Almost everyone has played the mind game of imagining turning their good idea for a business into reality.
Three businesswomen from Southwest Colorado who have made that leap offered some advice and a bit of inspiration for a few dozen aspiring business owners at the 10th annual Women’s Small Business Conference held at the Sky Ute Casino on July 18.
The first stepKatie Burford, founder and owner of Cream Bean Berry; Stephanie Carton, owner and designer of The Eli Monster; and Jenny Newcomer, founder and chief goal officer of Commit 30, discussed how they successfully opened new businesses all while managing to raise their young children.
They discussed turning their side hustles into full-fledged businesses during a breakout session at the conference, attended by more than 250 women and sponsored by the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
Burford opened Cream Bean Berry, Durango’s handcrafted artisan ice cream shop, with no illusions about the task she faced.
“Both my parents had a small business when I was growing up, and most of my adult life, I said I would never do that because I saw how much they worked,” Burford said. “I knew the sacrifices you have to make.”
Carton, whose business makes original online, downloadable sewing patterns, was a little more eager at the first step. Watching her parents run a small business, she said, led her to run her own operation.
For Newcomer, her husband was the family member with the experience running businesses.
“My husband had always had a couple of businesses, and I’d always helped him a little bit with pieces of it, but at the time I was in the nonprofit sector, and then I was also doing the mom thing.”
Newcomer was making monthly planners for her husband and her to keep their lives and businesses organized and progressing toward their goals when friends began asking if they too could get copies of her planners.
“I was just giving them out, and my husband was like, ‘Why are you just giving all this away. Why don’t you start selling it.’ I was like, ‘My gosh, we have two businesses and two kids. You’re crazy,’ and so I kind of shelved it for a little bit.
“But the interest was just kind of there for it, and so we decided to just give it a try.”
Robbing Peter to pay PaulLack of money, the main stumbling block preventing startup business, Burford said, does indeed create challenges, but they aren’t insurmountable ones.
“You know, in a perfect world, I would have had $100,000 in startup capital from Day 1, but I didn’t, Burford said. “... A lot of my struggles in the early years were just managing the overhead because I didn’t have any startup money, and so I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul, and John and Frank and everyone. Yeah, the bookkeeping was a little bit crazy in those early years.
“You know, a sensible person would have said, ‘Don’t start a business without any money,’ but I did it anyway. But that’s how things worked out, and what can you do?”
Operating a business, Carton said, is a roller-coaster ride, and one key is having the sheer determination to plow through difficult problems when a business is at its lowest ebb.
Persevering through crashesA business, Carton said, is a series of crashes and highs. “You will have fights, and you will feel like you are this total failure, and you just have to push through it,” she said. “I think a lot of times why some businesses don’t proceed is that they crash and people are like, ‘This is done. This idea isn’t as good as it could be.’ And I think they just don’t push through it. Because you know you’re going to go up again, and then you are going to crash again. And you just have to keep going.”
Learning to say ‘no’Newcomer said a big lesson for her was finding the ability to end things that aren’t working and to tell people “no.”
“Saying, ‘No, this isn’t the right opportunity for me; thanks for the offer.’ And learning when you are on a path with either a partnership or a manufacturing partner or an employee that isn’t working out and knowing just when to cut it off and do something different. Those were two big lessons.”
Another important lesson, she said, is taking care of yourself when your business can be all-consuming.
“You know a lot of our free time – weekends, early mornings and evenings – went in to getting this off the ground, and I think like my overall health and wellness suffered for several years during that initial period of launch.
“So, you know, reminding yourself, ‘It’s OK to take time. It’s not only OK but necessary to take time for yourself and take care of yourself.’ I think that was one of the biggest lessons,” she said.
The courage to make mistakesBurford added that the simple courage to make mistakes and the acuity to learn from them counts for a lot.
“I didn’t have any idea how I’d get from A to B, and there were a lot of twists and turns along the way,” she said.
“I kind of hoped, at the beginning, I could just open my storefront on Main and then start selling boatloads of ice cream, but I had to take a little side trip to get there, do a much smaller startup, and do that for a year-and-a-half before I was able to move into a bigger operation.
“And that turned out to be a godsend because I wasn’t at all ready to run the bigger thing when I started. And I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know. But I learned a lot along the way.”