Starting a small business, over and over again

We have been starting small businesses since we were first married over 26 years ago… this is a list of all the things that were successful and not so successful.

We started selling a book I had written as a thesis project called “Mother Natures Remedies: The First Season” that got into niche magazines like “Mother Earth News” and “Organic Gardener”…it didn’t sell a single one and that was expensive in advertising dollars with no return.

The Savings and Loan scandal had hit Houston, where we lived at the time, and we started a landscaping business… first with the idea of ​​doing “Landscaping.” We had a partner with a Botany degree and experience, but since people were going to foreclose and commercial property was a bust, we decided to do Lawn Maintenance instead. We put together flyers and took them to all the real estate agents. Because there were so many FHA and VA foreclosures and they were built in subdivisions with homeowners associations… either the FHA and VA had to “maintain” the yards or the homeowners associations would place liens on the homes for violation of homeowners association agreements. Our small business obtained contracts to maintain yards of foreclosed homes to the tune of 80 homes per day and 25.00 per yard. We started doing the work ourselves, but it became too much, so we had to hire “Subcontractors” to do patios that we couldn’t. Why “Subcontractors”? Because we didn’t want to pay workers’ compensation. They used their own trucks, but our team…sometimes they used our trucks…they charged us by the yard and we charged the realtors who listed the houses. It was a lucrative undertaking and a lucrative business.

At the same time, I started working for an interior designer in Houston who had a very good reputation. I would teach his course at his office or my office or at Rice University. We would teach the average housewife how to showcase her house without hiring an interior designer. We also taught interior design students who were failing their courses how to pass and succeed in their field. The woman who designed the Course, Athalee Curry, was simply the most brilliant woman and taught principles that were more common sense than anything else. Because of her focus, that venture was successful. Together we did designs for model homes and also for other clients. This was also a lucrative and successful business and I was able to learn some business principles from Athalee that have paid off.

When we moved from Houston to Idaho, I applied those same principles to getting my companies into a different state, but the mindset just wasn’t there. Hiring a “lawn maintenance” company or “interior designer” was not something that was done here. These were “Do It Yourself” and “Homemade” types who did not have the additional income to “hire” them to do it, nor did they have the inclination to be “taught”, so those businesses did not work here.

In 1984, I sang all over the South, I had a video on VH1, my songs were on the radio, and I was doing a lot of TV appearances. When I moved here to Idaho, there were a few people from the South who recognized me and asked if I would teach them or their children to sing and get into the industry. It was a new business, one that I have run since 1991 and in which I have been successful. I started in my living room and with little equipment. As my clientele began to grow, I would invest again in better equipment. Eventually, I was able to get equipment for a recording studio. Word of mouth and my reputation made my business grow, the shows and the success of my students kept my reputation strong and my business successful. Now, I only teach voice when I want to. I have taught others the same techniques that I developed in teaching the voice and was even successful enough to be able to work with Warren Barighan on the Vocal Bio-matrix and do therapy sessions on my own.

When I was in elementary school, I started making skin care and makeup products. I would sell them to my kindergarten friends and my parents thought it was cute. I was four years old when I read my first encyclopedia game, so I did research and study. My grandmother was a medicine woman in Samoa…she taught me the ancient ways and as she grew I combined my traditional western upbringing with her ethnobotanical treatment methods. I worked for a medical company that was a subsidiary of Baylor College of Medicine and started working on nutritional oncology approaches. I developed a nutritional base that would prolong the life of a cancer patient by 18 months if she were using certain chemotherapy agents. The studies and trials presented by the FDA are extremely expensive and biased, so I decided that I did not want to release this formula with the FDA restrictions.

At about this time, Congress passed a Supplements bill that fit our business perfectly. We formed a corporation, put a board of directors together with doctors and pharmacists and proceeded on this venture… which turned out to be a total disaster. We followed all the SBA guidelines, we went to the Center for Economic Development and got help…and the doctors, pharmacists and vets were using our products and testing them and we had a 98% success rate on everything we put out…and it still failed. My husband was diagnosed with Insulin Resistance and couldn’t stand the restrictive diet. As a research scientist, he knew that sugar alcohols are still absorbed, he knew that aspartame was a glutamate and would increase insulin and cause further blood sugar complications… Splenda was no good, as chlorine would increase blood pressure and cause a few other problems…so he asked me to think of an alternative. I started another company in Functional Foods. I wanted the product I came up with to not only be a sweetener, but also add health benefits to the body. Sweeteners are a funny thing… the body can’t tell one sugar from another and the synthetic ones, well the body just doesn’t know what to do with them! Sugar transport systems, however, know the difference, which is why there is a transport system for glucose and another for fructose. I invented a sugar that can lower blood sugar and inhibit carbohydrate absorption.

We started our company and within a few months, we were manufacturing, within a week of manufacturing a small quantity, we had our first sale, within a few more weeks we had our first national sales, within a couple of months we were selling 100,000.00/month to a well-known national company and one of the nation’s leading senior health care facilities. Since August 2003, this company has been selling “SugarBlend” nationwide to our customers.

It has been a tough road and success did not come overnight. There were a lot of business partners along the way who wanted to steal everything, there have been investors along the way who wanted to steal everything…we’ve been to court a few times over this…a potential investor stole a check for 18,000.00 from a desk and cashed it…that almost took us down. We had people who wanted to give us license agreements, our friends, who told us…we will never hurt you! and then he would take all the money, never pay the fees and walk away with almost everything while we paid the price losing 780,000.00 in a year…lost to friends who “would never do us any harm” and forced us into personal bankruptcy. Our business remains strong and sales of our products continue to rise, growth is slow and methodical, which is conservative growth, but it is growth.

So what advice would you give to those who want to start a small business and succeed? First I would say, run… don’t walk away… this is not for the faint of heart! Check in your area if it’s a service and see if there really is a need and mindset for what you want to offer. Take a look at the competition and do your homework to make sure this company is viable. Then get your ducks in order, decide how you want your business to function, move and grow. Make plans and goals, if you don’t reach those goals, then it’s time to go back and redesign your plan of attack and your methods. Keep an eye out for business partners… do you need one?… can you do it yourself… are you strong-willed? Can you accept criticism and can they? Can you hire the experience? It might be easier if you can do that. Re-invest… Budget your earnings so you don’t need a bank or an investor… Banks are a horrible place to take a loan or something! If you don’t do it right, they’ll take your fillings out of your teeth to get their money back!…they’ll bankrupt you faster than an investor. Investors… if you plan well you won’t need their money, if you don’t plan well they will end up owning all your hard work and whatever else they can too…just like the banks. The saying…”Those who have the gold make the rules” is true, so you simply don’t need their gold. The last piece of advice I would give is this… If you are self-employed… this will be your life, your whole life, so make sure the sacrifices are worth it, some just aren’t.

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