Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio look like they're just two gals chatting over an ibook and coffee on the cover of their first book, The Girl's Guide to Starting Your Own Business: Candid Advice, Frank Talk, and True Stories for the Successful Entrepreneur. But open up the book, and you'll not only read about how they started their successful PR and marketing firm YC Media, which focuses on cookbook authors such as Jamie Oliver and Serena Bass, but get countless helpful tips and advice for starting a business of any kind.
Their clients have included Amazon.com, Hearst Books, and Hyperion Books, and both Friedman and Yorio exude confidence and experience, having spun off their cookbook expertise into their own separate, successful small firms before merging in 2001 to better serve their and their clients' needs. When asked about a potential jewelry-making business, they rattle off questions an entrepreneur should consider with ease. The Girl's Guide offers advice on everything from figuring out if owning your own business is right for you, choosing the type of business you want to start, finding real eastate, legal issues, employment, press and media relations, website building, and more. The easygoing tone breaks down these often complex tasks into straightforward steps. They also profile women around the country who've started their own successful businsess, asking practical how-did-you-do-it questions of women who run everything from a men's clothing store, executive search firm, literary agency, cleaning service, ad agency to more unusual and creative ventures created to fill a void in the market, including a Mac-based IT consulting firm and a pajama company. By including these success stories, Friedman and Yorio not only encourage readers with their already-formed entrepreneurial ideas, but also expand the range of option female or male business owners may consider.
Who is your intended audience for The Girl's Guide to Starting Your Own Business?
Caitlin Friedman: People who love to learn, who are seeking out professional advice. Because while you might be a great graphic designer, you probably don’t know how to be a bookkeeper or sales person.
Kimberly Yorio: The people we’ve met have been people who just started their own business, or are deciding whether to or not, and want to get a better sense of how they can either go about it or walk away from it.
How did you come up with the idea to write the book?
KY: This book was Caitlin’s genius/flight of insanity. We partnered in 2001 and she came in about a year after we’d been together. We’d had this series of annoying mistakes that we’d made that cost us money, little setbacks and we conquered them and felt like every day we’d learned a ton. Said we should start a book called The Girl’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business. I said, “I think you’re crazy, we have our own business to run. Who do we think we are starting this?” She assured me we could do it. That was a Friday, and on Monday she came back with a 50-page outline of everything we’d done and learned and the reasons why this book needed to be written in our unique voice.
What’s unique is the tone that we take and what Publishers Weekly called our “cheerleading attitude.” We feel like if we can do this, anybody can. If you knew what we knew when we started, then you’ll be a hell of a lot more ahead of it. We had both worked separately in our bedrooms a few years prior to coming together and having a more formal job. Caitlin had drafted most of the proposal and then met some agents and interviewed agents, and with the proposal pretty much as it was, sent it out and got it sold to HarperCollins and we sold a second book, The Girl’s Guide’s To Being a Boss Without Being a Bitch, which will be out in spring 2006.
Caitlin really made me a believer and, in the process, everyone else who we wrote the book for became these believers and real cheerleaders to us in our project. The hardcover was a nice success, it hit the Business Week bestseller list and for us, again, I was constantly surprised. Caitlin always knew, she’s much more of a research and book buyer of this kind. I’d tried to find every book under the sun and there just wasn’t one I could get through. They were just too boring, too male, too Harvard Business School, and so with her cheerleading we put it together.
CF: The interesting thing is, we interviewed 50 people, and I’d say 80% of them, when we’d ask them their biggest challenge, they’d all say confidence issues. people overcoming their confidence issues was pretty diverse and really common. We highlighted the kind of business owner we wanted and then did research to find geographically diverse, diverse businesses. The only guidelines we set were that they’d started their own business and still running their own business and it was women owned. There was one husband and wife team, they bought a bookstore.
Some purchased existing businesses. You have options: service-based, retail-based, franchise, or come up with a great idea or buy an existing business. We wanted to interview people from all those kinds of businesses.
How did you find the business you profiled in the book?
CF: Word of mouth, as well as the National Organization of Women Business Owners, we used their membership.
KY: Everybody said yes. We needed a realtor and we didn’t have anyone in Nevada, and we found this woman who was in Nevada and is the west’s leading highest grossing realtor. She lived half the time in Hawaii and is sixty something and had been speaking around the country. It was amazing the women we found with ten clicks through the Internet. They were all so excited to share their stories with us.
KY: We would never go out and say we’re the most successful businesswomen on 26th Street even. We wanted to support our theses with other women who had done it and were running a successful business.
One of the most refreshing things about The Girl's Guide is that you offer up your own real life mistakes as examples of what not to do. What's the biggest mistake you made when starting your own business?
KY: Some of the basic things we’d done wrong, we incorporated in the wrong state, because I’d done it before and thought I knew the procedure. We didn’t know what questions to ask, didn’t file payroll taxes correctly. When you’re first starting out and you have a really limited budget, you think the wisest thing is to do everything yourselves, because you save money. But when you do everything yourself, you make mistakes that cost money in the long term and cost more time. If you establish your small business team and get good counsel then you probably won’t make those obvious mistakes. Will you make other mistakes? Certainly.
