A former teacher, today Stacy Parkelj is co-owner of a Tutor Doctor franchise in Dallas. She shares 4 wise lessons she has learned in starting her own business.
The journey towards doing what you love and being able to support yourself and your family is often fraught with obstacles, confusion, and innumerable questions. I myself have gone through several different eras of work, from being a teacher, operating a web design company, to managing a large sales team before returning to the classroom. It wasn’t until I returned to my love of teaching that I realized my passion for education could fit perfectly with my entrepreneurial spirit through opening a tutoring business.
Four long years ago, I took a leap of faith and opened my small business, a Tutor Doctor franchise location in the Dallas Ft. Worth area with the help of my father as a business partner. Since then, I’ve learned hard life and business lessons and have grown my business to support local community families. It is such a powerful blessing and gift to be able to do what I love every day, and I believe that everyone should be able to say the same for themselves.
Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.
Here are some pieces of advice that have helped me through the launch and growth of my business.
Be open to making sacrifices early on
Launching a successful business requires so much more than just a financial investment. Especially in the first few years, entrepreneurs should expect to invest a significant amount of time into their business, putting processes and systems in place to accelerate growth and move towards self-sufficiency. Because of this hard truth, dedication to launching a successful business forces you to shift priorities towards the business. Be prepared to miss sleep and events, and have a plan in place to help manage and care for your children.
Make Wise Hiring Choices
The employees you hire are unquestionably some of the greatest investments you’ll make into your business. It’s important to make strategic hiring decisions for the business, especially while the business is still being established. As much as it is possible, seek employees that bring more to the table than the skill sets required by their positions, and employees who compliment the business model and team members. Selecting employees who meet your criteria will create a synergy in your company that will drive it to successful heights.
Seek out a support system
Business ownership can be a very lonely journey. As stress mounts and weighs on your shoulders, having a support system can mean a huge difference in your attitude, pool of resources and references and the future of your business. Finding a support system that will understand every inch of what you’re experiencing is crucial and sometimes requires reaching outside of your traditional circles. While your friends and family might be supportive and excellent listeners, unless they’re also business owners they may not completely understand your situation and not be able to offer helpful business advice. Finding a business-minded mentor will not only give your business the powerful resource of someone who has been through it all, but also an outside perspective.
Set a routine
Without a doubt, the first few years of business ownership is punctuated by long hours, hard decisions and balancing the world on your shoulders. Thankfully, this phase of startup and extreme productivity doesn’t last forever. Once the dust has settled and the business is up and running, it’s vital to establish a proper schedule and routine. For me, that means that from nine to five o’clock every day I go into my home office and close the door. Simulating a real-world work environment while working from home establishes necessary boundaries for myself and my family and ensures that I can maximize my time. Even if you aren’t working from home, it’s important to find a way to end your work day and “turn off” your business brain.
Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.
Jane Stein is President of Your Franchise Is Waiting, a consultancy firm which helps people in various stages of reinvention discover the possibilities offered by business ownership through franchising. She shares her somewhat bumpy ride from corporate financial services to self-employment and why she loves nothing more than helping people get out from under the corporate shackles.
I was a senior VP of Investments and Certified Financial Planner with Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley) for more than 20 years in Houston, Texas. I got married at 35 to my 42-year-old husband and cranked out two adorable boys – time was a wasting afterall. When you have a full time stressful job (is there one that isn’t?) it truly takes a village. We relied heavily on the kindness of not only strangers but also family and hired help.
Our second child was all of 4 weeks old when I felt that something wasn’t right. He didn’t make eye contact (when he nursed!) and seemed to be in perpetual motion. I knew he had autism. This was 1997, and autism was just starting to be on the radar, as opposed to the full blown epidemic it has since become. Being the kind of person who believes “everything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I jumped into overdrive and surfed the internet until 2 am every morning researching every possible intervention known to man. We did gluten- and casein-free diets, sound therapy, supplements, skin brushing, as well as the traditional speech, occupational, and “floor play” interventions. By this point, my son was living in the back seat of my car and therapists’ offices. Needless to say, it was a crazy ride. Not so great for the marriage either, which is another story.
Should I stay or should I go?
Then along came 9/11 and after struggling to get out of bed for six months, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I realized that I was seriously burned out and had not enjoyed what I had been doing for years. I was tired of the same conversations day in and day out and wasn’t learning anything new. I felt that crushing feeling of “is this all there is?” and of life being fleeting. I wanted to spend whatever time remained raising my own children (at this point, we had two full-time nannies) and living in a place where they could play outside without being covered by mosquito bites from head to toe in minutes. We researched various cities that met our criteria (should be safe and have clean air and water, an educated community, and four seasons) around the country. We assessed our financial picture and where we could cut back, and took a leap of faith. We relocated the family to Boulder, Colorado, which had good public schools and more than its fair share of quirky kids. I figured mine would fit right in.
