Dawn Dickson is a serial entrepreneur who thinks that great business ideas can come from anywhere, even an already-established business. Dickson started her shoe company, Flat Out of Heels, in 2011. These flats can be rolled up and carried as an alternative to high heels.
She tried to make them small enough that vending machines could sell them, so she looked for vending machines to sell these items. While she was doing research on vending machines, she realized that traditional equipment couldn’t collect information about customers like conversion rate.
So, she started Shoe Vending International in Columbus, Ohio, in 2012. In 2017, it changed its name to PopCom and started making vending machines that use facial recognition and machine learning to get information about customers.
She made Inc.’s 2018 and 2021 female founders 100 lists because of her groundbreaking invention and the business that came from it.
Dickson talked about how to start your own business at a recent panel at Ohio Wesleyan University:
1. Think about the business you want to start and where you want it to go.
Dickson says to think about how far you want to go with this business. She says that a business plan for five years might look different from a plan for ten years, and it will definitely look different from a plan for a business you want to give to your children.
If you look at the trends in history, you can see that there is usually a recession every 10 years. Think about it ahead of time and figure out how you will deal with these changes in the economy. What will happen to the market? How will you get used to it? What do you do to take care of yourself? Since there is no 401(k), how do you save for the future? “
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2. Start by making a plan for your cash flow and a solid business model.
If you are starting a business while also working a day job, you may want to think about how to save money for your business. Dickson says that before starting a business, it might not be a bad idea to work for a big company and save up some money.
That’s what she did when she started her first business in 2001. For 10 months, she worked for Insurance Intermediaries Inc., a division of Nationwide Insurance.
Also, think about how you will run your business before you start. Dickson says that entrepreneurs should decide whether they want to start a lifestyle business, which is meant to support a certain way of life and a certain level of income, or a scalable business, which is a large business that can copy itself and grow without limits.
She says that the first step to being “self-aware” is to know what it takes to build a business. Dickson says that this can stop people from building a business that is bigger than they want to run.
3. Make it a habit at work to prioritize yourself.
Dickson often tells her employees to put themselves before work as a way to reduce stress and build goodwill. “Don’t put this job ahead of yourself or your family, because you’ll hate it,” says the business owner. The company now has five employees, and each one gets $100 back for money spent on self-care activities.
During the financial crisis, the company grew a lot faster because it had a culture that put people first. Dickson says that none of her employees left when the company ran out of money and she couldn’t pay them for a couple of months because they were deeply connected to the company culture.
She also gives employees mental health days and unlimited sick days so they always feel good when they go to work.