How does someone decide they are meant to be a business owner, an entrepreneur? How do they know they can succeed during the worst economic conditions since the 1930s?
The transition from being an employee to being a business owner, according to Jay Vilar, ''begins with a conversation.''
''It's the act of talking with someone about your ideas and drawing them out, developing them into a detailed plan.''
A number of new entrepreneurs are having that conversation with Vilar, owner of Plan A Consulting; some because they seek greater opportunities in any economy, some because of jobs lost in the current economy.
A native of New Jersey who came to the D.C. area in 1996 to attend George Mason University, Vilar now lives in Logan Circle. Three years ago, he decided to create a business to help other small-business owners craft strategies for increasing sales, developing marketing materials, and creating operations and client-management systems.
When Vilar meets a new client, they fall into one of two groups.
''One consists of individuals who are aspiring entrepreneurs considering opening a small business,'' he says. ''The second consists of established entrepreneurs who want to take their business to the next level and need someone to help develop a strategy for achieving their goals.''
The Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC, aka the Chamber) has been one way of meeting such individuals. Vilar, a member of the Chamber's board of directors, says he joined CAGLCC ''to be in a network of like-minded business owners and entrepreneurs. It's a great way for me to network with entrepreneurs with no staff or small staffs at every stage of business.''
He also does that as facilitator of the CAGLCC's MasterMind Group. Every Thursday morning, up to 20 Chamber members from a variety of for-profit and nonprofit entities meet to see how they can develop a new business, expand an existing one, or advance their careers with the companies they work for.
''This group is based on a concept created by Napoleon Hill, who interviewed the titans of industry in the 1920s – men such as Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie – to find out what made them successful,'' says Vilar. Hill learned they belonged to groups of like-minded individuals who met at least weekly to talk about the keys to success. Vilar's MasterMind Group replicates that concept.
''New members list their top five business or personal goals for the year,'' Vilar explains, which starts a process where the group can provide advice, support and accountability. ''MasterMind Group has been a great platform to connect, share stories, learn new business techniques, and teach business development. And once participants put their goals on paper, announce them to the group and seek our help, they accomplish their goals – some in just a few months.''
Whether at a MasterMind meeting or one with a new client, the process always begins with that important first conversation. ''It's a step many never take,'' Vilar observes, ''but those willing to have that conversation, willing to be on their own, will find that there's a world of possibilities out there. Wealth can be created in many ways, not just from a paycheck.''
Vilar's inspiration comes in part from the words of Howard Thurman, an influential African-American author, educator, philosopher, theologian and civil rights leader who said, ''Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. What the world needs are people who have come alive.''
Vilar says that's how he helps clients: by helping them come alive.
''I started my business because I would come across so many talented people with amazing ideas for businesses. However, they didn't do anything about their ideas. I figured if I started a business that helps people start their businesses, people will be able to live their dreams, not just wish it. All they needed was someone to help them. However, the hardest part, the most important part, of what I do is getting people to believe they will succeed and hold the vision of success and prosperity along the journey.''
For more information about CAGLCC and the MasterMind program visit the Chamber at caglcc.org.