There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong. It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.
Cut to ten years later when my oldest was leaving for college, I began to feel restless and realized I was bored, bored, bored. Hiking, golfing, going to lunch with friends and volunteering did not fill me up.
I did some deep thinking and realized I:
love working the way some people love weekends,
need an organizing principle in my life: for me it’s work
wanted to build another empire if I could – I missed the challenge.
missed having discretionary income to be more generous in my philanthropy and, let’s be honest, to spend.
There’s more I could say, but at age 58 I did a lot of research and exploration of various career options and eventually relaunched – as a franchise broker.
I work from home connecting people in transition into businesses that are a good match for them based on their investment parameters, skill sets, and income and lifestyle objectives. Walking people through the steps of reinvention is very rewarding.
“There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong. It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.”
I love learning about new business concepts every day. I get to try to connect people to their dreams of self-employment and hopefully open the door to what will be their future financial security and the satisfaction that comes from “steering your own ship.” Now I help people invest in themselves, instead of managing their passive investments, and it’s much more exciting and empowering for them.
This is a business I can do from anywhere there is a phone line and an internet connection. There’s no reason I won’t do this well into old age.
Stepping past the fear
Personal reinvention is hard. Things have to be pretty miserable for you to overcome the hurdle of inertia and fear. But there can be great reward in taking the leap. Transitions are a part of life. Most of us will experience quite a few in our lifetime. The best ones are the ones you initiate yourself. It’s a great feeling to chart a new course. In facing your fears, ask yourself – in a year, will my situation improve if I do nothing? If the answer is no, you and I both know what the right move is.
When I decided to leave the financial services industry, I woke up every morning feeling free. After a while, that feeling was replaced with a sense of adventure. I was going to reinvent myself – again. Investing in a business is a bold move. But it just might be the right move. And remember, women make great entrepreneurs!
Interested in learning more about franchising? You can connect with Jane onFacebook andLinkedIn.
Laura Beck is chief shirt schlepper of www.stripedshirt.com, a failed start-up. Based in Austin, Texas, five years ago Laura launched a tee-shirt company on the premise customers would want to show their support for teams and organizations by wearing their colors in stripes. Nearly a month ago, she went public with her breakup with stripedshirt, and launched a Kickstopper. In 4 weeks, she’s been floored by the response (138,000+ Facebook and 7,000+ YouTube views of the video). She (along with her unpaid interns – her 70-year-old mom and 10- and 6–year-old daughters) packaged up and shipped over 400 orders: that’s 1,000 shirts sold! So, after all this Kickstopper buzz and love, Laura felt it was a good time to think through what missteps she took with stripedshirt and perhaps spare other entrepreneurial types some of her pain.
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra – MISTAKES, I’ve made a few!
1. It Was All About ME
That was by design, I had done 18 years of PR agency life, 10 running an agency and leading an amazing team of 16 people. But I was burnt out, fried from managing others, especially aggressive young guns new in their careers and eager to advance. I wanted to do stripedshirt entirely on my own. NO WAY I was taking any outside funding. First of all, I didn’t need it (again, I worked 18 years, I had savings), and second, I’ve seen the good and bad of VC-funded startups doing PR for them for years. This was also MY dream, and no one else would be as passionate about it. I didn’t bring in any partners, I wasn’t beholden to anyone! I could do it my way (Sinatra again! J). Well, turns out, a partner or two, they’ll hold your feet to the fire.
2. Over-Architecting the Website
I did some homework, but while I do tech PR, I’m not that technical, and I went with Magenta, an open-source shopping cart for ecommerce sites, and I had that thing built big from the start. I wanted to be able to expand like crazy, assuming (hoping), I’d grow, add products like long-sleeved stripes, tanks, striped beach towels, waterbottles, flash drives, and bikinis (I’m not kidding, these were on my roadmap). If I knew then … I’d have done a simple Word Press template. I would have worked with Volusion, BigCommerce, WP Engine (in my defense, none of these guys had the amazing SMB website offerings they have now back in 2010). Any of these providers likely would have saved me money as well as pain, as I put $10,000 into that cludgy website. I also went with Paypal for payment processing so I wouldn’t have to do my own SSL, my own security. And wow, Paypal + Magenta is just wonky. If I totaled up all my abandoned shopping carts, there’d be a lot fewer shirts in my garage!