We put our whole business in jeopardy by making stupid, easy to avoid errors that we shouldn’t have done. We’re in marketing and we changed the name of the company five times and we were evolving. That wasn’t a terrible mistake, but it did cost us money. We had to keep throwing out letterhead and reincorporating and calling the web designer, but ultimately what we came to, YC Media, we’re really happy with, because that reflects who we are and what we do. What we caution people are to do much more homework than we did. We were so busy trying to build the business that we didn’t have the right team. We changed bookkeepers three times, we changed attorneys a number of times. We finally now have this core team who we really trust and who gives us good counsel. We now have four fulltime staff, plus freelancers.
Your book is aimed toward women, but I found that most of it could be applicable to men. Why'd you choose to target women and how do you see men and women differing in their approach to running a business?
CF: Men could absolutely read the book. We wrote it for women because we are women and we’re inspired by other women and we wanted to inspire other women. The meat of the book, it could go either way, the tone is towards women. We found that when we were doing research, a lot of the problems we were having is that we couldn’t identify with the tone, so we wanted to gear everything toward the women.
Women we spoke with, as well as ourselves, have a lot of issues with confidence, so we wanted to give women the confidence to make the leap.
KY: In the next book we’re gonna explore that even further. Being emotionally invested in what you do is a much more, and I mean emotionally in the most raw emotional way, not that men aren’t invested in what they do, but it’s a different kind of emotional investment. They don’t care if people like them and they’re not necessarily that concerned with making sure that they’re received in the way that they want to be received, whereas women are constantly worried about how they’re being perceived and if people like them or not and people on the other side use that to their advantage.
You have a chapter called "Being a Boss Sucks." Can you elaborate on what being a boss means for you as a business owner?
CF: It offers an opportunity to learn about yourself in a way that other aspects of running a business don't. You’re relating to another person in a professional environment and your weaknesses are right there for everyone to see.
KY: The whole operation moves along so well much faster than it could without the group effort. And when you’re off your game or not giving clear direction or communicating well, then it grinds to a halt, that again, when it’s just yourself, you realize immediately. So I think that you get quicker feedback when you’re managing a team than doing it yourself. You can accomplish 100 more things in a day or fuck up 900 more things in a day because you have to be seeing a bigger picture of what’s going on.
Does having your own business in New York give you an advantage over having your own business elsewhere?
KY: The pluses are that you have this automatic cache, it elevates you to the A team so that helps you with clients outside New York because they think, wow, you’re a New York firm. But it’s more expensive here, the rents are higher, everything is more, staff, insurance, etc. There’s terrorism insurance now. Things here are much more expensive and there’s much more expectation. To the outside world, you’re a much hotter property, and frankly, things do run faster and the expectation of quality work is much higher because it’s so competitive. I think our competitors keep us on our toes.
Most of our clients are here. We recently pitched three out-of-town pieces of business, all of whom wanted a NYC firm. It's the #1 media market and they feel like if you have the proximity you have the relationships, which if you’re good it's true. We could live on the moon and be good and have the relationships and live in New York and be mediocre and not have the relationships. We love being here. It’s a big leap no matter what.
I have a friend who has a full-time day job, but she wants to start her own jewelry line. She's been selling it on the side to friends and a few stores, but not making anywhere near enough to live on. Quitting her day job to devote herself to the jewelry, which she's considering, seems like a big leap to me. For women who want to start their own business but don't have the necessary capital on hand right away, can you recommend any baby steps?
CF: It depends on the industry, but maybe you want to get a part-time job at a store and learn how to run a retail space.
KY: We’re huge fans of moonlighting. She should start with a business plan, that’s something she can do while she’s at that job, and it doesn’t have to be really formal or long it just has to be thorough. We say go to Microsoft.com. They have this business plan template and it really helps.
For example, does she want to sell in other people’s stores? Trunk shows? How does she want to get this stuff out? Does she make it herself, does she have time to make it, and how much is the cost of goods. What if Barneys decides that they love her work and want to purchase large quantities of her jewelry; how will she fulfill that demand? There’s a ton of questions to think about. Does she always want to work in silver? What’s the five year plan? How is she gonna get that money? You may not think of all this stuff and our book guides you through all the things you have to consider. It doesn’t feel like you’re doing so much, but you’re setting the pieces in motion for you to have a successful business.
CF: Also, if you just quit your job to do something without thinking it through, that you might make the kinds of mistakes that we’re telling people to avoid, so it’s better to go in with a solid plan.
KY: Or at least one big plan.
How did you each wind up running your own businesses?
CF: I quit my job with a vague idea that I wanted to run a PR business in 1999 but I had a client who was going to pay me for three days a week as a consultant, so I used that to live off of while looking into other options.
