Birthing the Elephant: The Woman's Go-for-It Guide to Starting and Growing a Successful Business

Birthing the Elephant: The Woman's Go-for-It Guide to Starting and Growing a Successful Business

by Karin Abarbanel

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Customized for the female entrepreneur's unique psychological experience of launching a business, BIRTHING THE ELEPHANT goes beyond logistics to prepare women for the emotional challenges they will face, with expert advice on reshaping one's business identity, giving up the paycheck mentality, anticipating problems, and avoiding costly mistakes. This


Customized for the female entrepreneur's unique psychological experience of launching a business, BIRTHING THE ELEPHANT goes beyond logistics to prepare women for the emotional challenges they will face, with expert advice on reshaping one's business identity, giving up the paycheck mentality, anticipating problems, and avoiding costly mistakes. This supportive handbook gives the small-business owner the staying power to survive and succeed in the business of her dreams.

  • A female entrepreneur's guide to navigating the psychological aspects of launching and building a business during the critical first 18 months.
  • Women-owned businesses are increasing at twice the rate of other startups, with 500,000 launches each year.
  • With a foreword by cosmetics guru Bobbi Brown.
  • ReviewsRead all about it on: Awareness"...emerging entrepreneurs will find advice that's worth the price of the book alone."-Booklist"This positive and practical guide for the first-time entrepreneur details the life cycle of a small-business launch with real-life stories and a slew of helpful hints and strategies."-Publishers Weekly PW and AARP's Roundup of Spring Books for Baby Boomers 4/15/08It's main segment on the page this week "Cash Flow: Subbing Brains fro Cash" featuring a contributor to the book and Karin plus, if you click on "small business: view all videos," you can see Karin's sole interview from the week before: "Cash Flow: 4 Spending Mistakes"-SmartMoney TV"With the number of women-owned businesses growing in the U.S. at the rate of one every 60 sconds-roughly 600,000 launches a year, according to the authors-the audience for this positive, cheerful, practical book should be substantial."-Publishers Weekly

    Editorial Reviews

    From the Publisher
    “Part portable success coach, part action guide, this book maps the launch cycle, taking entrepreneurs step-by-step through the first 22 months of a start-up—showing them smart moves to make and pitfalls to avoid.”
    —, 6/14/10
    Publishers Weekly

    Starting your own business is tough, but learning to think like an entrepreneur is half the battle, say small-business consultants Abarbanel and Freeman. Part portable success coach, part step-by-step guide through the life cycle of a small-business launch, the book presents real-life stories-from the famous, such as makeup entrepreneur Bobbi Brown and stylish maternity-wear pioneer Liz Lange, to startups in the worlds of baking, filmmaking and high tech software. A great deal of space is given to tools for developing the emotional mind frame to succeed outside the comfort of the traditional workplace, and the authors devote particular attention to commitment, courage, persistence and other traits. Later chapters delve into the nitty-gritty of asset assessment, money management, support systems, success strategies and common pitfalls. This information is backed up with handy chapter-closing quick tips, checklists, action steps, real-life examples and a helpful resource guide. With the number of women-owned businesses growing in the U.S. at the rate of one every 60 seconds-roughly 600,000 launches a year, according to the authors-the audience for this positive, cheerful, practical book should be substantial. (Mar.)

    Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
    Library Journal

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, female-owned companies account for 28 percent of all American businesses, but as Werhane (business ethics, DePaul Univ.; Moral Imagination and Management Decision-Making) and her coauthors point out, only six Fortune 500 companies are headed by women. These three titles offer much-needed advice to the thousands of women making entrepreneurial moves or to those who want a boost up the corporate ladder. Werhane et al. interviewed 22 women executives to get their thoughts on leadership styles and how they have broken through the glass ceiling. Each executive's story focuses on one aspect of her career or management style. They share ideas on coaching, mentoring, creativity, building a culture of trust, managing reputations, social commitment, being customer-centered, being a servant-leader, and many other refreshing takes on what has made them and their companies stand out.

