Women in Business Series: What I’ve Learned

After 10 successful interviews, I have concluded this round of my Women In Business blog posts. It was a really satisfying and empowering exercise – it was interesting to discover that no matter what kind of business you are running, owners across the board share many of the same philosophies, pieces of advice and personality traits. I feel a kinship to all 10 of my interviewees and am grateful for the time and honesty they afforded me in this project.

Here are 10 things that I learned:

  1. Do what you love. Find your passion, make a plan and be persistent.
  2. When you discover what you love, figure out what you are good at within that arena and stick to that. Resist the temptation to branch out in a million directions simply because people ask you to. Find your niche and become an expert.
  3. Don’t undersell or de-value yourself when setting your prices. You are the expert and you are worth it. Don’t give away your services.
  4. Don’t give up.
  5. Embrace the mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
  6. When obstacles suddenly rear their ugly heads (Pandemic anyone?) you must be willing to think outside the box and re-direct your focus. Often times the best things come from the most difficult of circumstances.
  7. Developing and maintaining relationships with your customers is very important. However, if a customer is not respectful or is taking advantage of you, it’s OK to say goodbye.
  8. Don’t lose yourself in your business. Being the owner brings with it a lot of responsibilities, but it’s important to have a healthly life outside of work.
  9. Pay yourself first.
  10. Have fun.

A huge thank you to the 10 businesses that shared their insights, challenges and philosophies:

Building Better People Productions
Sandy Cleaning
Paws pet boutique
FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale
Hawkins Landscape Architecture
ASMM Digital Marketing
Polite Pups Academy, LLC
Kaila’s Kandles
Santa Lucia Estate Coffee
The Joyful Food Co.

Women In Business: Elizabeth Wood – The Joyful Food Co.

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Elizabeth Wood, founder, co-owner, baker at The Joyful Food Co. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

The Joyful Food Co.

When was your company founded?

January 2015

What inspired you to form your own company?

My oldest son was dealing with some health problems and doctors couldn’t give us any answers. After doing a lot of research on my own, I decided to drastically change our family’s diet. We eliminated grains, refined sugars, dairy, and I made everything from scratch. It was a lot of trial and error (I only cooked and baked with pre-made mixes from the grocery store before this), but soon we were seeing improvements in our entire family’s health….and I was getting better at making food! Soon others asked me to bake for them and it kept growing until it only made sense to open a brick and mortar store.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of the job is definitely our customers. Many of our customers are dealing with new diagnoses or trying to get to the bottom of health problems–it’s frustrating for them! But when I show them our ingredient labels, and they realize they still can have some of their favorite foods, it’s like a new world opening up to them. Even just meeting others who have been where they are is a relief to them. Sometimes we will have a child with food allergies come in who is used to having very limited options. Watching them learn they can eat anything we make is very rewarding!

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is managing a staff. I don’t think most people start businesses because they love managing a team of people or paying sales tax or any of the mundane, background things that running a business requires. I opened a business because I love to bake, but now I have a staff of 9 people. Hiring, scheduling, firing–it’s very complicated to manage!

Have you found that being a woman owned business has helped your business?  

I don’t know that it has helped our business specifically, but it definitely informs how we (I have a business partner, also a woman) run our business. We have chosen to close our business at times when our children will be out of school because we want to spend time with them. We make sure our employees know that we value hard work but prioritize family. I’m not sure that is something you would hear at an interview if 2 men were in charge.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

In the beginning, especially, I think I had a hard time being taken seriously. I tried to look at a space for my first location and one landlord scheduled a time with me, and then called me back later to ask where I was getting the money to do this and made it clear he didn’t want to waste his time. I also had a lot of people treat this like a hobby vs. a business at the beginning.

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable?

Your time isn’t free. The older I get, I realize that not only is my time not free, my time is actually quite valuable. Whether this means costing my time into the recipes I make or being more thoughtful about how much of myself I’m willing to give to things like speaking at schools or in-depth requests for dietary help. I have learned to weigh out if these things are worth my time, and I don’t always mean monetarily worth my time. Is it worth more time away from my family? Is it worth preparing a presentation the night before, after working all day? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t–but it is never free.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

You can’t do everything. Decide what you’re going to do, and do a fantastic job at it. When I first opened my business, I was inundated with customers asking me to do special items for them or giving advice about what I should make or what I should carry in my store. Instead of branching out in 100 directions, I decided to do the things I wanted to do, the things I was good at, and the things I enjoyed, and do them very well.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

While I’m sure I’ve made a number of missteps throughout the past 6 years, I wouldn’t change any of it. Each mistake taught me something about myself and better prepared me to manage this business in my own way.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

A goal I hope for with my business is being able to hand off more responsibilities to others in the future. I would love to have a general manager that handles staffing and other aspects of managing the day to day business.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

