I was recently asked to be on a Local Business Panel in Berea, KY for “Entrepreneur Day” for Leslie County Youth Entrepreneurs which trains and encourages high school students with hopes to own their own business one day. I thought my answers to the insightful questions I was asked on the panel may inspire others and encourage sharing of other entrepreneur’s stories.
Here’s my story …
Why did you want to start your own business?
I started my own business for several reasons. I had worked for years as a manager for other businesses, in charge of marketing, organizing and bookkeeping. And after returning to school for web administration and programming, I was ready to invest my experience and training into my own company. There are so many rewards in being an entrepreneur and I feel so much satisfaction at watching my company grow over the years and exceed my early expectations.
I also wanted the flexibility of owning my own business for personal reasons. I wanted to be there for my son, and work around his schedule, which I’m able to do as a business owner. When he was very young, I didn’t want to have to put him in daycare but wanted to be home for him, so I feel very privileged that I had that opportunity to grow my business and also be a full-time mom until he was old enough to be in school.
What did you have to do in order to start a business?
Because I grew my business slowly and developed my client base on word of mouth, I had little overhead and did very little marketing in the first few years. So I didn’t need business loans or much capital investment. I am from upstate NY, born and raised, so I had a lot of contacts, friends, family, colleagues and my referrals grew over time.
But in 2005, when we moved to Kentucky, I had to start over essentially. I had to develop a new marketing plan specific to this region, where I had to build my brand, my reputation and a client base locally. Through networking, sponsorships, and business membership groups, I began to develop valuable relationships and a new client base of small business owners in Central Kentucky.
What are your biggest accomplishments so far?
Some of my accomplishments are having a portfolio of over 150 websites, as well as a long list of logo and print ad projects, and marketing plans developed. When I started, I was running the business by myself, but in 2008, I began to build a team that now includes eight very qualified and dedicated individuals that assist in the programming, marketing, graphic & logo design, social media and video production needs of my clients.
My greatest accomplishment is my reputation in the field. When I hear someone say, “I have heard so many good things about you” or “You came highly recommended by so-and-so”, I feel that all my hard work has paid off. Your brand is your reputation and I’ve worked hard to provide quality work, original designs and excellent customer service to my clients.
What have been the biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge has been in finding dedicated, honest and qualified team members. Since your reputation is your brand, I’ve learned to be very careful who I allow to be part of the Startup Production team, since your employees and contractors’ skills and values are a reflection of your company. I had experiences in the past with people that have inadvertently impaired my brand by the way they handled customers or the quality of their work. It was a hard lesson to learn but I’m proud of the team I have built today and what a difference it makes to have qualified and loyal people working for you.
What would you say to someone who wants to start a business – advice, words of wisdom, etc.?
If you want to start a business, I would say you need three things:
- Time Management & Organizational skills. Especially in the beginning stages of your business, you will wear many hats, from bookkeeping, to marketing, to sales, to office management, to actually producing and delivering your product and service, so you have to make the most of your work day, remove distractions and stay focused on the activities that produce revenue. If you don’t develop a system of scheduling your day’s activities, responding to client’s needs, finishing projects you’ve started, you’re business and revenue stream will suffer.
- People skills. Knowing how to talk and relate to others will be instrumental for any business owner. Whether you’re dealing with customers, colleagues, employees, suppliers, or contractors, you need to know how to develop relationships and build connections to grow and establish your brand. People do business with people, not companies. So learn to introduce yourself, be comfortable with your elevator pitch, and know how to network. Being able to get to know and understand your customers and colleagues needs will be imperative to your growth.
- Having a drive or a passion for your business. “If you love what you do, the money will follow”, as they say. If you have a real passion for the product or service you are providing, you are confident, you are determined to make it work, and you exude enthusiasm and excitement in your marketing and sales pitches. That drive will help you stay positive when you face criticism or negative attitudes, and it will motivate you to find creative solutions to the obstacles in your way.
If you could do one thing over again, what would it be?
Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing because everything I’ve been through in over fifteen years in business have made me who I am today. Even the mistakes I’ve made or the obstacles I’ve overcome, have been lessons learned and ones I share with others. I have met so many great people in this community, I’ve learned so much from their examples and my business plan continues to evolve according the needs of my client base. I continually find new ways to provide new products and services to small business owners, and provide even better quality of service. So I would add … keep an open mind, be flexible and be willing to learn from others.
Share your Story …
If you’d like to share your own entrepreneurial story, fill out this form and you may be featured in an upcoming Business Spotlight post.