BLERG! Again, with absolutely no background in fashion or apparel, I did some homework, but really just went for it. Through an amazing guy here in Austin, I was connected to some factories in India, and they took me on. But to do so, and to really show my concept, I committed to 14 different color combinations and 15 sizes. For each, to do the manufacturing, I committed to about 50 of each size of each color, with a few exceptions. You do the math. We are talking over 10,000 shirts!
And I had some colors move and needed reorders (hello, what is up with the popularity of red and white stripedshirts? I should have started RED stripedshirt, it would have been a lot more successful!) Then there were other colors that absolutely sit there. I thought my Ohio State connections from growing up in Columbus OH would make my red and gray stripes fly off the shelves. But it is my absolute slowest mover! In the end, of the 10,000 shirts, I sold (or gifted – more on that below) about 4,000 in 5 years. I’ve written off some, but about 6,000 are still in my garage today!
Now, again, if I knew then …. I should have done market testing, started with small sets of shirts, only ordered colors that were actually moving. But, there are not a lot of manufacturing options for apparel startups. It’s a pretty brutal industry all around. Margins absolutely stink. I was lucky to find someone to take on what I thought was a mammoth order, but for them, it was teeny. I couldn’t find a way to do small, test-run inventory orders.
And when I did get my inventory, 10,000 shirts arrived in a semi on pallets – that’s pretty overwhelming for one 40-year-old mom to figure out, organize, track, and manage. I quickly had no idea what I had, what I didn’t. It was too much, too overwhelming.
I could go on and on here about the problems with fast food fashion in America, all the bad stuff I hope our apparel industry sorts out soon. That cotton is still grown in the US but shipped overseas for “cut and sew” and then shipped back is absolute insanity. That factory conditions in Bangladesh, but also East LA, are so dismal should not be happening today. And that the size and scale of orders from Forever 21 and H&M give us shoppers $5 t-shirts, but other apparel hopefuls no prayer of competing, is depressing but very, very real.
4. The Premise Didn’t Work
The idea of stripedshirt – to show your colors, support your favorite team or school –absolutely did not fly. The sales I’ve gotten are mostly women ordering stripes they like. I hardly believe all the navy and white orders I’ve had are really Yankees fans ( as a Red Sox fanatic, I guess I hope not). And, when I had the idea, 20 years ago, fan-wear options just for women were really limited. Now there are tons of options – Alyssa Milano, Victoria Secret, college Ts at Old Navy. I also bet on women wanting to do “Mommy and Me” combos with their children, what I call the Lilly Pulitzer effect. Didn’t happen, those sales didn’t come.
Funny enough, my biggest sales weeks on the calendar were mid-September to mid-October. Yes, Halloween. Turns out there are a lot of costumes that incorporate stripes – Where’s Waldo surely, but also Olivia the Pig, Doc McStuffins, Pirates, French, even Freddy Krueger. While these were real sales and money in, it was kind of depressing to think someone bought a stripedshirt for a one-day-a-year costume.
5. Marketing Alone Does Not a Company Make
This one was the hardest pill to swallow because remember, before stripedshirt, I was an 18-year PR veteran. I KNOW MARKETING. I’m good at it. I thought I had this part in the bag! I thought I could build stripedshirt entirely on marketing, on PR, on word of mouth and buzz. I knew better. Way better. For 18 years, I told clients “PR is AIRCOVER for sales.” You need integrated marketing and a sales strategy. But in 5 years, I was the sales team, and I’m not a very good salesperson. I never brought on any agents or distributors, I never figured out deals with stores, or even built a network in retail. I also never did any paid search or Google ad words. I relied fully on organic search, which was very strong, but not strong enough to carry a business. I never even put in place a CRM system to continue to communicate with customers who had already bought – and hopefully loved – a stripedshirt.
Finally, I put all my trust and hope in influencers and bloggers. I gave away more shirts than I care to count to fashion bloggers to do a review with a great write up and high quality photo spread, and then do a giveaway. Lots of raffle copters out there with thousands of people putting in their chance for a free stripedshirt. I wrongly figured many of those, not getting the free shirt, would come to buy. They did not. I appreciate all the support and buzz my fashion bloggers gave stripedshirt, but make no mistake, they did not produce sales. Way too much inventory went out with very little return. I knew better. I know what integrated marketing is required to create and grow a business, I’ve counseled people on this for 20 years. But I didn’t put most of it into action for my own business.