    "Birthing the elephant" is business writer Abarbanel (The Dollar Bill Knows No Sex) and syndicated columnist Freeman's metaphor for launching an entrepreneurial venture: both are mammoth undertakings that require around 22 months. If the venture is successful, the entrepreneur will have a healthy, thriving business to call her own. The authors admit that their breezy guide doesn't focus on the nitty gritty of business plans and dealing with the bank, but it does show, for instance, how start-up venturers can substitute "brains for bucks."

    Canadian entrepreneurs Mears and Bacon offer their personal experiences in setting up their web-design company, as well as real-life scenarios from dozens of other women in start-up ventures. After helping readers definethe vision for their business and understand why they need to be their own boss, this practical guide follows the stages of a start-up and offers down-to-earth advice backed up with real-life scenarios.

    Both entrepreneurial books, with inspiration and guidance for women launching their dreams, are recommended for public library business collections. Women in Business is in the management genre, which makes it better suited for academic and larger public library business collections.
    —Carol J. Elsen

    Product Details

    Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
    Publication date:
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    6.01(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.50(d)

    Read an Excerpt


    The woman's go-for-it! guide to overcoming the big challenges of launching a business

    Ten Speed Press
    Copyright © 2008

    Karin Abarbanel and Bruce Freeman
    All right reserved.

    ISBN: 978-1-58008-887-9

    Chapter One Design Your Destiny

    Having a business isn't really about control, but I get to design my own destiny. -SUZANNE LYONS

    You're ready to strike out on your own. Finally, you're going to do work that you love-work that reflects your personality and passions and is in harmony with your family's needs-and, oh yes, you're going to make lots of money while you're at it! It's time to run your own show. You've paid your dues. You've earned this chance, haven't you?

    Come down from that castle in the air for just a minute! It's true that being your own boss offers many potential rewards. But it will also make some startling new demands on you: the need to do more with less, assume unfamiliar risks, wear many hats, and, at least for a while, give up the trappings of success. Still want in? Of course! We all do.

    In making this decision, you've set an ambitious but totally achievable goal. All around you, women are reinventing themselves as entrepreneurs and transforming their personal visions into fulfilling work. Every sixty seconds, five women launch new ventures somewhere in the united States. That adds up to more than seven thousand start-ups per day-and more than 2.5 million a year. Astounding, isn't it?

    What's fueling this surge in women-owned start-ups? First and foremost, there's the turbocharged internet, which has boosted small-business owners' power and reach in amazing ways. In just a few short years, the Web has triggered a small-business explosion by creating dynamic new sales and marketing channels-and providing niche sellers with easy access to millions of niche buyers. It's also leveled the playing field by enabling small businesses to compete for profits and court customers on a 24/7 basis. One entrepreneur described the awesome experience of standing in an internet cafe in Hong Kong, watching her website pop up-and realizing that at that very moment she could order her product halfway around the world from her home-business base in Orlando!

    The internet is also a vast ocean of information, with many an island of advice created especially for entrepreneurial women. Online "e-zines," networking groups, funding sources, training tools, and market data are all just a quick click away. These resources offer not just valuable facts and figures but also a sense of community: today, women-owned businesses are building support systems that are both vibrant and enormously diverse.

    Stage-of-life shifts are also stoking the entrepreneurial engine. If fifty is the new forty, then there are vast numbers of women who have years of productive, high-speed living ahead of them. As they ponder fresh ideas about how to spend that time, many baby boomers who've made their mark in corporate jobs are exploring new work options more attuned to their changing self-images and aspirations. You may be one of them yourself!

    All this growth creates enormous clout: today, as never before, women are attracting attention and resources from major companies who want their goodwill and, more important, their business. To woo women entrepreneurs, these companies are offering seed funding, running conferences, and showcasing the success stories of women business owners. This intense corporate interest is great news for you. all in all, there's never been a better time to launch your start-up.

    Winning the Small-Business Mind Game

    Despite the promising climate for entrepreneurs, the realities of small-business ownership remain as daunting as ever. According to the U.S. Small Business administration, one-third of all new ventures won't survive their first two years and more than one-half won't survive through year four. What separates those who make it from those who don't? You might think it's money. Most people do. While that's a big factor, it's not the biggest one. We've spoken to top entrepreneurs and small-business experts all across the country, and most people in the trenches agree that the real key to success is winning the small-business mind game.

