Valerie Daniels-Carter is America’s quick-service restaurant queen. Her V&J Holding Companies is the largest woman-owned franchise organization in the U.S., operating dozens of Burger King, Coffee Beanery, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen and Pizza Hut franchise locations across the nation. 

Daniels-Carter, president and CEO of V&J, always knew she wanted to launch her own company. Here, she shares her tips for those who have thought about starting their own business but aren’t sure where to start. 

ASK YOURSELF FOUR SIMPLE QUESTIONS 

Even as a child I had an entrepreneurial spirit — I walked kids to school and grabbed babysitting jobs — but I never knew exactly where I would end up. When I started in franchising in 1982, if you’d told me this would grow to 4,000 employees I would never have believed you. 

Finding your way in business requires a little introspection first. In order to be successful, you need to understand what drives you and what you’d like to achieve. Ask yourself these four questions: 

  • What is my true passion — what would I want to do every day even if I weren’t paid for it? 
  • What is the burning reason I want to create this? 
  • What are my competitors doing, and what can I do differently to become the best? 
  • How much time do I want to dedicate to this area of my life? Starting your own company takes an enormous amount of time. If you aren’t willing to commit, that’s completely fine, but a smaller project may be the right way to go. 

DETERMINE THE RIGHT TYPE OF BUSINESS FOR YOU 

As you think about the answers to the questions above, really focus on what specifically drives your passion. People say I’m in the food business, but it’s really the people business. I want to serve people and see them enjoying their experience. What’s at the core of your passion, and which businesses fit that goal? 

Second, determine what kind of business setup feels comfortable for you. Creating a product from scratch isn’t for everyone — it wasn’t for me! I knew I wanted a structured environment rather than creating something from thin air. With franchising, the product and the processes are already defined. I’d rather take something that’s been a success and expand it in my own way. I didn’t have a unique offering and that was OK. But someone else might see their entrepreneurship as creating something brand new. 

LEARN THE BUSINESS BASICS  

No matter which field you choose, every business has a balance sheet and income statement. If you can’t explain the numbers to me, I can’t help you even if I wanted to. You don’t have to go get an MBA or become an expert — you can hire people for that — but you do need to understand the basics of fiscal management. Check out local small business groups or sign up for accounting courses at the community college. 

Meanwhile, talk to as many potential mentors as you can, and see if they’ll share some wisdom with you about your specific chosen field. The more you know, the better businessperson you will be. If you think you want to work in a particular area, it’s best to validate your idea first and make sure that it’s what you truly want to do. 

FIGURE OUT HOW YOU WILL DEFINE SUCCESS 

Just as people might approach entrepreneurship differently — creating something new, launching a startup, building a franchise organization — people also define success differently.  

Maybe for you, it isn’t starting your own thing but leveraging your entrepreneurial spirit as an employee, launching new projects and initiatives that help your company be the best it can be. Maybe it’s creating a side gig to help you feel fulfilled, without taking too much time away from the rest of your life. Or maybe it’s restaurant franchising like me and building a huge company on your own! Whatever goals you choose, go out and get them. You alone determine what it means to you to achieve and what it is to add value to the world. 

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