This probably sounds funny because my answer is someone I’ve never met before, but Bob Moore, the founder of Bob’s Red Mill has been an inspiration to me. I knew about the Bob’s Red Mill brand for years, and even used a number of products from the company before I ever heard Bob’s story. I love the podcast “How I Built This”, and one of the episodes told the story of Bob Moore and his mill. So many things about the story endeared Bob to me: his belief in good food for all, his devotion to his employees, his dedication to his craft, and his philosophy of people before profit. Everything about his business model and life philosophy feels like something to aspire to.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The pandemic has been challenging, and we had the added stress of being handed the keys to our second location the week the pandemic was declared. Even though we were considered ‘essential’ since we were a food-based business, it seemed tone deaf to open a new store in the middle of the chaos and shutdowns. We delayed opening our new location by 2 months and transitioned our first location to curbside only while we navigated all of the changes. Luckily, in 2019, we had purchased a refrigerated van, so we were poised to increase our delivery business. Overall, business is still not back to normal for us, and we aren’t really sure how to measure ‘normal’ at our new location because it has only ever been open during a pandemic. But we are making it and if the pandemic taught us anything, it was how to pivot and be more flexible.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

Being able to laugh and vent with my business partner, Rebecca. It is invaluable to have a partner and to know that even when things seem terrible, at least you have each other. Also, messages from customers are so encouraging. Last weekend, a customer messaged me to let me know that a friend’s mother had been in hospice and my muffins were the only thing she could tolerate to eat. She told me what a blessing that was to the family and what a burden it lifted for the daughter who had been working so hard to find anything for her mother to possibly enjoy.

If you were not a bakery owner what would you be? 

In my dream world, a veterinarian!

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I’ve had a lot of careers, and I hope I’m young enough to have a few more! In 5 years, I would love to be thinking about selling my business to someone who has the desire and business savvy to grow it even more.

What would you like people to know about your business?

That even 6 years in, I still feel like someone who should not be in charge of a business!! Like I said earlier, I started this because I love to bake. I have no formal culinary or business training, and sometimes I feel like an imposter. I am constantly learning as I go, whether that has to do with bookkeeping, managing employees, or even baking! Also, I would like people to know that even though we now have 2 locations, I am still as hands on as I’ve ever been. My partner and I manage all moving parts of the business.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

I’m not sure if everybody told me this, but I think there is a perception that running your own business gives you a lot of flexibility and freedom. I think that is true in some cases, but when you own a very small business, each employee has a very specific job, so if even one employee is sick, the owner is likely the one who covers for them. The more employees you add, the more likely you are to have one who is sick or one who is on vacation or jury duty (at one point, we had 4 employees and 2 were called for jury duty the same week!). There is definitely some flexibility, but the buck stops with the owner, and that is a challenge.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

People were SO supportive of my business. They told their friends, shared on social media and showed up and bought food! The first few weeks I was open, I sold out of food nearly every day. I could not have asked for a more supportive community.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

I have been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by support, but there is a saying that I’ve always loved: People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. That’s my overall philosophy of negative people–hush, I’m working over here!

How would your customers describe you?

I think they would describe me as hard working and joyful.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

At the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to help with food insecurity in our community. This is something that has always been on my heart, especially that people in need should have access to healthy food. We started offering meal donations on our website. Customers can add a frozen meal donation to their order and for every 5 that are purchased, we donate one. We partnered with a local non-profit, Grace Klein Community (run by an amazing woman–Jenny Waltman) and they distribute the food to those in need. It has been so rewarding to send this healthy and delicious food their way and to experience the generosity of our customers.

Where do you find inspiration for a new idea or project?

I can’t credit a specific source, but I will say that I rarely get inspired to try something new when I’m working too much and feeling overwhelmed. Most of my good ideas come during time off when I have some space away from the stores.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I have had a lot of jobs and careers: I’ve worked at a dude ranch, been a vet tech, a bank teller, and a pharmaceutical sales rep. I worked in a cancer research lab, was a stay-at-home mom, and later a water aerobics instructor. Most recently I am a baker and small business owner. I hope to add more to this list one day! It’s never too late to start a new chapter.

You can find Elizabeth and The Joyful Food Co. here:

TheJoyfulFoodCo.com

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Women In Business: Jodi Lehr – Santa Lucia Estate Coffee

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Jodi Lehr, President of Santa Lucia Estate Coffee. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Santa Lucia Estate Coffee

When was your company founded?

Santa Lucia was founded by my husband William Gutierrez in 1995, the early days of the speciality coffee movement.  I was in the restaurant industry, joined Santa Lucia in 2003 and became President in 2011.

What inspired you to form your own company?

With a growing specialty coffee market and a excellent unknown coffee product from Nicaragua we saw a niche that included great Chefs and restauranteurs who knew little about coffee.

What is the best part of your job?

Meeting wonderful people and being part of Washington DC’s fabulous hospitality community

What is the hardest part of your job?

As a company that grew by word of mouth and networking, it’s challenging keeping track of all the players in today’s expanding marketplace and getting them to know the Santa Lucia brand.

Have you found that being a woman business owner has helped your business? 

Yes. There is a sensitivity in communications that has assisted me throughout the years.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

Like any business there are those that prefer working with men. Additionally as a working wife and mother our other jobs never seem to end…

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

Relationships! Relationships! RELATIONSHIPS!

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Have passion for what you do, and love what you are doing.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

There were a few potential  clients we misread along the way and I still think about what we could have done to have been more successful in these efforts.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

To return to post-Covid levels and then merge our e-commerce and wholesale businesses.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

My husband William who has an incredible amount of passion for what he has done.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

With restaurants and hotels predominantly closed, our industry was devastated and sales dropped as significantly as  75%. Covid forced us to pivot to e-commerce for both the cash flow and in creating a purpose and focus in our days.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

Belief in the product and what we do.