6. Distracted by my Comfort Zone
When I started stripedshirt, the idea was to leave an 18-year PR career and do something completely new and different. That lasted one month. Thirty days into it all and I had already taken on a client on the side. Generally, for the past 5 years, I’ve been doing PR consulting for upwards of 6 clients at any one time. I hold it to about 20 hours a week. But we all know a startup is a 110% commitment. Between time with my girls, and PR consulting, stripedshirt kept taking a back seat. It was far too easy to fall back into my comfort zone, to do what I was good at, versus trying to figure out this new stripedshirt world that was hard, and complicated, and not showing any signs of success. Doing PR consulting may have kept my ego secure and my confidence up, and my wallet not completely empty of spending money, but helping others with their businesses majorly distracted me from focusing on my own.
And so, now, 5 years later, I’ve broken up with stripedshirt publicly and I’m turning back to the PR consulting I know well, including, it turns out, PR for the stripedshirt failure. Perhaps the best PR I’ve ever done – for a failure, for the closing of a business. Not exactly something you want to do a case study on to share with future clients, unless they too want to shut down their businesses!
Again, these past 2 weeks have been so amazing, very liberating and freeing to admit defeat – a relief to come clean about my failed business. Most everyone has been very supportive, and amused. Seems there are a lot of kindred spirits out there who also gave entrepreneurship a go and didn’t have smashing success. I appreciate the people who have reached out to cheer me on, even to thank me for sharing my story.
There have been some hecklers, and negative comments, make no mistake. People who said I had no business starting a business, and of course it failed, what a bad idea, and bad execution. There certainly is a lot of truth in what they say as you can see from the six mistakes I’ve detailed above. I remain proud to be public in my failure and again, hope my sharing can support others who’ve gone through this, or will go through this. Or, maybe, my stripedshirt Kickstopper, and the lessons learned, will give some guidance and tips for others of how to give their own business a better fighting chance!
Watch the Kickstopper video, when you enter “kickstopper” at checkout, you’ll get to 50% off your order.
It’s no secret that it’s a man’s world on the oilfields of Texas and around the world. But former energy exec and marathon runner Katie Mehnert has plans to change all that. In Pink Petro, she has created an online digital channel that aims to empower women in the sector through mentoring, networking, and sharing of information.
“I want to bring Silicon Valley to the energy sector as a whole to power a fresh approach to female development in what’s been a very male-dominated industry. Women need more seats at the STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) table and Pink Petro will be a vehicle to that end. Together we’ll use our collective voice to reenergize the sector and its reputation,” she explains. (more…)
Kim Freid is the first to admit she’s a lucky person. Starting out as a Kelly Girl temp, she was in the right place at the right time to get hooked up with a great job opportunity that launched her career. She’s married to a man who stepped back from his career to look after their kids and manage the household while she moved up the professional ladder. And when Freid “retired” from her job at the tender age of 37, her stock appreciation rights were such that she could focus on making her Second Act more meaningful and fulfilling.
But while luck definitely played a role in Freid’s success, it was only one factor. This active mother-of-five is an entrepreneurial businesswoman, balancing multiple projects and volunteer work with her online keepsake chest gift business. “I have never been one to sit still. We own and operate a couple of franchises but Project Treasure is my passion. I long for the day when it can consume the hours I need to work. I am a bit of a workaholic.”
Freid went to college for one year but dropped out when she realized it wasn’t for her, “It didn’t move fast enough and didn’t pay me so I quit and became a temp.” Based in Sacramento, California, she was placed with FEMA, the US disaster response and recovery agency, to manage the processing center’s front desk during the nearby Northridge earthquake. Due to the scope of the quake, a large number of FEMA employees were being brought in from other parts of the US to help out. “I became known as the ‘housing person’. I stumbled upon a new temporary housing firm called CRS Temporary Housing and referred a lot of FEMA staff there. But when the need expanded to cover the actual disaster area, CRS had no one in place to continue to get the business. I boldly suggested I could be that person and within days became the company’s third employee.”
Based in Northern California, CRS Temporary Housing only serviced that area until Freid got them into Southern California. From there, things just took off. The company slowly expanded, and 16 years later, with Freid as President of the company, the once small agency had grown to be the largest furnished housing provider to the insurance industry in the US with over 100 employees and bringing in $100 million in revenue.
“It was quite a run. I absolutely loved it because we were really helping people. It’s always been important to me to be doing something that made a difference. Our typical client was someone who had a fire or flood in their home and the insurance company was trying to find them a place to live while they rebuilt. Later, as I moved up through the company, my passion became focusing on our employees who worked with these people on a daily basis. We were extremely successful because of that, our personal touch and the staff dedication.”
