Your Business Is Not Your Hobby

Thomas Stridiron is an entrepreneur of twenty years and the President and CEO of E-Commerce Exchange, a company he founded in 1996 that allows entrepreneurs to open their very own turnkey Online Superstore featuring more than 5,000 retail products.  E-Commerce Exchange is an A-rated member of the Better Business Bureau, as well as a Dun
and Bradstreet-listed company.

Here, Thomas shares his inspiring backstory with’s Entrepreneur Exchange:

An entrepreneur of more than 20 years with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Administration, Thomas was a 22-year-old college graduate when he landed a job in New York City working for a financial services company of about 200 people.  After three months, having already been named the employee of the month, he realized that if he applied himself and worked smarter and harder than everyone else, he would succeed in life.

Unfortunately, what he also found was that working for a big company had some drawbacks.  For starters, although he was performing at a higher level than most of the other employees, he was being compensated based on his time at the company and not his performance.  He especially had a hard time grasping the fact that he was being paid less than half of what others were making simply because he was there six months and they had been there 16 years.  Thomas knew he was out-producing and out-performing them all, and he felt that there was something inherently wrong with that kind of work environment.

So in the fall of 1992, after one year with that company, Thomas decided he needed to find a way to get paid based on his performance, not simply because he stuck around.  What followed is a real rags-to-riches success story that is best told in Thomas’ own words…

“I started a home-based business working for myself from my apartment,” Thomas says.  “I started with a $100 investment and began mailing out information about my services to new businesses in the area.  I had my home phone number on the flyers and had to answer the phone with my business name, which was not particularly ideal.  But after
two weeks, I had already made more working for myself than I did working in New York City for a month!  At that point, I was hooked and I never looked back.

I continued to work from my small two-bedroom apartment and added a business telephone line and fax line.  I bought a desk and really tried to operate like a real business, even though I was in my home.  Eventually I had a friend come work in my apartment to answer phones, do paperwork and mail out flyers.  As time went on, we outgrew that small space and opened an office.  We hired a receptionist, obtained an 800 telephone number, got set up to accept credit
cards and then really started to excel.

Fast forward to five years later and I had more than twenty people working for me.  The rest is history.  I learned a lot over the first ten years and made many mistakes along the way.  What kept me going was a positive attitude and a willingness to do whatever it took to succeed.  Many times it would have been easy to give up, but the risk was worth the reward.”

Thomas goes on to share some of his hard-earned wisdom and advice with aspiring entrepreneurs here:

How does someone know if they have what it takes to own their own business?  Tell us a bit about how you made the decision and why.

I have always been self-motivated and driven.  I am aggressive by nature and also results-oriented.  Many people are just looking to work 9am-5pm, collect a check and head home.  In my experience, most people are lazy.  They will do just enough to get by each month and really do not have the drive to accomplish much more in their professional lives.  However, there is a small percentage of us, maybe ten percent, that strives for something more.  We want to create a better lifestyle for ourselves and our families and not just “get by” every month.  Entrepreneurs will out-work everyone else to ensure they are successful.  We derive a certain satisfaction from success and are constantly striving for higher goals.  In fact, we are really never satisfied.  Even today, I am the first one at the office and the last one to leave.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first six months in business?  How did you meet that challenge?

As a small business with one employee (me), it was very difficult to juggle the day-to-day operations of the business while maintaining a clear vision for the company.  It’s too easy to become so bogged down in the day-to-day stuff that you forget to plan or make sure that you have your future goals and aspirations in check.  I would take two hours a day―usually at night when it was quiet―to plan my next three months and look at the long-term aspects of the company.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing business owners today and why?  Any suggestions for how to address those challenges?

The greatest challenge facing business owners today is to try and find their own marketing niche.  Starting a business is easy; getting sales and customers is difficult.  You need to think outside the box and be willing to work harder than anyone else to make sure you are successful.  Marketing and promotion are what typically defines whether a business is a success or a failure.

What is the single strongest piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out in business for themselves?

Have confidence in yourself and do not run your business like a hobby, or you will not see the results you want.  If one business idea doesn’t work out, don’t give up.  Many of our best innovators had many failures before finally achieving success.

What would you say is the one thing that new business owners forget about or overlook when they’re just planning/starting out?

Many business owners start out, invest capital in a business, and forget that it is going to take money to market their business.  Simply opening a website, storefront or any other business is not enough to make the phones ring or for sales to happen.  You need to have a marketing budget.  Whether it is $100 a month or $1000 a month, it needs to be consistent and invested as efficiently as possible.

Also, many business owners forget it is imperative to have a toll-free number and a live person answering the phones during normal business hours.  When prospective clients call, if they can’t get you on the phone, they are gone and will buy from someone who is available.  That’s why, from Day One, we have ALWAYS had a live person answering our phones during normal business hours.  Perception is reality and if prospective clients have a hard time getting you on the phone before they buy, they know they will never get you on the phone after they do!

What marketing strategies have you found to be most successful in growing your business?

Wow, this question is difficult to answer.  We have tried so many different marketing ideas over the years.  Most weren’t that great, but it’s important that you try to invest small amounts to “test” specific ideas before throwing all your eggs in one basket.  I have found that having multiple marketing avenues going at once is the best option.  We don’t have one way of advertising or use one ad.  We have multiple ads and ways to advertise, whether it is in print, online or through affiliate and referral programs…even word-of-mouth.

What on-line, software or other resources have helped you the most in managing all aspects of your company?  Why and how have they been helpful?

Some of the programs and resources I have found to be most invaluable are GoToMyPc software, which lets me log into my work computer from anywhere in the world, as well as my BlackBerry, Microsoft Outlook, a high-end phone system and voicemail program, a scanner, a fax machine, and a toll-free telephone number.

Anything you would like to say in closing?

At E-Commerce Exchange, we help people just like you start a small home-based business right from your own home, just like I did.  I took my home-based business and built it into a career, and you can too!  If you have the right level of confidence and a good work ethic and you aren’t afraid of a little risk, then I suggest you give this opportunity a
try.  After all, you don’t have much to lose.  In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about our program―you can get started for as little as $195, keep your day job and gain some experience as a business owner to see if it suits you.  Whether you make a few hundred dollars or several thousand, the idea is to learn, put forth some effort and potentially grow a successful operation that you can enjoy and that will be profitable for many years to come.

Our opportunity is not a get-rich-quick gimmick or something where you can just sit back and start making money however.  As was true for me, it will take hard work and not everyone will succeed.  Succeeding in any business takes a certain drive and work ethic.  If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it, right?  Dedication is the key.  It’s similar to getting a treadmill.  If you do not use it regularly, you will not see results!