If you were not in the coffee industry, what would you be?

Perhaps an innkeeper. I love the hospitality business.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Keeping our niche and diversity and laying a ground floor for our two sons should they want to venture into the coffee industry.

What would you like people to know about your business?

Santa Lucia Estate Coffee is a cared for family business with a beautiful product that comes from the high mountains of Nicaragua. We have brought it straight from the source and in turn pay a premium to support small farmers and the coffee community in Nicaragua. 

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

That it’s always glamorous. Instead you wear all hats and deal with all levels of stress, often too frequently!

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

Yes. But there were also many that suggested a “traditional” corporate life would be more fulfilling and lucrative.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

If you don’t take the chance you will never know. However being an entrepreneur and starting your own business takes risks and not everyone is comfortable with that.

How would your clients describe you?

Friendly, reliable and someone who believes in a great coffee product.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

Press/client trips to Nicaragua were definitely a highlight. Unfortunately the political climate in Nicaragua has not allowed us to continue.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I was fortunate to be born into a family which ran a business and since an early age have grown up discussing business activities at the dinner table (like others talk sports). ..it’s made this lifestyle more the norm than not.

You can find Jodi and Santa Lucia Estate Coffee here:

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SantaLuciaCoffee.com

Women In Business: Loretta Holmberg – Polite Pups Academy, LLC

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Loretta Holmberg, owner of Polite Pups Academy, LLC. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Polite Pups Academy, LLC, dog training based in Baltimore, MD.

When was your company founded?

I validated my idea to start my company in late 2019 and had initial ‘clients’ then. Officially, the business started in 2020.

What inspired you to form your own company?

I started Polite Pups Academy, LLC because I really enjoyed training dogs and helping owners train their dogs so that their dogs can live thei best lives! I had been helping to train owners and their dogs pro bono in my capacity as the Adoption Coordinator for World Animal Guardians, a non-profit resuce.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is watching the relationship bond between an owner and their dog grow stronger as a result of training. Generally, being around dogs puts a smile on my face.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is when owners who are training their dogs do not follow the exact step-by-step procedure or put in the daily consistent work that I teach for a particular skill that they want their dogs to mater. They don’t get the result and then wonder why they aren’t getting the desired result. And sometimes they give up and do not continue. It breaks my heart when they don’t continue because then their dogs aren’t getting the training they should be getting.

Have you found that being a woman owned business has helped your business? 

Since I am still new to the business world, I have not really experienced this.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

At the moment, I have not encountered any obstacles yet. But again, I am still new to the business world.

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

Get Quickbooks online and start from day one.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Get a Facebook business page and connect it with Instagram! It’s free advertising. You can talk about your business, what you do, and the public will get to know more about you and build trust with you that way.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

Pricing the service that I provided way below average rate.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

I am working on scaling up my business in the online world and in being able to reach dog owners everywhere in the US and the world at large. My goal is to be able to teach 300 dog owners online per year (my course is offered 4 times a year).

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

My late aunt in Singapore was instrumental in my ‘can do’ and ‘take a risk’ attitude. For the most of her adult life, she was wheelchair bound but that never stopped her from having various businesses and running them successfully with glee!

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Dut to the pandemic, I started having more online clients. So , it has not affected my business. Also, I worked with lots of ‘pandemic puppies’ and their owners.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

What keeps me going is knowing that I can help make a difference in the lives of dogs and their owners.

If you weren’t a dog trainer, what would you be?

So, Polite Pups Academy, LLC is not my main gig! It’s a side business, a side hustle of sorts! My main work that I do love and enjoy doing is being a lecturer at Loyola University Maryland. I enjoy working with undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Education. However, I have to admit that I do love working with dogs and seeing them thrive! I also do Board n Train dogs in the summer months.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I hope to servce a lot more online cleitns in the next 5 years. I offer my online course, “From Fearful Fido to Confidence Canine” 4 times a year and I hope to have more clients each time. I deliver the course online via pre-recored videos on my course password protected website. I then meet with my clients in a private Facebook group for live Q/A sessions twice a week. Additionally, those that sign up for my VIP program also get an additional 60 minute group seesion with me on Zoom for training. I also still do some face to face one-on-one sessions here in Maryland, but they are limited to just the weekends. I see my business thriving in 5 years still because people are going to still have dogs then!

What would you like people to know about your business?

That I started my business because my first two dogs were dogs with extreme reactivity to other dogs. I found a way to manage their behavior and that has helped our lives so much that I would love to help other dog owners. Folks with reactive dogs do not have to live a cloistered life!

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

I’ve yet to encounter this, but mainly because not too many poeple have said much to me about my business.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

Yes, I think so. I had the idea and asked a few close firends, especially my fiance, and everyonethought I would be great at it, including my mentor dog trainer.

How would your clients describe you?

Committed and passionate aobut their success with their dogs.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

Going from traditional private dog training to online dog training with my signature course, ‘From Fearful Fido to Confident Canine”.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I was an attorney turned educator (elementary school teacher then college lecturer) turned part time dog trainer! I also am active in the rescue world of dogs! OK, that’s two random facts!

