Diagnosed with skin cancer at age 26, Melissa Marks Papock learned a chilling lesson about the clothing on her back: It wasn't protecting her skin from sun damage. Now cancer-free, the fashion industry veteran channeled her experience into Cabana Life, a line of sun-protective clothing for women and children. The clothing blocks 98 percent of UV rays using patented High IQ Sun Protection from chemical company Huntsman. Papock, 33, started the Ridgefield, Connecticut, company in 2003 and introduced her first collection in 2005. Turning her negative experience into a positive business idea has helped push 2007 sales to $700,000.
"Whether you've suffered a tragedy or you just see a gap in the community, you can turn that negative into a positive by having an attitude of service and contribution and an entrepreneurial mindset," says Monikah Ogando, president of business coaching company Ogando Associates Inc. "Look for opportunities to fill the void." Make sure your idea has a market, though--see if customers will want to buy the solution you're offering.
Also, market to your customers' desires, not their fears. "Sell the benefit of what you're doing rather than the consequence of not [buying from you], which [is] the fear factor," says Julie Lenzer Kirk, author of The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business and CEO of Path Forward International, an entrepreneurship consulting company.
Using your own experience can make you more passionate about your business and help you convey more sincerity to customers, says Papock. "You discover the need when you're faced with a situation."