    Succeeding takes more than courage and business savvy. It also takes a whole new mind-set. To survive a start-up, you need to learn how to think and act like an entrepreneur.

    In making this move, you're not just changing your job, or changing your lifestyle, or changing careers. You are changing your identity. At a stroke, your office, your title, a regular paycheck, the rhythm of your workday, the deadlines, the business lunches, the built-in support system-are gone. Suddenly, you're on your own: everything begins and ends with you.

    Unless you can cultivate an entrepreneurial approach, even the strongest business plan and rock-solid expertise won't be enough to ensure that your enterprise survives and thrives. And unless you can find the inner strength to rebound from the setbacks you'll meet, you'll find yourself down for the count no matter how promising your new venture is. Moments of doubt can be triggered by the loss of a client, a product disaster, or the incredible shrinking bank balance that plagues most start-ups.

    How you respond to challenges like these makes all the difference to your success or failure. You can either collapse in a heap or find the staying power to land on your feet. This is the most demanding aspect of making a small business work-pushing past those times when you feel overwhelmed and everything seems to be falling apart.

    Different Paths, Shared Goals

    The gifted women you'll come to know in these pages all have different backgrounds and have traveled different roads in building their businesses. Yet we found four themes running through their stories:

    1. Seizing the moment: Almost all the women we spoke with experienced a sense of urgency once they committed to launching. When the drive to strike out on their own gathered momentum, it seemed to push them forward. Something clicked, something cracked, something sprang inside them-and they simply had to make a move.

    2. Pursuing personal growth: The women we interviewed expressed a strong commitment to work as a way of achieving personal fulfillment. In many cases, they had found the conventional career paths they were on to be too narrow or sluggish. When opportunities for growth didn't exist, their jobs quickly lost their luster-even if they were quite lucrative. In response, they felt compelled to challenge and stretch themselves in new ways.

    3. Balancing work and life: Harmonizing values in their business and personal lives emerged as a key driver for many of the women we interviewed. Some of them felt drained by inflexible work situations and conflicts with family priorities. Others became disenchanted when their personal values and those of their employers proved to be seriously out of sync.

    4. Realizing a vision: Nearly all the women we interviewed talked about building their lives around a vision. For some, this vision is clear and easily described: helping new mothers regain their fitness or creating elegant home decor. For others, clarifying their vision is an ongoing challenge-the original concept that inspired their start-up has proved to be a moving target, redefining itself as circumstances change or new markets emerge.

    Finding the fulfillment that comes from achieving goals like these won't come easily; you'll have to earn it day by day. Is it worth the effort? absolutely! Are there rewards a small business can give you that a corporate job can't? Absolutely! Running your own show offers you the power to orchestrate all aspects of your work in a way that lets you express your personal values while creating a satisfying and profitable lifestyle. Above all, women who strike out on their own want more freedom and flexibility, according to a national survey by ladies Who Launch, a networking group that runs incubators for entrepreneurs. "Launching is good for self-esteem, creativity, and happiness," observes cofounder Beth Schoenfeldt.

    A major small-business study by intuit, a business-software developer, confirms this view. According to its findings, "American entrepreneurship will reflect a huge upswing in the number of women. The glass ceiling that has limited women's growth in traditional corporate career paths will send a rich talent pool into the small-business sector. Among them: 'mompreneurs'-mothers who start part-time, home-based businesses, often with the help of the internet. These personal businesses will be launched by people who may not even consider themselves small-business owners."

    What else do women want? Along with freedom and flexibility, two other powerful drivers-the desire for challenge and personal achievement-emerged as the prime motivators cited by two hundred women business owners in an ongoing study conducted by Babson College's Center for Women's Leadership.

    "It's clearly about personal achievement and autonomy, which, by the way, is not all that different for men," notes Dr. Nan Langowitz, cofounder of the Center for Women's Leadership and an associate professor at Babson College, which runs the country's top-ranked program for aspiring entrepreneurs. "In many, though not all, corporate settings," adds Dr. Langowitz, "as women progress in their careers, the opportunities they see ahead of them aren't necessarily that exciting-and the trade-offs against their time and compensation may not work. So they choose to create their own businesses, their own opportunities, and their own compensation."

