Today, we’re starting a new blog series, “Case Study” in which we’ll be sharing stories from business owners and entrepreneurs. I love to hear the successes as well as best practices from other colleagues who took the plunge into their own business and how they get started. I also don’t want to sugarcoat this topic. Some businesses don’t last long or they go through several pitfalls along the way until they found what worked and I want to share that also. So to get started, I’m going first to tell you my story!
I’m Kim McDougal, co-owner of my hubby’s business, Ken McDougal Photography. It is the parent company for Stay Home Dream and Handmade Crafts by Kim. We wear a few hats around here but after operating several years in separate industries, we wanted to tie all our talents together under one name. Our dream had always been to be a married couple merged together in business. And in 2015, we did just that!
So when I’m asked this, “how do I know if entrepreneurship is right for me?“, I thought the perfect way to answer this is to tell my story and tie it into what it’s like starting a business, maintaining it and how I continued to remain an entrepreneur rather than working a traditional 9 to 5 job.
In the Beginning
I was 36 years old in 1999 when I started my business. I’d always dreamt of owning my own business, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. What would I do if it failed after the first year? How would I pay my bills? At that time, I was a widow trying to rebuild my life. It was a typical day at work when everything when I got the scary news… “we’re eliminating your department at the end of this year…” At the time, I was so angry because it would be the second time I would go through a job elimination since moving to Florida. I had just bought a car and living thousands of miles away from my hometown in Chicago. I didn’t need to hear this news.
Well, I put my head down and did what most people do, go look for another job! I was a marketing specialist with a graphic design background. There was a lot of competition in that industry and I went on dozens of interviews. I was happy that at least I was going to receive a severance which would last about four months but eventually that would run out. And, nothing was happening with the interviews, though I was putting out my best efforts.
The day it all changed.
I remember that day, like it was yesterday, when I got that phone call from one of my co-workers who went to work for a new corporation. The company she worked for had just opened branch offices in the U.S. and they desperately needed administrative support. She asked me if I had thought about freelancing. I told her, “of course!” But I also told her my apprehensions. After I hung up, I thought no more about it and kept going on job interviews. After that initial call, we had several more conversations. She had lined up many of those branch offices that needed support and if I wanted to go on my own full time, I could. I think I was in shock for a day!
So I did a lot of research (what to charge for my services, how to work from home, taxes, bookkeeping, etc.) and a lot of praying. I was scared but I took a leap of faith and began building a home office. Things began to fall into place. I was given office furniture, software and I had an extra room in my apartment that I turned into the office. Also, the severance was enough to pay the bills the first three months to start my home business. I was even able to get a computer and pay it off in a couple of months. I was all set. And the clients from all those branches came in and kept me quite busy. I eventually transitioned my administrative skills to graphic design and finally to web design and WordPress.
It was one of the best decisions of my life, however it took some getting used to. I had to stay motivated because I had no one standing over me. I had deadlines that I had to keep up with and I wasn’t used to getting up and walking two feet to my office. It was sometimes hard to go to work with the couch nearby! But, as the days grew to weeks and months, I enjoyed it more and more. I finally developed a work schedule that I’ve kept to ever since. There were also some mountains to climb throughout all those years especially when the economy downturn happened. I lost most of my business and had to temporarily go back to work a 9 to 5 job.
Down the valley & over the hills we go
I didn’t dislike working for a company. I actually was fine with it because in the back of my mind I knew it was just temporary and I’d be back to working on my own again. Little did I know it would only take one month! During this time, I was introduced to the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and I started out just designing their monthly newsletter. But that led to more tasks and then finally the job of webmaster. Ten years later and FCHCC is my biggest client! I’ve grown and learned so much in all that time. But, one thing still rings true: I love being an entrepreneur and wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m a flexible type of gal and I have trouble working straight 7 to 8 hours in an office setting everyday. Oh, I work that many and more hours a day but it’s broken up and at times I’m working late at night. I like having a schedule that I can control and I like managing my own projects. Working for the chamber gives me 100% creative freedom. It’s a true blessing I believe that came straight from God to allow me to do this. In fact, it was my faith in Him that helped me through the early years when I was afraid to go it on my own.
But is entrepreneurship for everyone?
Not always. I won’t kid you that it is easy and glamorous. It’s hard work, it takes diligence, long hours and oftentimes without recognition or reward at least in the startup years. It takes a big dream with big belief to make it on your own and be successful. But for many people, it is the right answer for their life.
Traits essential to being a successful entrepreneur
If you ask me what I think makes a successful entrepreneur, I would list these traits:
- Do your homework first. This post is good read for when you’re thinking of starting your own business. And don’t quit your day job if it’s paying the bills until you can replace that income. You have to have a way to pay your bills and business expenses while you’re growing your business.
- Believe in your brand. No one will work the business the way you do. You are the owner so if you don’t believe in what you’re doing enough to work the hours necessary, your customers or clients won’t believe in you either.
- Work hard. You’ll need to be prepared to get your hands dirty if you want results. It will take patience and endurance but if you stick with it, the rewards are endless.
- Commitment and consistency. A lot of start up businesses close down after the first year and possibly because of being unprepared for the long haul ahead. It’s really important to understand that starting business takes time and hard work. So being committed and consistent is key to becoming successful. In my case, it was five years before I saw any progress.
- Think outside the box. There’s a lot of information out there on the internet and many courses and webinars you can take. It’s easy to get information overload, but try to be open minded that not everyone’s road to success is the same. What one person did may not work for you. You may be working in an industry that changes a lot and you have to be on top of new trends. Or you may be in an industry that’s just the opposite and you have to create excitement to keep customers interested. Whatever road you’re on, don’t think you have to follow someone’s footsteps exactly as they did. Find what works for you.
I’m not a business expert, but I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’m happy to share with you what I know. I highly recommend seeking legal and accounting assistance before you do anything. Laws vary state by state. I also linked to a really good article in Website Magazine below. I wish you nothing but success and thanks for reading!
- Who Should Be an Entrepreneur? – Website Magazine
- So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur – Entrepreneur.com