrepreneurial dream. After being fired unexpectedly from a steady job 14 years ago, Johnson had next-to-nothing going for her: no Rolodex, little money, and no college degree, let alone a MBA. She decided to set out on her own, starting Women For Hire out of her home, in spite of long odds that the business would succeed.

Women For Hire is now a multimillion-dollar business. So is Spark & Hustle, Johnson’s second company. She is a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and a regular guest on ABC’s Good Morning America. She’s now embarking on a 20-city conference series tour with GoPayment as an official sponsor. GoPayment will be along for the ride supporting female entrepreneurs by helping them to get paid anywhere, anytime, across the country.

Before hitting the road, Johnson shared these tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur with the Intuit Small Business Blog.

1. Market your best asset: you. You don’t need to be (or want to become) an author, a speaker, or a TV personality. You do need to sell yourself as the face of your business. Egomania isn’t required, but putting yourself out there in a positive light is. “The reality today is that everyone has to market themselves,” Johnson says. “Business is very personal, especially when you’re starting out. The ability to sell yourself effectively is critical. When people know, like, and trust you, they’ll buy from you.”

2. Get out of your own way. Johnson often sees million-dollar concepts go unrealized because of imaginary roadblocks. “There are a lot of people with great business ideas that are kind of afraid to pull the trigger and make it happen because they have a perceived notion that the barriers to entry are high,” Johnson says. Let someone else get bogged down by those perceived challenges. Be practical, but focus your energy on building your business rather than on finding reasons your idea might not work.

3. Don’t gripe about what you don’t have. “Use what you [do] have to get what you want,” Johnson says. Figure out what you need and how you’re going to get it. Johnson’s own history is an excellent example: She started Women for Hire out of her bedroom with a dial-up AOL account while taking care of her infant twins. She has a few more resources at her disposal today, but that’s the result of her success — and not a reason for it. “It’s very easy people to use a lot of ‘yes, buts.’ They tend to focus on what they don’t have, and yet most people when they start out don’t have a whole lot. They create it, and they do that by hustling, by making smart decisions, and by taking bold actions every day,” Johnson says.

4. Do it! Now! Go! “People create a lot of crutches that prevent them from just going, just doing it,” Johnson observes. There are many theoretical reasons any business might fail. Allowing those perceived challenges to paralyze you before ever really getting started is one of them. Another, according to Johnson, is to get stuck in planning mode: “The magic doesn’t happen in planning mode; the magic happens in doing mode.” In her view, bank balances, degrees, and connections all come in a distant second place to “hustle,” which is her term for hard work.

5. Define what “success” means to you. There is no uniform definition for business success, nor should there be — it’s largely in the eye of the entrepreneur. The person who wants to start a nights-and-weekends business to earn extra money and the person who wants to start the next Apple have very different goals, or at least they should. Johnson notes that too many entrepreneurs don’t start with a clear sense of what they want. She likes to define success in terms of revenue, but how much revenue equals success will vary from business to business.

6. Be smart about social networks. The social business boom has created a wealth of opportunities for building a personal and professional brand. But just opening a Facebook account isn’t going to guarantee success. “People will tell me, ‘I’m on Facebook, but it doesn’t really work,’” she says. “Just being on [a social network] and having an account doesn’t really matter; you’ve got to put in the time.” That means truly engaging with people, not just posting sales and marketing messages. By all means, promote yourself and your business, but do so in a balanced manner. Johnson’s rule of thumb is to limit sales and promotional messages to 20 percent of her total social activity.

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