Why I'm Starting a Business in a Recession

B.L. Ochman Puts Her Social-Media Experience to Work -- for Herself

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B.L. Ochman B.L. Ochman also writes the popular What's Next Blog.
Being an entrepreneur is in my hard wiring. I've had my own business since 1981. Believe me, it's not for everyone. You have to be the kind of person who not only can tolerate, but also loves, risk.

So right now, in the worst economic climate perhaps ever, my partner, programming and creative wizard Caimin Jones, and I are in the throes of launching Pawfun.com, our new custom-photo t-shirt site for pet lovers. Call me crazy, and I've certainly been called worse, but I don't think there's been a better time for a startup than first quarter 2009. So I'd like to share some tips and ideas with you.

Make it fun
Despite the dreadful state of the economy, people still love their pets and want to show them off. And we all need a good giggle, which is what Pawfun is all about. This is a good time to launch something that makes people giggle or feel good. Other companies sell products similar to Pawfun's but they don't make it fun -- which we think of as our secret sauce.

Create a social-media laboratory
For 10 years, I've been helping household-brand companies create their online strategies for generating brand loyalty that will drive traffic and sales to their sites. Sometimes it's rewarding and fun. But it's mostly like pulling teeth.

Being a new-media strategy consultant is often tough sledding because of the need to have buy-in from committees and other agencies; the abject terror of the new that is inherent to corporate culture; plain old fear; and the dance of responsibility to stakeholders. And of course, there are lawyers and the bean counters. Never forget the lawyers and bean counters.

We think of Pawfun as a social-media marketing laboratory -- an opportunity to take what we know works and apply it into a business we own that we can turn on a dime.

Use your online contacts
New media makes it possible to launch without a huge media budget.

We're using Twitter (where I already had thousands of followers), and Facebook, Flickr, FriendFeed and other blogs in the pet and marketing communities to meet other entrepreneurs with whom we can do ad exchanges and other co-op marketing. With not one dollar spent on advertising, we used our well-established social networks to generate more traffic in our first three days than some major companies get after years online.

It takes years to become an overnight success -- despite what you may have heard or read, you don't become a social-media star instantly. If we suddenly showed up on Twitter or Facebook or launched a blog tomorrow, we'd need at least six months to build our network -- and we know how.

You have a much better chance of your business gaining traction if you have an established blog, social network and mailing list in place. (Turns out there's value in being a serial entrepreneur.) Call in favors and be prepared to reciprocate. 'Nuff said.

Tie in to the news
Truth be told, we launched before we were really ready because our first promo is about Obama pet mania. Wait another week and it might be old news. Our Obama photo spoof went viral in less than 48 hours through Twitter and blogs posts. And we even made some sales.

Rinse, repeat
The beautiful thing is that we can change everything, and we already have, about how the site looks and works. We don't need committee approval, or IT approval, or anybody's approval for that matter.

We'll be tweaking and expanding and working crazy hours for a long time to come -- joyfully -- because Pawfun is ours, all ours, and we can use it to delight, amuse, engage and sell to people who love pets as much as we do.

We're on a journey out of consulting and I plan to chronicle it here from time to time, mostly to share what we're learning. So please stay tuned, and hey, please take a look at Pawfun.com And if you like it, please tell your friends, and your Twitter network.

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