You can find Loretta and Polite Pups Academy, LLC here:

Facebook

Website

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Women In Business: Ann Brennan – ASMM Digital Marketing

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Ann Brennan, owner of Ann’s Social Media & Marketing. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

ASMM Digital Marketing, based in Millersville, Maryland

When was your company founded?

2016

What inspired you to form your own company?

I was really unhappy in my previous job but I also had successes that were much bigger than I knew I could achieve.  The combination inspired me to step out on my own and help other small businesses achieve those same successes.

What is the best part of your job?

I love working with small business owners. I have become friends with many of my clients and several of my clients act as mentors for me.  Those relationships have been a highlight of running this agency.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Not being able to help everybody.  Our agency does very intensive work with social media accounts for our clients.  Because of that we often find solopreneurs who can use our help but who aren’t quite ready to hire an agency.  We have added some consultations services for those solopreneurs and we even opened a digital campus to help them.  But I would love to do more, especially for those businesses that are just starting out.

Have you found that being a woman-owned business owner has helped your business? 

Interesting question.  I just had this conversation with my son.  I have seldom given any thought to the fact that I am a woman-led business and most of my clients will tell you that they don’t think of me that way either.  This may be harder for me right now because I have three children who are bringing more awareness to gender these days and how often we lead with gender.  Most often I think of myself as a business owner without the gender label. I am not sure whether this is good or bad. It’s just a change of focus.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

This is a strange one and it may have more to do with the fact that I am so short but people, women and men, hug me instead of shaking my hand.  At first, this really took me off guard.  But I reframed it and started thinking that maybe they just see me as someone who is so welcoming they have to hug me. 

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

Don’t be afraid to ask for what your service is worth.  That was hard for me.  I have gotten better but I still find myself giving services away.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Don’t overthink it.  Fail fast.  

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

I didn’t have a service agreement.  It’s important to have an agreement, not just for yourself but also for your clients.  

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

I want to I use my business to help others grow theirs.  Yes, I want to help my clients but I am also in a unique position to hire writers and other contractors.  I look at my business growth as an opportunity to support these contractors.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

My first employee. The way she thinks and the way she gives of herself to grow this business continues to inspire me every day. 

How has the pandemic affected your business?

We were lucky.  We started a podcast to help get our clients in front of our own audience and that podcast grew.  It ended up helping us gain exposure and grow in ways I had not expected. 

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

My employees. It is a lot like a marriage.  On days that are bad for me, they lift me up and on days that are bad for them I try to lift them up.

If you were not running a Social Media Marketing firm, what would you be doing?

I would probably focus on my charity, Burgers and Bands for Suicide Prevention.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I see us having expanded to a full marketing agency. We are on our way to that now.

What would you like people to know about your business?

We care more about our clients than anybody cares about their clients. It’s what makes us stand out. One of our clients calls it, AUA, Ann’s Unsolicited Advise.  We go far beyond social media with our clients.  We are always looking for ways to make connections and help our clients build their businesses.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

That it would be lonely.  It’s not.  Between networking, the relationships I have built with my clients and my employees, I am less lonely than I have ever been. 

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

Yes.  I am really lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in me before I believed in myself. 

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

I had a consultant tell me that my business wouldn’t work the way I was doing it.  I didn’t say anything.  I listened and then left.  That was 4 years ago and we are still growing.

How would your co-workers/staff/cast describe you?

Caring and maybe a little bossy.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

The podcast.  It was really meant to simply be a means of promoting my clients but it has given me opportunities to meet business owners all over the world. 

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

 I started Burgers and Bands for Suicide Prevention because I know how lonely people are when they or someone they love is struggling with depression.  I want people to know that they are not alone. 

You can find Ann and Ann’s Social Media & Marketing here:

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Women In Business: Lori Hawkins – Hawkins Landscape Architecture

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Lori Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Landscape Architecture. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Hawkins Landscape Architecture – I offer landscape and hardscape site design for residential and commercial customers. I am based in the Greensboro, North Carolina Piedmont Triad Area. I also serve the Raleigh area and further out with remote designs.

When was your company founded?

2009

What inspired you to form your own company?

I had been working for a large design build firm in Greensboro, NC. The great recession hit and I was laid off. I decided to go off on my own and in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

What is the best part of your job?

Oh wow, so many things. I love being creative, creating spaces that I can see people enjoy, making my own schedule, work/family balance and of course all of my hard work benefits me and my family, instead of someone else.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Time management and being able to give each project the time that I want to put into it. Also finding and keeping help.

Have you found that being a woman business owner has helped your business? 

Yes, a few years ago I applied to designate my business as a ‘HUB’ (Historically Underutilized Business) with the City of Greensboro. I recevied that because I am a woman owned business. I have been awarded several projects because of that designation.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

I don’t fully understand the process and resources available to me. Because it is a government agency often the time and paperwork involved sometimes is too daunting for me.

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

It is easier to keep an existing customer than it is to generate a new customer. Existing customers are already fans and can refer you, hire you again, etc. With a new customer you are starting from scratch.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Do what you love, but make sure that there is a market for it.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

I would have gone off on my own sooner- I liked getting that regular paycheck and I was afraid.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

To find someone that I could partner with so that I could reduce my workload as I near retirement.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

Other female business owners in my industry- there aren’t many of us. 😦

How has the pandemic affected your business?

