By Natasha Ashenhurst
We recently caught up with four small business owners: Amy Evans of Bon Lemon, Amanda Beers of Sweet Charley B’s Cupcakery, Dan Jones of ThurstonTalk and Tom and Celia Husmann of Olympia Local Foods, to talk about what it is like doing business in Thurston County, the entrepreneurial experience, and the secret of their success. What we learned is that small businesses are thriving here, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and that there are many paths to success. Take a look…
Amy Evans & Bon Lemon:
Do What You Love Minute by Minute, Hour by Hour, and Day by Day
Amy Evans was a practicing attorney when she decided to do something different. She had always wanted to start her own business, but was stuck. “I had always listened to the advice to ‘do what you love’, but had no compelling idea or passion, such as cooking, or creating something. I had a turning point when I decided my passion was, literally, owning a business,” she said. She realized that what she really enjoyed was the day-to-day details of running a business. “I am organized, love spreadsheets, love employing people, and making a difference in the community. It was important to find something that I was good at and that fit my life,” she said.
When life gives you lemons…put on something sparkly
Amy created Bon Lemon, a jewelry store that sells items on-line, from her store in West Olympia, through trunk shows, and at regional salons and spas. “I love doing business in Olympia and have built the business by doing a lot of philanthropic activities in the area,” she said. They have programs for local groups who need help fundraising, and they just launched a product called Lemon Loves, charity bracelets that are made in Olympia. For each bracelet sold $5 is donated to a charity. She also has a great network of personal support. For example, her sister Annie owns Spruce, a salon and spa located right next to Bon Lemon. “We have a symbiotic relationship,” she said.
When asked about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, she said “You have to be able to keep going when it is hard. I believe if you have the right personality it is very gratifying. I love the flexibility. This is the best choice I ever made. I love being a business owner and am very committed to the idea. Find what you are passionate about and everything else will fall into place.”
Amy’s Five Tips for Starting a Business
- Look at what you are doing day-to-day. If you own a small business, you need to be organized and able to work with people. This is important, because if you don’t like these things, even if you are passionate about what you are selling, it may be hard because you don’t enjoy the daily work.
- Be clear about what you are trying to sell. Know your product, price, and market.
- Love what you do
- Know your market.
- Be committed to your idea.
Amanda Beers & Sweet Charley B’s Cupcakery:
Community Support, Creativity, and Loving What you Do
Amanda Beers had always dreamed of starting her own bakery, but it wasn’t until tragedy hit her family that Sweet Charley B’s Cupcakery was born. After the sudden loss of her daughter, Charley, her husband put the business plan into place because he was so worried about Amanda and knew she needed a project that would not only honor the life of their daughter, but also keep Amanda very, very busy. “My business was not born from me. It was born from my husband who was worried about me,” Amanda said. Read a complete story about Sweet Charley B’s here.
A Personal Network
Amanda has lived in the Olympia area all of her life and has a vast network of personal support. “Everywhere I go I know someone, whether it is friends or friend of friends,” Amanda said. Initially, Sweet Charley B’s grew from people coming together to support Amanda and her family. Their story touched everyone. “The business grew because they came to support us, but they continue to come back because I make a tasty cupcake,” she said.
Growing her business was a learning experience. “In the beginning, it was very intense. I am a fairly laid-back person. I have no background in business. People have been so patient and so kind,” she said. She kept going, even when it was hard, in part for her family. “I feel like I am setting an example for my kids. If I can do it, anyone can do it. When you have an experience that changes your entire life you ask yourself ‘What do I have to lose?’ No matter what happens I can look back and say I tried. If I hadn’t, I would always wonder,” she said.
Amanda’s Five Tips for Starting a Business
- Build a great network of support.
- Source the highest quality ingredients and supplies.
- Create an incredible product that is highly desirable.
- Be creative.
- Enjoy what you do. If you don’t love it no one else will either.
Dan Jones & ThurstonTalk:
Growing a business through networking and building relationships
Dan Jones was sitting in a small cubicle in the offices of a Seattle dot com. His face was propped up on his hands and he was literally holding his eyes open to keep from falling asleep. He was a trained software engineer hired right out of college and the company did not always have projects for him to work on. “It didn’t make sense to me. I would have to sit there from 8 to 5 even if I didn’t have anything to do,” said Jones, owner and CEO of ThurstonTalk.
He knew there had to be more for him, but that he would have to make it happen. “I like to create products, build a team around those products, and watch the team and products mature,” said Jones. In 2005 he came up with the concept for ThurstonTalk and started laying the groundwork to build the business. “With the economic changes happening in 2007 we decided to wait things out. In October 2010, we rolled out ThurstonTalk,” he said.