Four men owned the small business when Freid came on board. Seeing what she was capable of, they stepped back from operations and gave her the freedom to run the company. When she was offered the position of Vice President, her husband stepped up to the plate: “Jason worked for the Dial Corporation and they had put him through an MBA. But pretty early on I was offered a big promotion. We had two small kids at the time and both of us wanted a big family. I lived to work, he worked to live so he said ‘Kim, why don’t you go for it! You can’t turn down this opportunity. I will stay home.’ I always thought it was so ironic, there I was with no college education running a company and he was probably the most over-qualified stay-at-home dad coaching Little League.”
But after 16 years, one of the owners decided to get more involved in day-to-day operations. “We were on excellent terms, but he was interested in leading and I am a leader and admittedly not a very good co-leader. I felt, although we had the same destination in mind, we both had different paths. Because we were both leading, the ship was zigzagging across the ocean and it was impacting our progress. Technically it was his company and, even though I had built so much of it, rather than create too much tension in what had been a wonderful relationship, I decided to go.”
Freid’s financial position was a key deciding factor. Due to the company’s explosive growth under her leadership, she had built a comfortable stock appreciation rights package that would enable her to “retire” at the age of 37. Rather than staying on and hoping for the best, possibly risking her retirement cushion should the company go into decline, she decided to cash in and spend time with her kids.
“There wasn’t a day at CRS that I didn’t love my job. It was a fabulous career but it was better to leave wanting more rather than leave wishing I had left earlier. It was time for me to enjoy the life we had built.”
While at CRS, Freid had created a signature gift she would give to friends, family and colleagues, a kind of “love box” for new moms or farewell present for departing employees, for example. “In the case of a mother-to-be, I would get everyone who knew her to write a letter to her baby telling the baby why they were so lucky to have her as a mom. Or on someone’s birthday I might get friends to write ‘what I love about you’ notes that I would print out in different styles and put in a decorated box.”
Shortly before she left CRS, Freid made a box for her Aunt Linda who had started her battle with cancer. Hitting “reply all” to her uncle’s email about her aunt’s condition, Freid reached at least 100 people asking them to send her “a note of encouragement to Linda” that would be gathered into a box to be presented to her on her first day of chemo. “I got a great response. That was one of my favorite boxes because I learned so much about my aunt. More incredibly my cousin, Jeff, flew to Arizona, box in hand saying ‘this is the most incredible thing, you have to market this.’ At the time, I was newly retired but searching for inspiration for my next move because I am unable to sit still. He convinced me people could really benefit from this and so, after some time, we launched Project Treasure.”
Together the pair recruited a “technology mastermind” and slowly developed a business plan and online process to create the “boxes of love”. “Having three of us was great because we bounced ideas off each other and balanced our strengths and weaknesses. It turned into something I would never have dreamed of when I was making these boxes in my kitchen.”
Launched in 2011, Project Treasure’s initial marketing plan was to use limited advertising but rather to work with disease-fighting non-profits and research organizations who would promote the box and in return get $5 per sale attributed to them. “So while they are marketing for us, it is also a means of fund raising for the organization,” Freid explains. “What I knew was that every time I had made a box for someone, within one year, they had done the same things for someone else. So I knew we could count on some organic growth.”
But many NGOs are understandably particular about what they endorse. And even explaining the objective behind the box to bigger organizations has been difficult. “It’s going to take some time to get the word out and help overcome the belief that we are trying to capitalize on devastating illnesses like cancer. So now we are focusing more on individuals and smaller organizations. We know this is a powerful thing. We are using technology to make the world a better place, helping people reconnect in a more personal, meaningful way.”
Freid is in this for the long haul. She and her partners have all had careers or are still actively working. Project Treasure’s system is easy and flawless but the struggle has been to raise awareness. Seeing that 80% of people who have received a box have turned around and sent one, she is confident the business will come. But even if takes ten years, she doesn’t seem to mind, “This is not my ticket. I get paid with the thank-you notes of people who have received a box of love, the 80-year-old who writes, ‘this is the best gift I have ever received, I cannot hope to receive anything more beautiful than this’… that is a deposit into my heart.”
Surround yourself with tech experts. It is impossible to stay up on all the latest and greatest innovations in this world unless that is what you were born to do. Make sure these tech experts are as passionate about your product as you are.
Be willing to reinvent often. Things are constantly changing on the World Wide Web. If you don’t change with them, you will quickly become irrelevant.
Personal touches are imperative. Your online business must have the heart and soul that a non-tech business offers through its people. This can be done with photos, videos and verbiage but most importantly with your interaction and availability to your customers.