My work fell off briefly, but then came roaring back. I think because everyone is home looking out their window at their yard.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

In 2020 during the spring (when it is my busy season), my mother got sick and later died, the pandemic hit and my daughter gave birth to twins who were in the NICU. I was in a fog, working from my mother’s hospice room. My faith, my husband, family and kids and the love of my work is the only thing that kept me going. Those months are a blur.

If you were not a Landscape Architect, what would you be?

I always wanted to be a fine artist. 

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

Continuing to grow, but I may have another Landscape Architect working with me by then.

What would you like people to know about your business?

A landscape architect has to have an enormous amount of  schooling and training to get to the level that I am (after 35 years.) I  trained in college for 4 years and then had to work for another LA for 5 years before I could get my registration. I have met people who think  if you ‘like plants’ or  ‘like to draw’ or they ‘created a bed for their mom’ they can put out a shingle. Those things are of course great, but there is a lot more to it than that. I have had people ask me how they can become an LA- and I  tell them ‘Go back to school.’

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

 I cant think of anything, most of what people have shared with me about their business has turned out to be true for me as well.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

Yes, especially my husband. 🙂

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

I think the only thing I have gotten close to a naysayer is sometimes people think I dont ‘work’ because I work from home. You can ask my husband, I work ALL the time.

How would your clients describe you?

I think they would describe me as a good listener and easy to work with

What has been your most favorite project to date?

 I just designed a Zen garden with a meditation pergola, with a water feature emanating from under the raised hot tub. The owner wanted the inspiration to be the spa 10000 waves in Santa Fe, New Mexico, absolutely fabulous. I can’t wait for that one to start.

Where do you find inspiration to write a new scene, play, etc?

 I look through idea books on Houzz and other websites to try to get the creative juices flowing.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I also love to write and would love to have a ‘side hustle’ in retirement writing for landscape journals.

You can find Lori and Hawkins Landscape Architecture here:

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Women In Business: Amy Feltus – FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Amy Feltus, owner of FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

I own FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale, which is a franchise location of FIT4MOM.  At FIT4MOM we strive to provide fitness for all stages of motherhood, as well as to help moms find their fit when that comes to motherhood, community, and fitness.   

When was your company founded?

FIT4MOM was founded by Lisa Druxman in 2001, in San Diego, CA, under the name Stroller Strides, which was our first fitness program.  As the company expanded and involved to include other fitness programs for moms, it was rebranded under the FIT4MOM name in 2012.  The first franchisees were sold in 2004, and the one I now own was one of the first.  FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale has been operated continuously since 2004, and I’m the third owner.  I purchased it in December 2013.  

What inspired you to purchase your own company?

As a new mom, I found myself a little lost – I’d taken an extended leave of absence when we adopted our first child and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with myself all day, or who I was supposed to be at that point.  I discovered Stroller Strides classes as a client, and it was so important to my mom life that it inspired me to want to provide the same kind of connections, community, and fitness for other moms.   

What is the best part of your job?

The moms and kids!  I love seeing them in classes,  I also love when I help a mom reach a fitness or health goal.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Balancing it with the rest of my life.  Working for myself, from home, it makes it harder to create the lines between business and family life.  Also, like all moms – just finding the time to do everything I want to with the business.   I definitely almost always feel ike I’m either failing at the business or failing with the kids.  

Have you found that being a woman business owner has helped your business? 

I think being a company run by moms for moms definitely makes us a place that women look to for fitness.  But it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword.  Sometimes we don’t come across as having workouts for women looking for a lot of intensity (and we do – we offer a large variety!).

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a woman business owner?

I’m not sure I’ve had any other than my own self-imposed ones – running out of time, not always having the financial resources to outsource things I probably should.  Things like that. 

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

To remember that saying yes, is also saying no.  Every time I say yes to someone or something, that means I am saying no to something else.  Early on I had to learn to prioritize my “yes.”   

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Make sure you have a clearly articulated “why” for what you want to do.  Get help with a business plan as needed.  And break down your goals into things that are time bound for completion. 

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

Trying to do too much too soon. When I bought my franchise, it was only offering Stroller Strides.  In the first 6 months I tried to add in other programs and new and more locations for Stroller Strides.  I should have focused on one thing at a time.  Either expanding the existing, or adding new – not both at the same time. 

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

To reach more moms!  I know that not every mom is my client, but I’m always disappointed when I meet someone and she says “oh I wish they had had that when….” and it turns out we did, but she didn’t know about it.  My goal is to make sure that moms know about us, even if they don’t choose us.   

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

When I was a new franchisee, and also prior to that, when I was a FIT4MOM instructor, I was lucky enough to be trained by Farel Hruska, FIT4MOM’s former Fitness Director.  To this day, I don’t ever teach a class without using something I learned from her, or thinking of her.  Farel taught me that people need to see themselves in fitness classes, and if they can’t see themselves there, they won’t come.  So I try always to be teaching a class that appears accessible to anyone viewing it.  I don’t want any mom to ever feel she’s not enough for our programs. 

How has the pandemic affected your business?