    Trading Comfort for Independence

    Simply put, going into business for yourself means that you've made a decision to give up comfort for independence: you are choosing to forgo security for the ability to make decisions that put you at the center of your work life. "Starting a business is like being the general contractor of your own life," says Karen Curro, co-owner of a life is good store. "And, although it's a lot of work," she adds, "it's your life and you're in control versus someone else running it."

    It's an empowering, but challenging trade-off. Making the shift from employee to entrepreneur is one of the toughest career-and life-changes imaginable. It affects your self-esteem, your family, your finances, your health, your retirement plans, your future, your children's futures, your hopes and dreams, your fears. Shaping an independent work life is, above all, an act of improvisation, one that takes both courage and ingenuity. Although this way of working offers enormous flexibility, it won't give you total control over your time and resources. Especially during your start-up phase, your business controls you-you don't control the business.

    There's also an enormous "cultural" gap between working for a corporation and working for yourself. It's a lot like the difference between sleeping in a house and living in a tent. In a corporation you have all the comforts of home: people to confer with, support from other divisions, an office, perks, and a travel budget. In a small business, you're camping out: patching together new work patterns, watching your budget like a hawk, making things up as you go, pushing yourself to get the next client or make the next call.

    "Are you willing to give up that beautiful four-color copy machine that automatically collates and staples?" asks Cathy Kerns, the founder of Style Sticks, when she speaks about small business. "Are you willing to give up a supply room that has anything you could ever need? Are you willing to give up the casts of thousands there to support you and cover your back at all times? Just how much are you willing to give up that you've come to love and adore about the corporate world-and take for granted? The infrastructure of a corporation is very hard to live without if you've been supported by it for a long time. So, stop and think about that copy machine!"

    Along with these practical concerns, emotional challenges and worries often move front and center when you start a new business. You may experience loneliness and the feeling that you're no longer part of the business mainstream. Isolation is one of the biggest dangers that many entrepreneurs face: they have to force themselves to get out, network, be visible, and promote their ventures. Then, of course, there's the Big M: money. Anxiety about holding everything together financially is a major issue. If you're still a corporate employee or between jobs, then all the concerns raised here are ones that you'll need to think long and hard about. Crafting an independent, self-structured life may sound romantic, but will this path really meet your needs, both professionally and personally, not just today but six months from now? What about in five or ten years? is this a work option that makes sense for you-one that you're prepared to commit your time and talents to?

    Running a Small Business: A Yen for Yin and Yang

    If there's one thing we learned from our interviews, it's that if your psyche has a cold, your business will sneeze! Time and again, your strengths and weaknesses will be exposed and tested-especially in the early days of your start-up. No one knows this better than Roxanne Coady, the founder of R. J. Julia Booksellers, an award-winning independent bookstore and a beloved landmark in Madison, Connecticut.

    "When you start a small business," Roxanne observes, "you are holding up a mirror to yourself. There's nowhere to hide. If you have a problem, you can't blame it on the shareholders. You can't blame it on your boss. You can't blame it on the corporate culture. You actually have less freedom than if you had a job. But you have a lot of autonomy: you can independently make decisions that impact your work or your family life. When you have your own business, it's all about the yin and the yang, the ups and the downs. The good news is you have autonomy. The bad news is you're accountable. The good news is you've got, not freedom, but choices. And the bad news is you're going to have to live with the repercussions of your decisions."

    What You'll Need to Succeed

    to get your business up and running, you'll need to see yourself as the composer of your own life-someone who can orchestrate a satisfying whole out of the unexpected events, disruptions, and emotional intensity that pursuing an independent work life involves. You're going to have to be unstoppable! if you hit an obstacle, you're going to have to go over, around, under, and through it. What other inner resources will you have to tap? here's a brief look at some of the essentials you'll need in your start-up survival kit.


    If the real-estate mantra is "Location, location, location," then the entrepreneurial mantra is "Passion, passion, passion!" Do what you love and love what you do: we heard this time and again from the women we interviewed. If you are lukewarm or conflicted, then think twice about taking this road. Without a deeply rooted belief in the importance of your venture and its potential for success, your business is not likely to thrive and probably won't survive.

