We've been starting small businesses since we first got 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 that I had written as a Thesis project called "Mother Natures Remedies: The First Season " went into the niche magazines like "Mother Earth News" and "Organic Gardener"...didn't sell a one and that was expensive advertising dollars without any return.
The Saving's and Loan scandal had hit Houston, where we were living at the time, and we started a Landscape business...first with the thought of doing "Landscaping". We had a partner with a Botany degree and experience, but since people were going into foreclosure and commercial property was a bust, we decided to do Lawn Maintenance instead. We put together fliers and took them to every Realtor out there. Because there were so many FHA and VA foreclosures and they were built in subdivisions with Home Owners Associations...the FHA and VA had to "Maintain" the yards or the Home Owners Associations would slap liens on the homes for the violation of Home Owners Association Agreements. Our little company got contracts to maintain yards of foreclosed homes at the tune of 80 houses a day and at 25.00/yard. We started out doing the work ourselves, but it got to be to much, so we had to hire "Subcontractors" to do the yards we couldn't. Why "Subcontractors"? Cause we didn't want to pay for workmen comp. They used their own trucks but our equipment...sometimes they used our trucks...they would bill us per yard and we would bill the Realtors that listed the homes. It was a lucrative company and a lucrative business.
At the same time, I started to work for an Interior Designer in Houston that had a very nice reputation. I would teach her course in her offices or in my offices or at Rice University. We would teach the average housewife how to make her house a showcase without hiring an interior designer. We also taught Interior Design students that were failing their courses how to pass and succeed in their field. The woman that designed the Course, Athalee Curry, was just the most brilliant woman and taught principles that were more common sense then anything else. Because of her approach, that company was successful. Together we did designs for model homes and other clients as well. This also, was 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 in order to put my companies in a different state, but the mindset just wasn't there. Hiring a "lawn maintenance" company or an "interior designer" just wasn't a thing that was done here. These were Do-It-Yourselfers" and "Home-made" type people that didn't have the spare income to "hire" it done, nor did they have the inclination to have it "taught" to them, so those businesses didn't work here.
In 1984, I sang across the South, had a video running 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 that recognized me and asked if I would teach them or their kids how to sing and get into the industry. It was a new business, one I have run since 1991 and been successful at. I started in my living room and with meager equipment. As my clientele started to grow, I would re-invest in better equipment. Eventually, I was able to get equipment for a recording studio. Word of mouth and my reputation started my business growing, shows and the success of my students kept my reputation solid and my business successful. Now, I only teach voice when I want to. I have taught others the same techniques I developed in teaching voice and was even successful enough to be able to work with Warren Barighan in Vocal Bio-matrix and do therapy sessions on my own.
When I was in school, grade school, I started making skin care products and make-up. I would sell them to my kindergarten friends and my parents just thought that was cute. I was four when I read my first set of encyclopedia, so I did research and studied. My grandmother was a Medicine Woman in Samoa...she taught me the ancient ways and as I grew up I combined my traditional Western Schooling with her ethno-botanical methods of treatment. I worked for a medical company that was a subsidiary of Baylor College of Medicine and began work in Nutritional Oncology approaches. I developed a nutritional foundation that would prolong the life of a Cancer patient by 18 months if they were using certain chemo agents. Studies and trials put forth by the FDA are extremely expensive and biased to boot, so I decided that I did not want to release this formula with FDA restrictions.
About that time Congress passed a bill for Supplements that fit our company to a "Tee". We formed a corporation, put a board of directors together with doctors and pharmacists and proceeded in this venture...which turned out to be a total disaster. We followed all the SBA guidelines, we went to the Economic Development Center and got help...and, the doctors, pharmacists and veterinarians were using our products and testing them out 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, I knew that Sugar Alcohols still absorb, I knew that Aspartame was a glutamate and would raise his insulin causing greater complications with his blood sugar...Splenda was no good, as Chlorine it would raise his blood pressure and cause some other problems...so he asked me to come up with an alternative. I started another company in Functional Foods. I wanted the product that I came up with to not only be a sweetener, but to add health benefits to the body as well. Sweeteners are a funny thing...the body can't tell one sugar from another and synthetics, well the body just doesn't know what to do with them! The transport systems of sugars however do know the difference, that is why there is a transport system for glucose and one for Fructose. I invented a sugar that may lower blood sugar and inhibit carb absorption.
We started our company and in a few months, we were manufacturing, in a week after manufacturing a small amount, we had our first sale, in a few more weeks we had our first national sales, in a couple months we were selling 100,000.00/month to a very well known, national company and to one of the nations leading Senior Health Care Facilities. Since August of 2003, this company has sold "SugarBlend" nationally to our clients.
It's been a hard road and success did not come over night. There were many business partners along the way that wanted to steal everything, there have been investors along the way that wanted to steal everything...we've been in court a couple of times because of this...an potential investor stole an 18,000.00 check off from a desk and cashed it in...that almost put us under. We had people that wanted to give us licensing agreements, our friends, that kept telling us...we will never hurt you! and then would take all the money, never paid the fees and walked away with almost everything while we paid the price losing 780,000.00 in one year...lost to friends who would "never hurt" us and forced us into person bankruptcy. Our company is still going strong and our product sales are still climbing up, growth is slow and methodical, which is a conservative growth, but it's a growth.
So what advise would I give to those that want to start a small business and be successful? First I would say, run...don't walk away...this is not for the faint of heart! Check your area if it's a service and see if there is really a need and a mind set for what you want to offer. Check out competition and do your homework to make sure that this company will be viable. Next, Get your ducks in a row, decide how you want your company to run, to move and to 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. Be aware of business partners...do you need one?...can you do this yourself...are you strong willed? Can you take criticism and can they? Can you hire out the expertise? It might be easier if you can do that. Re-invest...Budget your profits so you don't need a bank or an investor...Banks are a horrible place to go for a loan or anything! If you don't do well, they will take the fillings out of your teeth to get their money back!...they will bankrupt you faster than an investor. Investors...if you plan right, you won't need their money, if you don't plan right, they will end up owning all your hard work and anything else they can too...just like banks. The saying..."Those who have the gold make the rules" is true, so just don't need their gold. The last bit of advise 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.
D.S. Epperson is the top formulator for Home Blend Gourmet / South Pacific Health, a leader in the functional food industry in the U.S.. With 26 years of experience in Nutritional Biochemistry, she has written reference books on botanicals and manufacturing of medicines from botanicals, and published articles on health, fitness and foods. She has formulated over 249 formulas and inventions for health, the environment and agricultural uses, and continues to research and study microbial advantages in nutraceuticals and functional foods.