How hasn’t it?  It’s been an interesting year.  During the initial stages of the pandemic, starting in March 2020, we had to pivot and take all of our classes to a virtual platform.  This was not something I was set up to do!  Fortunately, in Arizona, we have a strong franchise team who came together to provide a full schedule of virtual classes available to clients in all the franchises.  We are at almost a year of offering classes over Zoom now.  We were also able to return to in person classes in June 2020 on a limited basis, and have been able to offer a hybrid schedule ever since.  Our outdoor, in person classes look a little different than they did – we space the clients out, following social distance guidelines, instructors are no longer tickling other moms’ babies, or picking them up as needed, but at least we can come together and workout.  We are committed to continuing to offer both virtual and in person formats for as long as it takes. 

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

Knowing how important our classes and other events are to new moms.  Knowing how much value it added to my life, and hoping I am continuing to do the same for others.  

If you were not a FIT4MOM franchisee and instructor, what would you be?

If I wasn’t a FIT4MOM franchisee and instructor, I’d be practicing law. That’s what I did for 8 years pre-kids, and what I had planned on going back to.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I am hoping over the next 2-4 years to identify the next owner of FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale, and help her with that transition!  Right now I’m working on rebuilding our client base as we hopefully come out of the COVID pandemic, and just enjoying my last few years! 

What would you like people to know about your business?

That we are more than just Stroller Strides.  So many people know us as Stroller Strides, and not as FIT4MOM.  We offer prenatal fitness, stroller fitness, mom only HIIT boot camps, run clubs, classes to improve running….so many things that you don’t need to be the mom of a baby or toddler for.   

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

I can’t think of anything.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

People were very supportive of me.  I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by great friends and supportive family. 

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

At the beginning, I had a few people tell me that there was going to be too much fitness competition as boutique fitness expanded, and that I wouldn’t be able to keep or attract enough clients.  I have always said that there are enough clients to go around.  Different types of fitness appeal to and work for different people.  And especially now, many people come to a variety of fitness programs and classes.  I find locations, hire instructors, and we teach great classes – the people always come.  

How would your clients describe you?

I think that’s evolving.  When I was an instructor with my own kids in the stroller, I was more one of the gang.  Now, unfortunately, I am frequently just the woman on the other side of the email that they don’t really get to know.  I do my best to get to classes regularly, but I can’t be everywhere all the time.  I think the clients who do interact with me at the classes I teach would describe me as tough but supportive and encouraging.  I usually teach our high intensity interval training classes!

What has been your most favorite thing you’ve done with the business to date?

As hard as it has been, the last 11 months has been my favorite, or is at least what I’m most proud of.  The way the Arizona FIT4MOM franchisees came together with each other to continue to provide fitness and community in a safe manner during a pandemic has been amazing.  I’m not sure I would have predicted our ability to do this, and we have. 

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I was scared to go to my first Stroller Strides class as a client.  All my kids are adopted – at that time I only had 1 – and I was worried that somehow I wouldn’t been seen as a real mom, or that there wouldn’t be a place for me in this fitness space for women with babies they had given birth to.  But I will always be grateful I pushed past that fear and went, because I was wrong, and it changed my life.   

You can find Amy and FIT4MOM Phoenix Scottsdale here:

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Women In Business: Michelle Ullrich-Kownacki – Paws pet boutique

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Michelle Ullrich-Kownacki, owner of Paws pet boutique. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Paws pet boutique in Naples, Florida.

When was your company founded?

1999 in Annapolis, Maryland

What inspired you to form your own company?

A love for animals and a desire to enrich the relationships we have with them.   

What is the best part of your job?

Meeting all kinds of dogs and making their lives a little happier

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable?

Believe in yourself and follow your intuition.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

Be ready to work hard, keep your focus on your clients and don’t be afraid to evolve over time.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

Creating a more robust website that connects seamlessly with the brick and mortar store

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

Our clients! Their sincere support of wanting to see our small business succeed and their appreciation of the items and service we offer keeps us inspired!

How has the pandemic affected your business?

Interacting with our clients has definitely changed. Over the last year we have relied more on our online store, social media and email channels to reach and stay connected with our clients.

While we always offered curbside pick-up, we now facetime with clients and text/email in-store product photos to clients who are not in our physical storefront.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

Seeing a client leaving really happy with a purchase they made – or receiving feedback or a Review from pleased clients. It really means a lot when someone takes the time to ‘thank you’ for their experience with Paws.

If you didn’t run a store and e-commerce website, what would you be doing? 

Good question! Not exactly sure of the answer, but I would think it would include animals – perhaps volunteering with animal charities.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I see Paws pet boutique as a contributing asset in the local community – as well as the broader animal-loving community throughout the country. Clients will have an opportunity to enjoy in-person assistance at Paws retail location downtown and/or access Paws curated goods through our online shop. Social media will continue to play a prominent role in enriching our client relationships, communication and sales.

What would you like people to know about your business?

It is more than just a business, it is a passion to make a difference. While bills need to be paid, we also believe in a bigger picture of making every day life for people and pets a little brighter.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

You’ll be your own boss and be able to take time off when you want!

Were people supportive of you when you started your business?

My husband, inner circle of friends and family were very supportive.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

I try to focus on what I can accomplish instead of what others say can’t be accomplished.

How would your customers describe you?

An experienced Dog (and cat) Mom who is happy to help make someone’s day a little brighter.

What has been your most favorite thing you’ve done with the business to date?