Jones has lived in Thurston County for over 13 years and over that time has worked hard to establish a thriving network within the business community. “I worked with David Schaffert at the Thurston County Chamber. He helped assist me in connecting with the community. From there we joined Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm Chambers. They were instrumental in building our business. At the Chamber, customers and decision makers were all in one spot. The next stage was working with the Thurston Economic Development Council, especially Renee Sunde and Michael Cade, who took the time to understand our business and the role we would play in the community,” he said.
Earlier this year, ThurstonTalk was recognized as the 2011 New Business of the Year. “That really validated us and allowed us to get larger customers on board,” he said.
“The business owners in Olympia are out of the box thinkers, very intelligent, and fun to get to know. It is great to see how much effort they put into their chosen profession,” Jones said.
Not only do we have a great business environment, but he also credits Olympia as a great place to raise families which contributes to business success. “This mix is great for families. Schools are super engaged. From a workforce standpoint, if you need temporary employees, tap into the education system to get interns who want to build their resumes. They are really talented individuals, highly educated, highly motivated and love what they are doing,” he said.
Dan’s Five Tips for Starting a Business:
- Plan, plan, plan and plan some more. Wait for the right timing.
- Listen. Talk to a lot of people about what your plan is and don’t be afraid to modify your plan. At the same time, you don’t have to act on everything that people tell you.
- Be ready to put in way more time than you think you’ll have to.
- Figure out a retirement plan and healthcare plan. Healthcare and retirement are the two biggest things that entrepreneurs need to deal with.
Tom and Celia Husmann & Olympia Local Foods:
Continuing a Family Tradition
After Tom and Celia Husmann were married they decided to follow the footsteps of his grandparents and grow their own food. “We started with our own little garden and later expanded to a 13 acre ranch near Chehalis where we now pasture raise chickens on organic feed, fresh air, and sunshine,” said Tom. Initially they shared excess produce and eggs with their friends and family, but soon realized that others might appreciate having access to fresh, local, healthy, nutritious food. It was then that OlympiaLocalFoods.com started to take shape.
“While it has been a challenge to navigate the many rules and regulations involved with food production, storage, and distribution, we’ve found that the various agencies are happy to answer questions and provide the necessary support,” said Tom.
Being an entrepreneur is nothing short of a challenge.
“While there is a remarkable amount of pride and freedom that comes with building a successful business, it is not for the faint of heart,” said Tom. For example, when they expanded their farm, they thought it would take a single summer to get it ready for chicken production. “We quickly discovered that projects take much longer, and cost a whole lot more than we had anticipated. Nearly 4 years later, and approaching $100k in investment, we started selling our first rotisserie chickens raised on our farm. When we think back about the sacrifices we made, the time and energy it has taken, we really begin to appreciate those farmers who serve our community,” he said.
“Farming is not about making money, it’s about hard work, family values, community, and good wholesome food. There’s nothing better than sitting back to a homemade meal that was grown, raised, and made by you and your family. Those meals are far more delicious and meaningful than anything you can imagine,” he said.
Tom and Celia’s Five Tips for Starting a Business
- For those who are thinking about starting their own business, I say do what you love to do, and do it with pride and to the highest standard you can. There is a lot that goes into successful planning and I would recommend taking advantage of the resources available locally. We took part in an Agripreneur training program through Enterprise for Equity, and we’d highly recommend anyone who wants to start a business attend one of their entrepreneur training programs. There are also a number of opportunities for networking at the local Chamber of Commerce.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Having a great product and good intentions are not enough, take some time to find out what challenges others faced. Often times it takes a team of like-minded folks to make a vision a reality. One of the best ways to ensure that every team member’s voice is heard, their equity is fairly represented, and that the values and goals of the group are well defined and preserved is through the cooperative business model. Give the NW Cooperative Development Center a call to see if the cooperative business model is a good fit for your project.
- Don’t be too discouraged about early setbacks. A business is a system, a way of doing things. A successful business is the end result of the 100’s, if not 1000’s of lessons learned from successes and failures.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you have an idea for a business, there is a very good chance someone, somewhere has already done it. Seek them out, learn from them and avoid unnecessary losses.
- Starting a business requires one to wear a dozen or more hats, and it’s really easy to get overwhelmed by the details. Grow slowly, and make sure you’re always on solid footing, both in terms of what you know and what you are capable of doing.