starting a small businessStarting a small business can be intimidating, but plenty of people have done it before—and done it successfully. Whether it’s opening your own coffee shop, starting a consultancy firm, or becoming a wedding planner, there are plenty of opportunities for success.

Take real estate investor Theresa Bradley-Banta (pictured right), who has created two businesses, one drastically different than the other. She started out 23 years ago with her own graphic design firm, but now she spends her days flipping not just houses but also multi-million dollar apartment buildings with her business, the Theresa Bradley-Banta Real Estate Consultancy.

Initially a freelancer designer, Bradley-Banta started investing in real estate when she and her husband moved out of their home. Instead of selling the house, she rented out her old home to a group of college girls and loved the experience. This inspired her next business endeavor, with which she expanded her business knowledge and learned tools for success.

Tip 1: Follow your passion.

Bradley-Banta’s first experience as a landlord led to more real estate acquisitions and eventually to flipping properties, which she found she enjoyed more than day-to-day property management. But it would take a hefty stash of 20 houses to afford a property manager that could take some of the work off her hands, so she switched to multi-family buildings.

“I bought a 29-unit building, completely renovated that property, and ultimately flipped it,” she said. In doing so, she found she was more passtionate about renovating properties than graphic design. “I really enjoyed that whole process of taking up an old, rundown building that was poorly managed and making it beautiful and a really nice place for residents to live.”

Tip 2: Have a clear vision to get where you want to go.

When she began considering larger buildings, she knew she would need the right team of people behind her and a plan to get there.

“I had a purpose behind it. I wanted to really impact lives,” she said. “It wasn’t a big pile of money at the end. The most important thing I did was I started driving around and looking at apartment buildings in town and picturing myself owning them. I thought about the lives I could impact by being a great landlord. I dreamed about the buildings I could change and the team I could have in place. I really had the end in mind.”

Identify first why you want to start your own business—whether it’s to make enough money to live, to share a passion with the world, or to help people. A profit is usually the goal of any business, but identifying other, more personal goals will help guide your plans.

Tip 3: You don’t have to know everything to get started; you just need to know enough.

Don’t let your lack of expertise scare you from starting a business. As your business grows, you will learn from the experiences and people you encounter along the way.
“Just get started—you’ll learn as you go,” Bradley-Banta said. “Just make sure you’re not leaping off a cliff.”

Tip 4: Surround yourself with positive, engaging people.

The best way to gain the knowledge and support you need is to surround yourself with people who can help you—whether that’s good lawyers or good friends.

“I think it’s really important to hang out with the right people,” she said. “It’s not easy, but if you’re spending time with people who are negative, doing the same stuff day in and day out, and constantly coming up excuses about why they won’t change, you’re not hanging out with the right people. It’s just really that who you associate with plays a huge part in your success, so be aware of it.”

Michelle Stoffel Huffman is a researcher and staff writer for Think Glink Inc. Prior to joining Think Glink, Michelle worked for the Chicago Tribune as a daily news reporter and community manager, covering local government, business, tax issues and crime. She now specializes in real estate industry news, consumer financial reporting and home design and decor. She is a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago.