Buy Low, Sell High: Starting a Business in a Recession

by Guest Contributor on April 14, 2011

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The state of the economy is but one of many factors to consider when starting a business.

When you have the experience that matches a need, you’ve done the industry research and built a comprehensive business plan or roadmap, it can be just the right formula for success.

My company, Vincent Roa Group, is a recent start-up and was established at the height of the recession.

Through industry research, we learned that in this market and globally, there is a dire need for professional communicators who focus on and specialize in science, environment, public health, and sustainability; understand corporate social responsibility (CSR) trends; and deliver services that elevate the quality and quantity of information to key internal and external stakeholders.

As a new business owner, I’ve been able to capitalize on my experiences at the US Environmental Protection Agency, USAID-funded projects, the United Nations and the World Bank specializing in environment issues, and working as a social scientist for USIA/State Department, where I honed my analytical and research skills.

Scientists, engineers, and architects appreciate the fact that we operate within their circles, not only on the periphery. We’ve made a conscious attempt to do just that.

We understand biophilia hypothesis, nanotechnology, historic preservation, the water-energy nexus, the LEED certification and accreditation processes, and more.

Couple this knowledge with a favorable business climate and growing science, bioscience, and technology sectors in Maryland, specifically within Montgomery County, and you have a rare opportunity growing a firm that specializes in science, environment and sustainability communication.

Here are some of the start-up lessons that I’ve learned, that I hope will be helpful to you:

1. Research the market.

Learn about the industry and make sure you know where you fit in, the prospects for growth, your competitors, and how your unique selling proposition is strong enough to carry you through any economic times.

2. Write a business plan.

Do it well. It’s your roadmap and strategic direction tool that can guide you to prosperity.

Enter a business plan competition to get free advice, some startup monies and free services.

3. Connect with your city’s economic development efforts.

I benefitted greatly from Rockville’s REDI entrepreneur’s courses and interactions with the team there, in addition to connecting to the Community Business Partnership in Virginia, which has a wealth of resources and a business plan competition (we placed second in the 2010 competition). SCORE also provides one-on-one business counseling.

4. Continue with professional learning.

Information is power in any field. Within three months of our launch, I pursued the IEMA-approved Corporate Social Responsibility Practitioner certification with the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence. At present, I am studying for the LEED GA certification.

I believe that these certifications, coupled with my ABC accredited designation from the International Association of Business Communicators position me well to respond to my client’s needs.

Our field is changing so rapidly that other courses may become necessary. It’s a reality that requires a willingness to act.

5. Make sure that there’s passion behind your choice.

This is a critical element of your success. While it may seem like an obvious piece of advice, it’s the passion that sustains you through highs and lows and becomes a differentiator that clients feel and notice.

When you combine passion with excellence, it’s a winning combination.

6. Know where you want to go and what you what you want to be known for.

Our mission is to use the power of communication to improve the well being of the earth and its people.

Our vision is to deliver professional communication services that directly and favorably impact environmental awareness, sustainability and public health.

Our brand values are integrity, innovation, excellence, dynamism, diversity, and commitment to the environment, women and our community.

7. Get a great graphic designer.

Brand image is important (we used Bates Creative Group). Your logo, website, color palette and other branded communication tools become part of your firm’s story and a reflection of its personality.

Don’t skimp on this expenditure. It’s so much a part of your identity, perception and reputation.

8. Success is a mindset, and excuses are plentiful.

Don’t let age, the recession, your brother-in-law, the weather, etc. keep you from starting a new venture. Consider:

  • Grandma Moses began painting at age 76.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when she wrote Little House on the Prairie.
  • Tim and Nina Zagat were corporate lawyers before they lived off the success of their dining guides and surveys.
  • Takichiro Mori was an economics professor before he became Japan’s richest real estate tycoon and twice in the first position on Forbes world’s richest man list.
  • Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Bloomberg were fired before they parlayed their talents into what made them famous and rich.

9. Mentor young professionals.

Working through The Washington Center, we’ve initiated a Science and Environmental Communication Internship so that we can mentor young professionals in their early journey in communication.

My best advice: Prepare for the magic and expect it to happen.

More from Women Grow Business:

Image: Lindsay1 via Flickr, CC 2.0

Donna Vincent Roa is a communication rainmaker who designs and builds best-in-class communication portfolios. A leading strategist in science, environment, and sustainability communication, she is Managing Partner & Chief Strategist for Vincent Roa Group LLC, a small, woman-owned firm that specializes in communication about the earth and its people A recent WWPR Woman of the Year finalist, she is also an Environment Commissioner for the City of Rockville and a current participant in George Washington University’s acclaimed ACTiVATE program. Check out her blog; she can be reached at donna [a] vincentroagroup [dot] com.

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