Mary Ellen Slayter is managing director of Reputation Capital. Before launching a content marketing firm in her home state of Louisiana, she spent more than 10 years working as a traditional journalist, primarily at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department, and at e-mail newsletter publisher SmartBrief. Follow her @MESlayter.
Who is your hero?
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
I started my company in the middle of an extremely chaotic time in my life -- I had just filed for divorce, moved cross country and been laid off from a job that I loved. I had my doubts that it was the best time to launch a content marketing agency. But an experienced entrepreneur convinced me that it was actually the BEST time to start a business -- I had no comfortable alternative to success.
What's the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
Not spending enough time upfront assessing client 'fit' was a mistake. A well-known name and a generous budget aren't guarantees you'll be able to produce high-quality work together. After a couple of rough experiences, we've gotten much pickier about who we'll work with. It's better for team morale and the long-term strength of our brand.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I drink enough cafe au lait to power a rocket to Mars, look over my calendar and to-do list for the day, and send all my team members a quick 'good morning' via chat (we all work remotely).
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Don't overspend on infrastructure. Question everything that you think you 'need' to have a business. Take advantage of inexpensive cloud-based software that will scale up as you need it. Don't commit to fixed, long-term expenses until you have steady, predictable revenue. Fancy office space is nothing but vanity for a startup.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Cooperate with your more-established rivals to help you build credibility, develop industry relationships and pick up some early revenue. Don't openly compete with them until you know you can win.
What's your definition of success? How will you know when you've finally "succeeded" in your business?
Doing amazing work with brilliant people for awesome clients. Anything else is gravy.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.