KY: I had a draw, a client that was willing to advance me money against earnings I brought in. You have to have a wee bit of security. We both hated the jobs we were in, but we knew enough to know that we needed a paycheck of some kind, and then what happened for both of us was that within six months we were too busy to even have those safety nets, so she quit hers and I paid off the draw and said my own thing is much more profitable.
Why did you decide to merge your businesses?
CF: We were doing our own thing for a year and a half to two years. Kim and I have known each other for ten years and we had very similar backgrounds. We worked for the same companies at the same times. I was at the Food Network and she worked on food tv shows and we had similar professional histories. We weren’t competing for the same projects, and then all of a sudden we started getting calls for the same projects and were bidding against each other and driving our prices down. Plus, I have a lot of respect for each other, and I’d say, “Maybe you should go with Kim" or "Who did you have a better fit with?"
So then we decided that we’re much stronger together, and it's more fun. I'd gotten to the point in my career where I was really bored and lonely working at home and there gets to the point where you can only motivate yourself so much. This was a whole different challenge: building a corporate identity, getting space, that wasn’t necessarily an investment that we could make without each other, so we sublet this space we're in now. In two weeks we’re moving into a space with a five year lease.
KY: And if you had asked us when we got this place if that’s what we saw happening, we’d say only in the vaguest way.
What do you think has been the key to your success?
CF: I think that we’re good at what we do, we have a niche, we do something that most other agencies don’t do, we have really strong relationships with potential clients and really strong relationships with the media.
KY: We both have a very similar bottom line for what good work is vs. what isn’t good work so we both know that if we get to the end of a day or week and we haven’t accomplished x, y or z for this client, that isn’t enough. We need to do whatever it takes for this client, whether it’s 32 more interviews or a big party, whatever tactic we need to do, we’re never comfortable underdelivering, we tend to overdeliver.
CF: We were talking before about qualities a successful business owner needs, and I think being a people pleaser is an important personality trait for an entrepreneur.
KY: Two unhappy clients and we’re out of business, because it’s all word of mouth. We only get things from recommendation so we don’t have a lot of leeway to mess up. Because we’re small, the big big jobs don’t seek us out, it’s all through referral. The first three years we doubled in billing and this year we came back with 50% more, so we've had substantial growth in billings since we started.
What are you working on next?
CF: We just signed Sur La Table to open their store. I think that as far as our core services, I think we’re pretty comfortable. There’s other things we want to do in terms of the Girl’s Guide, brand extensions, licensing.
I have to say, this is actually an extension of our PR brand, so we’re continuing it out. We’re project people. We like doing new things.
What's the reaction to the book been like?
KY: We get emails every day from women saying thank you so much, I read the book, how do I do this this and this, can I come work for you?
CF: It’s nice because even though it’s been out for over a year, the paperback’s gotten a ton of new postings.
KY: It’s been much more of a response than we ever could’ve imagined and we think they did a great job with the packaging.
CF: And it pops out in the business section because a lot of those business books are a snore.
What is the first step that someone needs to take in order to start their own business?
CF: Write a business plan, pull together a small business team, including attorney, bookkeeper, accountant, mentor.
KY: Find someone you can sound things off from, who can keep you focused and enthusiastic. Friends are tricky because they may not know what you need, so try to find similar business owners.
CF: Try local colleges, maybe there’s a professor you can speak with, try The National Association of Women Business Owners, and there’s also the Small Business Association.
What's the most rewarding part of running your own business?
CF: For me, it’s that we have the freedom to do whatever we want to do in terms of professional growth. If I feel like I really need to work on my public speaking or if I feel very strongly that I need to go home and have lunch with my kids, I can do that. There’s a flexibility and a trust that we have that really works for me.
KY: There’s no top out, it can be as big as you want it to be. It’s totally there for you to make as much money as you want. A lot of people feel disenfranchised at a big company and feel that they don’t get a 1/1 return on it, and we get a 5/1 return.
KY: Even the setbacks, or when the money isn’t great, there still hasn’t been a day or even a minute of a day where either one of us has thought “Wow, don’t you wish you worked for someone else?”
CF: We had someone talk about buying our company and we didn’t even want to do that.
KY: We’re really lucky in that we get to work on great stuff all the time.
CF: We choose, that’s another one of the benefits, we can choose what we work on.
KY: We have this expertise in food and we work on really cool stuff all the time, high end stuff, Patrick O’Connor, Jamie Oliver, specialty books, and then we work on weird stuff, like this Beard Papa cream puff store where nobody spoke English except a 21-year-old kid who was the translator.
CF: And we’ve met great people. We’re working with this farmer in Connecticut who’s selling black currant juice, as well as Tamison Day-Lewis and others. There's a lot of diverse people we work with, that’s part of the fun.
KY: They’re inspiring, we just need to be inspired by people, that’s what totally drives us, really respect whatever they’ve created and that’s what turns us on.
Find out more about YC Media at their website. The Girl's Guide to Starting Your Own Business: Candid Advice, Frank Talk, and True Stories for the Successful Entrepreneur is out now.