If you happen to be out and about in Drexel Hill you may run into Melinda Emerson.
And if you’re thinking of going into business for yourself, you might want to offer her a friendly hello.
Emerson just happens to be America’s No. 1 expert on successfully starting, keeping and growing small businesses.
She’s known internationally by her Twitter handle, #SmallBizLady and she’s the best-selling author of “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months”.
She’s CEO of Quintessence Group, a marketing firm that helps Fortune 500 brands target the small business market.
Emerson counts VISA, Amazon, FedEx, Verizon, Google, Microsoft, Adobe and American Express among her clients.
She is a former columnist for The New York Times, been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, Inc. The list goes on.
In fact, Forbes named her the No. 1 woman to follow on Twitter and HubSpot declared her one of the top business coaches in 2021.
Under her brand SmallBizLady, she reaches more than three million entrepreneurs each week online.
But this Upper Darby resident will be the first to tell you it wasn’t always like this.
Where Melinda Emerson started
Emerson, originally from Pittsburgh, started out in broadcast journalism. In fact, she settled in Upper Darby 25 years ago when she moved to the area to work for Channel 10 and Channel 6.
In 1999, she started her own video production business in the basement of her home.
“I basically had a laptop, fax machine and a dream,” she said.
She describes herself back then as “the worst workaholic you had ever met in your whole life.”
“I would go to church Sunday, run by the office and work four more hours before I came home.”
Her business did well, even listing at one point as 29th on the Philly 100 List of fastest-growing small businesses in the greater Philadelphia area.
But there were pitfalls, which she discovered in 2005 when she became pregnant with her son in a high-risk bed-rest pregnancy.
“That was very scary because I was the number one rainmaker in my business,” she said. “I built a business that couldn’t run without me and so when I got pulled out; it was like everything went to shambles.”
She realized if she had just had better advice, she may not have run into that problem.
So while on bed rest, she wrote down all of her business experiences. Then she started writing about other entrepreneurs she knew and the issues they faced.
A book is born
In the end, she had a pretty useful guide for people starting out in business. But back in 2006, no one in the mainstream media was giving small business advice.
“I wanted to give people the best possible success path that I could,” she said.
By Thanksgiving, 2007, she was in touch with Peter Archer, a book editor from Adams Media in Boston about turning her notes into a book.
She got the final version of her book to the publisher on Sept. 1, 2008.
Then the stock market crashed. Her book was put on hold for 18 months.
It looked like she’d hit a dead end but then her publicist, Cathy Larkin from Delaware County, saw a chance to make lemonade from lemons.
“She said we’re going to go out on Twitter and build your brand. And I remember saying to her, ‘what’s a Tweeter?’
“We came up with a nickname for me and that’s the day I became SmallBizLady which turned out to be the best branding thing that ever happened to me.”
She worked Twitter for 22 months Monday through Friday, offering small business advice.
“Before my book came out, I was regarded as a small business expert,” she said.
The book, “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months,” was well received.
It’s now been in print for 11 years in multiple languages worldwide. A new third edition includes updated material.
The book resonates with people because “I told the truth about a bunch of dumb stuff that I did.”
“There’s a lot of people out here that romanticize small business ownership and make people believe it’s like this amazing lifestyle and all of a sudden you’re going to be able to meet the school bus every day and have a 4-hour workweek. I’m like “Oh, my God. No, that’s not what happens.”
Emerson has created a six-step system outlined in her book on transitioning from employment to entrepreneurship.
So what are some of the issues new business owners don’t plan for?
- Develop a Life Plan First. If you think a business will save you from a job you hate, think again. Get another job unless you’re willing to really commit to your business. “Somebody’s got to lock and unlock that door seven days a week.”
- Savings. It takes 12 to 18 months just for a new business to break even. You’ll need to be out of debt, and you’ll need money for your business; your household, and for an emergency if something happens.
- Validate Your Business Model. Before jumping into business, get industry experience. Go work for a business like the one you want to start to learn the ropes.
- Fiscal Discipline. You’re going to need to use a budget and you’re going to have to learn how to sell and market. Don’t be afraid to hire experts to get you there.
- Knowing Your Customers. Small businesses can’t afford mass marketing so you’ll need to find that niche audience you can serve.
- Payroll. You can go to jail a lot faster for not paying payroll taxes than for not paying income taxes. You’ll need lines of credit to continue paying your workers if your clients don’t pay on time.
- Selling Online is Key. Ecommerce is part of doing business these days. You have to be able to sell online. That means a website, social media marketing, and online ads. “People who went out of business during the pandemic were people who couldn’t shift to online selling because they didn’t have email lists of their customers. They couldn’t make that digital pivot.”
In the latest edition of “Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months,” Emerson offers updated information that grew out of the pandemic’s impact on business, with a focus on eCommerce and online marketing and developing a sales process.
“We are in a customer-centric economy. They don’t have to buy from you so you have to figure out how you’re going to focus on the customer experience, and keeping your existing customers,” Emerson said.
There’s also a new chapter on leadership.
“People think just because they own a business that they’re a leader,” Emerson said, but being a leader is something you have to work on.
Besides the book, Emerson also has online courses at smallbizladyuniversity.com that take a more in-depth look at issues like how to sell and market online, email marketing and social media selling.
Looking back, and ahead
Emerson said she’s amazed at where things have gone since her 2007 idea to offer small business advice.
“God has blessed me and I’ve had an amazing career.”