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June 4, 2023

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With a wealth of information and resources available to budding entrepreneurs, starting a business is within reach of anyone with enough guts and determination. To help, in this section we’ve compiled resources that will serve as a handy guide to give you an idea of what it takes to get your business off the ground and running.

Tory Johnson: How I Became a Successful Entrepreneur

As you no doubt know, small businesses are the backbone of America and they’re often owned and operated by entrepreneurs and their families. Small businesses are the biggest source of new jobs in America, which means that entrepreneurs are not just doing good for themselves but for our economy and our country too.

Obviously, the Wal-Marts, Microsofts, and Disneys—all of which were started by pioneering entrepreneurs—reach more of us today with their ad campaigns, products, and services. But for every corporate giant out there, there are millions of women like myself who are just as passionate about their own businesses and just as anxious to make them prosper and grow.

Not everything or everyone can be found in giant shopping malls, in suburban corporate parks, or on Wall Street. Travel this country, as I have in recent years, and you’ll find that entrepreneurship is alive and well.

Being a small business owner is a career path that I heartily endorse, but first, let me tell you how I got started.

In 1993, at 23 years old, I was working in a prominent public relations position at NBC News. The future looked bright until one day I was summoned to human resources and abruptly fired. I was told that I had an hour to leave the building, but before doing so, I insisted on talking to the newly-appointed president of the news division.

When I walked into his office, he leaned back in his chair, put his arms behind his head and smiled smugly. Coldly he said, “It’s a big world out there, Tory, and I suggest you go explore it.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.

Determined to move on, I soon landed a healthy six-figure salary as the director of communications at Nickelodeon, which is owned by one of America’s biggest corporations, Viacom. At this rate, my husband and I agreed, we would be very comfortable in life.

But I was anything but comfortable in the corporate world. It wasn’t exactly painful going to work each day, but it just wasn’t fulfilling.

I could make a long list for you about the things that I found unsatisfactory. But it boiled down to this: I was working for the man when I dreamed of being the man—or in my case, the woman.

So after a lot of thought, I resigned and joined a small start-up outfit. Ralph Lauren’s son had launched a lifestyle magazine for twenty-somethings called Swing, and I was to be the marketing director. It seemed like the perfect introduction to a scrappy, entrepreneurial environment.

Gone were the big expense account lunches and fancy hotels for business trips. Instead of sending packages by messenger throughout Manhattan, we’d deliver them by hand during our lunch hour. Even long distance calls—at just a few cents a minute—were kept to a minimum.

None of that bothered me. In fact, I appreciated the challenge of being tight with a buck. I think it forces all of us to learn to be more resourceful and creative.

But as I continued my work at the magazine, two things occurred to me.

First, instead of working for the man, I was now working for the man’s son and helping him fulfill his dream, not mine. And second, I realized that if he could do it, I could too.

I came up with an idea that eventually became a passion in my life, one that I hope illustrates how powerful and freeing the idea of owning your own business can be, especially if you’re willing to take a chance, to trust your instincts and work your butt off.

My idea was to start a company that produced career fairs for women. Even though career fairs were a dime a dozen, nothing existed specifically for women. And seeing as diversity in the corporate world is a growing priority, I thought that if I could connect smart, savvy women with some of the best employers in America, I would have a win-win-win situation. Companies would win. Women would win. And I would win.

I started with $5,000 and began operating out of my bedroom in my Upper West Side apartment with twin babies in tow. I launched the first Women For Hire event in New York back in 1999. More than 1,000 women showed up, and I knew we were on to something.

If the career fair had failed, I would have had to quickly get a traditional job, which of course I didn’t want to do. Instead of spending months and months writing a business plan, I had put my thoughts on one sheet of paper and I dove in. (That’s also the impatient side of me; I didn’t want to think or talk about starting a business, I just wanted to do it.)

With a background in corporate communications, I knew the importance of establishing immediate credibility. I’d be targeting human resource professionals to use my services, yet nobody in human resources knew my name. My company was totally unknown.

The success of the first fair was rooted in a novel idea (pun intended): I bought 100 copies of Star Jones’ new book at wholesale price from the publisher and I arranged for Star—who was debuting on The View at the time—to do a free book signing at my very first career fair. I also formed a marketing partnership with Mademoiselle magazine, allowing them to distribute copies to my career fair attendees. Those two names—Star Jones and Mademoiselle—were very well known even though I wasn’t, so I benefited instantly from that borrowed recognition.

Using the profits from that first fair, I opened up an office and hired a small staff. We expanded to three cities the next season and then to six a year later. There have been many ups and downs along the way—and I’ve had to learn and adapt on the spot.

Now, 11 years later, Women For Hire produces 22 events a year in 11 markets. We’re a multi-million dollar venture with 1,500 corporate clients ranging from IBM to the FBI, and we connect with 50,000 professional women annually.

Going it on your own is not for everyone: there are millions of people who have no interest in running their own shops. And that’s good: we need smart, passionate, creative people doing the “real jobs” too. After all, that is the main purpose of Women For Hire.

But if the idea of being accountable to only yourself intrigues you, and if you think you have the drive, energy, passion, and confidence that it takes to launch your own business and grow your dream into something big, then you and I have a lot in common.

The advice and information throughout this section should give you inspiration and direction on how to get started on realizing your entrepreneurial dream.