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How to be a successful entrepreneur

A key trait of entrepreneurs who make it is optimism, and it’s no wonder. If you’re looking to start a business, the power of positivity is a valuable force to have on your side.

You’ll also need a strong work ethic, a solid financial plan and, of course, a sound idea. Here, four University of Phoenix alumni describe why they struck out on their own and offer advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:

Melanie Benson Strick

Focus on growing a healthy business.

Melanie Benson Strick, who graduated from the University with a master’s degree in organizational management, believes dedication to the end result is critical. “Know the difference between running a profitable business and having a hobby,” she says.

“A hobby is something you do that you love, but it doesn’t make any money. If your business isn’t making money in the first six months, something is being done incorrectly. Find it and fix it — fast.”

Strick earned her degree while working at Motorola and left in 2001 after 10 years to start Success Connections, an entrepreneur-coaching business in Chatsworth, California. What she learned at work and the University, she says, gave her the confidence to be her own boss.

At Motorola, Strick realized she could combine her ability to meet project deadlines with her passion to help people reach their full potentials. Her classes taught her how “to hold myself responsible for big deadlines and synthesize lots of information.”

Beatrice Hair

Believe in yourself and your dream.

Beatrice Hair left her job as an elementary school teacher to open Salisbury Tutoring Academy, a “one-on-one school” in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Starting her own company wasn’t easy. “I lost my peer group [of teachers],” Hair notes. While running her business, she earned a master’s in education from the University and found a new peer group of classmates from all over the country. “Some [of them] are still part of my think tank and are dear friends today,” she says.

Still, she feels like self-reliance was the secret to her success. “Passionately believe in what you will be doing,” she encourages. “If you need too much advice, do not open a business, because you must rely on your instincts.”

Nindi Wadhwa

Know that timing is everything.

In 2010, Nindi Wadhwa and his wife did something most people would have considered crazy so soon after the recession: They opened an ice cream shop, Scooptacular, in Laveen, Arizona.

For anyone looking to start a business, “do it,” Wadhwa advises, cautioning to “take your time and jump when the opportunity comes. We looked [to start our business] for over eight years.”

Wadhwa earned an MBA and says his courses helped him fine-tune his business plan. “I’ve always had an entrepreneurial heart, and the freedom to control [my] future really appealed to me.”

The business has its ups and downs, but Wadhwa and his wife have adjusted, particularly regarding sales. “We now know when our peak season is and when our low season is,” he says. “Planning for this — especially emotionally — really helps.”

Tim Porter-O'Grady

Don’t give up too soon.

“Stick it out and get through the struggles, and wait to see if it’s worth it,” says Tim Porter-O’Grady, founder of Tim Porter-O’Grady Associates, an Atlanta-based health care consulting firm. “At the end of the second year, you will know if you’re making it or breaking it.”

His path to entrepreneurship was “accidental,” says Porter-O’Grady, who holds a Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership. He was a clinical administrator who improved the efficiency and quality of patient care at a large medical center and then wrote a successful book about it.

“The next thing you know,” he says, “I was spending more time away from work [consulting] than at work.”

His courses taught him how to put theory to use in the real world, and he appreciated the diverse views of his classmates. “The different ways all of us translated principles and applied them in practice,” Porter-O’Grady says, “was a great way to learn.”

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