My most rewarding thing was hosting a series of dog-friendly boat cruises in Annapolis, Maryland – ‘Ben’s Cruises for Compassion’ to benefit Animal Legal Defense Fund.

One Cruise raised over $20,000 to help protect the lives and advance of the interests of animals through the legal system. The Cruises were named after my terrier, Ben, who was removed from a hoarder with hundreds of other dogs, thanks to ALDF.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

My first job out of college was selling radio advertising. It was fun working with clients, writing ad copy and participating in station promotions.

You can find Michelle and Paws pet boutique here:

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Women In Business: Ingrid Sandy – Sandy Cleaning

We continue our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Ingid Sandy, owner of Sandy Cleaning. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Sandy Cleaning, a house cleaning service based in Annapolis, Maryland.

When was your company founded?

2015 part time, and full time in 2017

What inspired you to form your own company?

In order to take care of my kids, I need a job that will allow me to have time with my kids and take care of them, but at the same time be able to provide for them. I started working 1 – 2 days a week and when I got organized, I started working full time while the kids were at school.

What is the best part of your job?

My clients are family, to be part of the house and to be able to help and connect with their needs and make them happy.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hard part is when it’s time to let them my clients go – I work with a lot of military families and it’s hard when they say goodbye. Also, when I work, the clients aren’t home, but their lovely pets are and I love them like I love mine, so it’s hard to let them go too.

Have you found that being a minority business owner has helped your business? 

Being a woman and owning your own business is a challenge now. Which makes me very proud. It helps a lot to have confidence and commitment in myself and in the work that I do.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

Being the owner and only worker has a lot of disadvantages when a crisis comes. We do not receive help like companies with more employees or when an emergency happens – whether it is a family or illness – we stop making profits.

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

Be persistent and give effort to your work. If something does not work or does not go as desired, ask for an opportunity to impove. And never give up!

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

I would give same advice as above. It has helped me a lot, that persistence and perseverance leads you to success.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

Not to be overly trusting, not listening to bad advice, and to always follow my own intuitions.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

I have a main goal, which is to see my business grow, provide work. I’d like to not only have more work, but to be more involved with the community and at the same time help. I would like to return the genorosity that I’ve experienced.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

My grandmother is my inspiration, being a single mom and having to work and take care of 6 children. She started her own business from the rubble, and worked for more than 40 years and she’s been able to leaven an inheritance in life for them to provide for their lives. I always help others and their community. She is my inspiration and motivation when the days are difficult.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

The pandemic has affected a lot, among the competition that is too much. Many of my clients lost their jobs or were relocated and other due to fear of the virus have stopped needing my services. I lost many customers so there is a decrease in income and accumlation of debt.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

I am the main and only source of income for my family and this is the reason why I try to give my best and continue even slowly with my business and work.

If you were not a house cleaner, what would you be?

It’s crazy because it really has nothing to do with what I do. I was studying computer programming and wanted to work for large companies doing online ads and making programs for companies. I also wanted to build a community center in my country where I am from (Mexico) to help many adolescents, who wanted to study but could not.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I see Sandy Cleaning with more employees, involved with the community and personally spending more time with my children and supporting their education.

What would you like people to know about your business?

It was created with hope, faith, determination, persistence and a lot of perseverance. I need to work, because there was a lot of need in my home. Sandy Cleaning was created with love, and each service we do we do so that our clients are satisfied, happy and above all give a good service. I do not work with clients…I help families which is more important when giving a service.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

That is you do not know how to do your job or do not charge the right thing, or work in the same way as them, your business will go badly.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

Yes. I literally walked and knocked on doors. There were 5 people who trusted me and gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my work. Their recommendations and references helped and continue to do so in my business.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

It has happened a couple of times. I do not say much with words, I really do not speak much (something that I have to change) but what I do not say, I say it with facts to show that your disapgreement is wrong.

How would your clients describe you?

Reliable, generous, hard worker, enterprising woman. And some have said that they admire me a lot as a mother and a worker.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

Over the years, I have been able to help many families, but my best projects have been two elderly people who needed extreme help in their homes. They have been projects that have made me feel super proud and happy when I see the reactions of happiness.

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I do not give up, whenever I propose something I achieve it. And if my goal is to make you feel happy and leave a good service, I am sure I will.

You can find Ingrid and Sandy Cleaning here:

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Women In Business: Lynne Childress – Building Better People Productions

Today we begin our series on Women In Business where we highlight a wide variety of businesses that are owned and operated by women all around the country. Our goal is to learn from, inspire, motivate and celebrate this strong, unique, and diverse group of women.

Our spotlight today is on Lynne Childress, owner of Building Better People Productions. Here’s what she told us.

What is your company?

Building Better People Productions, a theater for young audiences company based in Annapolis, Maryland. Everything that we do is for young audiences, and it’s all based in kindness and understanding. Our kid shows feature adult professional actors, and our classes are for kid students.

When was your company founded?

2015 in name, but we started programming in 2016.

What inspired you to form your own company?

I had known for awhile that I wanted to do shows for schools under my own shingle. I had been working with other amazing companies, but it was becoming apparent that I had my own things to say that could be said best by me, produced by me.

What is the best part of your job?

I love creating, and I love watching kids create, and I love watching audiences enjoy what we put out. It is quite the best feeling.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Getting our message seen by people and having people know that we exist.

