Many people ask me if I’m happy with my decision to be an entrepreneur. I can tell you without equivocation that the answer is yes!
My journey to business ownership started the moment I could listen and understand stories. My family often regaled me with tales about how great it was to own a business. For example, many years ago, my grandmother owned a lamp store. My cousins and brothers would help her out. They said they had so much fun standing on the sidewalk drawing in customers and helping with tasks around the shop. I loved hearing their stories, and would imagine what it would be like to run my own store. (Mind you, I was about four at the time…I thought I would open a toy store so that I could have all the toys I wanted for free)!
The first real exposure I had to running a business was through my mother when I was in elementary school. She opened a store that carried handcrafted items from artisans around the country. I thought she had the coolest job. She and my father traveled to shows and bought beautiful items to fill the shelves. Her customers seemed so friendly, and when there were no customers in the store, she was able to sit and read books. Most importantly, she was able to attend my school functions and she was home for me after school, something I appreciated all the more because I knew my friends with two working parents weren’t able to have the same experience.
At that time, I equated entrepreneurship with flexibility and freedom. What I didn’t know was that opening a store four or five hours a day and taking Sunday and Tuesday off didn’t equal high profitability. Still, the flexibility that my mom had running her own business seemed very attractive to me.
The idea of running my own business came up throughout my childhood. From my first and second grade summer lemonade stands to a pretty decent babysitting operation started at age eleven, I was always eager to sell and market something.
My lemonade stand and me a couple of years before I sold my first batch.
Fast-forward to my college graduation. I left the University of Florida ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, it was a really tight economy, but I was lucky enough to get a job as an assistant with the local convention and visitors’ bureau. One of my jobs was to assist with planning membership events. Eventually, friends and acquaintances started asking me for advice on good locations to have their weddings. A light bulb went off and Just Marry! was born.
I’m sure you’ve heard tales of valiant businesspeople giving up the security of a steady paycheck and putting their homes and their families’ futures on the line. Well, my story wasn’t quite like that. I’m fortunate in that I was living with my parents when I decided to pursue my dream and venture into business. I faced my own set of challenges, of course, but I’m grateful the barriers to success were less than many others face.
The biggest challenge I encountered was getting the company’s name visible. At first, I did this through networking. I relied on my contacts from my former job to tell potential customers about me and the business really started to take off. Once I had some revenue, I started advertising, and as I had more happy customers, word-of-mouth kicked in. Just Marry! began to soar.
I got married and had children, and the business kept growing. I learned that I did have flexibility to go to school programs (something that I encourage and support for all who work with me) but I also had to work long, hard hours to keep the business going. My kids did have to spend time at school extended care and sometimes stay with their grandmother while I traveled, but for the most part, I have been able to enjoy story time, costume parades, book fairs, recitals and plays.
Over the past 20 years, there have been successes and failures (both business and personal), nice tries, and “what was a thinking?!” moments. It has always been an adventure…one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
From time to time, I’ll write about some of my various experiences right here. For now, if you’d like to read about one of my most difficult business decisions, you can see it in this month’s Inc. Magazine. I would love your feedback!