    "Having talent was important for me," observes Crystal Johnson, founder of Sienna at home, "but the marriage of talent with passion is what has kept me going. It's passion that drives persistence. If you're passionate about something, you're just not going to give up on it. And it will not give up on you either! There have been times when I've tried to walk away from design, I really have, and it just keeps coming right at me! There have been times where there are doors closed or obstacles come up, and instead of stopping or turning or retreating, I just go around them or find a different way." Oassion is the fuel that propels successful start-ups; without its power, you'll quickly lose momentum when you hit a roadblock; with it, you can overcome whatever obstacles you encounter. "In any type of entrepreneurial venture, if you're truly passionate, how can you possibly fail?" asks Dr. Rob Gilbert, a peak performance coach. "Look at what you're competing against! You know the 80-20 rule: 20 percent of employees do 80 percent of the work; 20 percent of salespeople make 80 percent of the sales. Most people aren't passionate; their heart isn't in it, they're not willing to do more than expected. Even many entrepreneurs are in business, but they're not into it-they're not totally committed. Or they may be into it for the short term, but not the long term."


    Excerpted from BIRTHING the ELEPHANT by KARIN ABARBANEL BRUCE FREEMAN Copyright © 2008 by Karin Abarbanel and Bruce Freeman. Excerpted by permission.
    All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

    Meet the Author

    BRUCE FREEMAN, nationally known as the Small Business Professor, is a syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. He is the president of ProLine Communications and serves as an adjunct professor of marketing and public relations at Kean University. Bruce lives with his wife and two daughters in Livingston, New Jersey.


    Have any good pet stories? I dedicated this book to the five women I have lived with including "Cuddles" the family cat. My younger daughter, Erica, does not allow holiday cards to leave the Freeman house without her name on it. Cuddles is a cute "orange tabby" cat.

    As a Professor, how do you grade? I tell my students that when I am grading essays, they should hope that when I am grading their paper I finished one glass of Cabernet.

    First job out of college? I was in ladies bras and lingeries (Kaiser Roth Corporation)

    Do you try to do too many things at one time? With one tuchus, you can't dance at two weddings.

    What is your favorite music? Jazz


    KARIN ABARBANEL runs a marketing communications firm and served as Avon Corporation's spokesperson for its "Corporation to Cottage" initiative. She is the author of How to Succeed on Your Own and coauthor of The Art of Winning Foundation Grants. Karin lives in Montclair, New Jersey.


    What was your first writing gig? I can still remember my dad dictating a letter to me for Mrs. Pumpernickel, his imaginary editor – asking her for more money, of course! I couldn’t write yet, but that didn’t stop me from filling page after page of my very own legal pad. Then my dad put the letter in an envelope, walked to the mailbox with me, and pretended to send it. What a thrill! Do you have any pets? Dr. Watson, my four-legged, nonvirtual assistant is endlessly patient, loves everything I write, never complains if I miss a deadline, and always lets me know when the FedEx truck arrives. He even takes me out for a walk when I need a writing break. He loves Cheezits. Of course, he’s a highly educated fellow, with a PhD in Snackology.What was the biggest surprise for you in writing Birthing the Elephant? How ingenious launchers are: Women are endlessly creative when it comes to substituting brains for bucks – whether it’s setting up a satellite office at a local Denny’s or arriving at a radio station at 6 AM with a "pizza for plugs" order (heavy on the pepperoni) just to get some free advertising! Were there any particularly funny or unusual stories you discovered about women entrepreneurs while doing research for your book? There are so many: the basset hound who dragged a 50-lb bag of flour into one entrepreneur’s kitchen, pouring it all over himself and everything else; the husband who delivered bagfuls of lipstick at the back door of Bergdorf Goodman’s; the innkeeper who fantasized about serving guests cocktails with cheese & crackers in a frilly apron, but spends her days mowing the lawn in big rubber boots!Where did you and your coauthor brainstorm for Birthing the Elephant? I should say Holsteins, a local hangout where they filmed some heavy scenes from the Sopranos, but Bruce and I actually had our book meetings at a classic NJ diner where he usually ordered a healthful muffin and I chowed down on a cholesterol-laden omelet guaranteed to fatten even my brain cells!

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