Have you found that being a minority business owner has helped your business? 

Interesting question! I think it has helped over the last year in terms of awareness because after the death of George Floyd, there is renewed interest in hearing diverse voices, specifically Black ones.

What are some obstacles that you’ve encountered being a minority business owner?

Another interesting question. So in most ways, I have had students and audience members of all races, and I know that my race has not been a factor for them. In fact, for some families, and this is an answer to your question above, I know Black families who have said that they brought their kids to my classes because they saw my picture, and knew that their kids would be welcome. I DO wonder if there have been people who saw my picture and DID NOT come because they made assumptions about who I am based on race. But I don’t know because they haven’t come :).

What is one piece of advice that someone gave you early on that you found to be invaluable.

To decide if this was a business or an expensive hobby. That was a gut-punch, but REALLY helpful. As small business owners, we often pay ourselves last, and often make decisions out of wanting to help people that aren’t the best for our bottom line. I feel like 5 years in, I am getting a hang of this. And that it is unfair to me and my family to not make sure that we are solvent as much as we can.

What is one piece of advice that would you give to someone that is thinking of starting their own business?

DO IT. Do your research, and know what’s out there. But if you feel this in your bones, do it. There is always going to be one more project you can do for who you work for now, and if you wait until there’s not, you will never do your own.

What is one mistake that you made early on that you would re-do if given the chance?

I would not base my offerings on what other people with more financial backing are doing. I lost money on shows that I thought I should do because I thought I needed to keep up with other people. Don’t do that. Be realistic about what your financial commitment can be.

What is one future goal that you have for the business?

To have an official assistant. I have great contractors, but I want to be able to afford regular employees at some help. It is very easy to stretch yourself thin.

Who has inspired you the most in your business?

Our first costume and props designer, Renee Vergauwen. She believed in me from the very beginning, and her ideas for how to make our shows come to literal physical life gave us life. She has since moved but we still do some of the shows that she designed and I get to see her brilliance still.

How has the pandemic affected your business?

We lost a bunch of show bookings last year, and did not earn anywhere near what we usually do for in-person classes. What we did gain was money in donations and we got a big grant from Anne Arundel County and the Anne Arundel County Arts Council. We have also moved our shows and classes online, and have reached students and audience members from around the country (and Canada) and we would have never been able to do that before. I have also been a part of panels and workshops online and again, I would not have had those opportunities before.

On days that are particularly hard with the business, what keeps you going?

The giggles of the kids that show up, every week, who love being in class.

If you were not a theatre artist, what would you be?

I was planning on being a social worker. I had done theater through school, and sang in a band, but was not considering this as a career. I could not find a social services job after I got my BA in Psychology because I had moved to Miami and was not fully fluent in Spanish. I did retail and customer service, then got my very first acting job, which was doing shows with social messages that toured to schools. I thought that sounded like good outreach, and applied for grad school for Social Work during this period, but then realized I was doing what I love. I feel like theater is another way to reach and affect lives in positive ways.

Where do you see your business in 5 years?

I want to do a more regular season of shows. I would love to have our own space at some point.

What would you like people to know about your business?

That we care about your kids, and about the quality of what we put out. We do good work.

What is something that everyone told you/warned you/shared with you about owning your own business that is not true?

I keep coming back to this question. I think one thing is that it has to take you away from your family, and I have been very, very blessed to be able to mostly work at hours that don’t disrupt family life. Now, that has changed a bit since we have been home because all life now is family life, but I think that we have all adapted well.

Were people supportive of you when you went out on your own?

They were, mostly.

What do you say to the naysayers if you’ve ever encountered any as related to your business?

Again, most people were supportive, but I did have some people who didn’t know that I could do something like this. New doesn’t mean bad quality. I have been in professional theater a long time at that point. I had friends say, “Wow, that was good.” People don’t always have great expectations of theater for kids. But it has a heart. Kids see through phony. We want to be real and entertaining, even if it is a show about talking sheep.

How would your co-workers/staff/cast describe you?

I think exuberant. And that I send a lot of emails. But that this comes from making sure people are clear about what I am saying. But it is a lot of emails. But also that I am fair and want to honor their artistry and encourage them.

What has been your most favorite project to date?

I think “We Got It!: A Show About Empathy”. It’s the first show I wrote, and the first thing that we produced. It captures different sides of us understanding each other and seeing the value in ourselves and other people, even if they are completely different from us. It is a piece I am very, very proud of.

Where do you find inspiration to write a new scene, play, etc?

Sometimes it’s current events, like how “We Got It!” was written in response to our racial and political divide, and the last part of it is specifically inspired by the deaths of several black teenagers and how reactions from some people that saw them as less than human, and not children. It made me angry, and sad, and instead of railing about it on Facebook, I wrote about it. In the show, it’s about stuffed animals and not kids, but that was the inspiration. I have written one piece, and am writing another, about the pandemic and the need to try to make it either solely positive or solely negative. And I am also writing a show about counting sheep, inspired by a night that I had a crazy dream about magic dust bunnies. It will make more sense when it’s done :).

What is one random fact about you that you would like people to know?

I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early 80s when my dad worked as a consultant for the bus company there. Went to half of 6th grade and all of 7th at an international school there.

You can find Lynne and Building Better People Productions here:

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