Bear Stearns goes bust. Citigroup lays off 20,000 employees. Nextel axes another 4,000. In today’s economy, stable jobs are disappearing faster than singers on American Idol. With 3 out of 4 people saying that we’re in a recession and layoffs skyrocketing, more and more women with families to support are a facing job loss and mounting money pressures.

As a survival strategy – and to take control of their financial futures -- many women are starting small businesses. In fact, every month 200,000 women put their financial futures on the line and launch new ventures – that’s 2.5 million a year.

Ironically, a tough economy can provide rich opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs to innovate and thrive. And there’s never been a better time for women to take the leap: there’s more support via the Internet, micro funding, and networking groups than ever before. But even with all these resources, a start-up is still a very risky business.

One-third of all ventures don’t make it past year two; more than half of won’t survive year four. Beating the odds isn’t easy. It takes more than a big dream or a promising product. It takes persistence and emotional staying power. And when you’re under urgent financial stress, it’s especially important to avoid cash-draining start-up mistakes.

Based on feedback from successful women entrepreneurs in my new book, "Birthing the Elephant," here is some frontline advice to help women in survival mode ensure that their new ventures stay lean and laser-focused during the first 24 months – that make-or-break time when every decision counts and mistakes can be fatal.

Substitute brains for bucks. Make “creativity not cash” your start-up mantra. Map out a budget you feel comfortable with and work within it. Barter early and often: it’s one of the smartest start-up moves you can make. One entrepreneur we know traded fitness workouts for legal advice; another traded gift baskets for professional photos for her Web site; yet another traded copywriting for graphic design services. The possibilities are endless and the savings can be huge.

Don’t overspend on image: Confusing image with professionalism is one of the biggest start-up mistakes you can make. Avoid it! Don’t get carried away with buying state-of-of the art equipment or furnishing your home office expensively. Forget the super-slick packaging or a Web site with all the latest bells and whistles. Instead, keep your eye on delivering high quality and real value. Clients want service and results – they don’t really care about how you provide it.

Go the “guerilla marketing” route: One of the biggest traps you can fall into is buying costly advertising or hiring a professional pr firm to make a splash in the media. Costly outlays on this front are rarely a sound start-up investment. No one is better equipped than you are to tell your story and promote your product. But make sure your pitch is newsworthy. Talk to other entrepreneurs about how they get the word out creatively and cost-effectively. As one expert observed, “you’re not in the business you’re in, you’re in marketing.” Mastering this skills is vital to your success!

Don’t outsource prematurely: Hiring other people to do work that you can do yourself too early can create a serious cash drain. Whether it’s creating stationery, writing a press release or sending an email blast, you’ll be amazed at what you can do when you decide to “figure it out or find it out.” But make sure you don’t spend 80 percent of your time on trivial pursuits when you should be finding clients and marketing.

Build a support system for success: The biggest start-up hurdle women face? You might think it’s money. But seasoned entrepreneurs know that the real key to success is winning the “small-business mind game.” Staying motivated and rebounding from setbacks are at the heart of small-business success. That’s why you need a support system to survive the rocky emotional terrain you’ll face in the first critical 24 months. Read start-up action guides, listen to inspiring tapes, network with other launchers.

Avoid burnout: A relaxed mind is a creative mind! Positive emotions boost problem solving. Beat burnout by making relaxation part of your daily work plan: Guided meditations are great: take 10 minutes each morning or during your workday to close your eyes and go to your favorite beach or mountain. Visualize yourself running your business easily and happily.

Ignite your ingenuity: As an entrepreneur, pushing past self-imposed limits is key: You’ll face many tasks that are unfamiliar and even stressful. But you can master them if you stay focused. Remember: commitment sparks creativity. There’s an old Estonian proverb: The work itself will teach you. So dive in, make mistakes, adjust your strategy, and keep moving in the direction of your dream. The pay off can be fantastic!

Author's Bio: 

Karin Abarbanel is an expert on women’s entrepreneurship and small business. She is co-author of the new book, "Birthing the Elephant: the woman’s go for it! guide to overcoming the big challenges of launching a business" (Ten Speed Press). Visit: