Tory Johnson knows a thing or two about looking for—and creating—meaningful work. In 1999, after the experience of being fired left her with a desire to have more control over her income, Johnson founded Women for Hire, a company that hosts career expos for women. As the Job Club correspondent for ABC News, she has also earned the nickname “the jobs lady.” In addition to hosting expos and training programs, Johnson is a popular speaker and trainer for events such as The Women’s Conference. Johnson’s new series of “Spark and Hustle” seminars help small-business owners move past ideas—the spark—to create profitable businesses.
Here she explains how she knew which business idea to run with, and how she made it work on a tight budget and limited time. She also shares her ideas for using social media to maximize your time, profits and ideas.
SUCCESS: When you were fired from a job you loved, did you start your own business right away?
Tory Johnson: Well, first I got another job because I had to pay my bills. I stayed public relations for five more years. During that time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
I had a lot of fun ideas, none of which I knew how to put legs on, or that stuck with me for very long. When I came up with the idea for a job expo for women, it was the first time that an idea for a business occupied my thoughts for months. That showed me the difference between having a fleeting idea and one that I was really excited about and confident could work for me.
S: How did you move from deciding to become an entrepreneur to making it happen?
TJ: The big challenge I had is one many people can relate to: I couldn’t afford a lot of downtime. I needed to do something that would replace my income quickly. It wasn’t enough to just generate revenue; I needed to replace my paycheck.
So my first step was to take action. I started calling companies. I said “we” were holding a career fair, even though it was just me in the corner of my apartment. Within three months I had 50 employers paying to participate. More than 1,000 women came to the event.
I didn’t have a long-range business plan, I just started to list things out: How much I could make on one event, how many companies I could get to attend, and what venue would meet those needs. I did two expos in New York, before I had the confidence to go national.
S: So the New York events helped you test your idea?
TJ: Yes, but I couldn’t have afforded to just dabble and test without making money; I needed to make money. Most business owners are in the same boat. They need to test and make money. They don’t have the luxury of signing up investors, and that’s OK. The best growth comes from doing it. The true test is: Are people willing to give you their credit card number?
S: What are some of the keys to turning a profit quickly?
TJ: Profit has little to do with how fabulous your product or service may be. It’s much more about your ability to generate sales. You’ve got to know your numbers. What kind of sales must you generate to deliver the income you desire? If you’ve yet to make a single sale it’s nearly impossible to predict what you’ll be pocketing down the road. In that case, forget about forecasting five years out and just start selling—and prepare to meet (and overcome) objections along the way.
Objections can be challenging. When met with hesitation, especially when selling a service, we’re inclined to drop the price or offer a freebie. Instead, we should anticipate that opposition so we don’t stand there like a deer caught in the headlights when someone balks at the price. A better reaction: “If you’re looking for the cheapest, that’s not me, but here’s the value I offer and here’s how I’d serve you well, so let’s talk about it.”
S: What tips do you have to using social media effectively?
TJ: With hundreds of millions of users, it’s safe to assume your target market can be found on online social networks. You want to be where they are. Instead of getting hooked on every new tool and platform out there, select one or two places to deliberately invest your effort. For me, that’s Facebook (Facebook.com/Tory) and Twitter (Twitter.com/ToryJohnson). Build a following online that’s based on authenticity and consistency.
One of the best things I’ve done is to create a grid for planning my social media interaction. Look at a calendar month. What are you promoting and when are you promoting it? If you put out tips every day, sit down at once and write down those tips all at once. If you’re leading up to a big promotion, what are the lead-ins to that? Plan what you’re going to say and when you’re going to say it.
Then, build in a couple blocks of time each day to check the blogs and Twitter feed and respond to people. Be deliberate about what you’re putting out and then engage with people. That’s the winning combination.
S: Anything else?
TJ: Be yourself, share your expertise, and commit to doing it daily. Most days and weeks I’m not selling anything to my followers. If I did, it’d be an instant turnoff, and my fan base would disappear in lightning speed.
Instead, I offer advice, promote meaningful resources, answer questions and reveal what I’m up to. It’s not a chore; I love the conversation and connectivity. Many of my segment ideas and the concepts and content for new products and services come directly from the conversations I have on Facebook and Twitter. That’s good for them, and good for me. Giving your time and talent in this manner is a powerful tool to grow your business.