From Unemployment to CEO: 4 Things This Mom Did to Turn Her Passion Into a Thriving Business
There are many reasons why people decide to become their own boss. Some just fall into it, others decide to jump the corporate ship ... and then there are those who do it to survive. When the latter course is your only option, as it was for me, the road to success can be a bumpy one. It requires a certain set of skills to turn that “idea” into a thriving business.
In 2011, my husband was laid off his job in Los Angeles and embarked on his calling to be a pastor. That took some adjusting financially, because even with the unemployment checks, grocery subsidies and financial support from the church, we were barely making ends meet. Then, another challenge hit: Our family was suddenly left without health insurance. If the kids got sick, one trip to urgent care might put us under financially.
I had to take precautionary measures. To stave off any illness, I started experimenting with green smoothies as a way to boost my children’s immune systems and avoid the doctor’s office. My strategy worked; and ... a business idea was born: During those desperate moments, I realized I wanted to help others fall in love with green smoothies the way I had.
But as a young mother, with few resources, little money and no time, I didn’t have the luxury of taking a huge risk. I had to get scrappy.
So, that's what I did. And my plan panned out. Today, as the co-founder and CEO of Simple Green Smoothies, a wellness brand with a community of a million strong, I've learned quite a bit about how to change a personal passion into a successful company without venture capital money … or any money at all for that matter.
You may be in the same situation. So, if you too are starting out with nothing, take comfort in the fact that the resources and connections you already have may be all you need to start. The key is to use them wisely.
Here are the things I learned along the way to getting my start.
1. Walk your talk and talk your walk.
The best form of advertising is authenticity, and often that is all an entrepreneur just starting out can afford. For me, I literally walked around with a green smoothie in my hand all the time, which allowed me to share my knowledge about my product’s benefits with everyone I met.
One of the most famous examples of this is the Spanx story. When founder and CEO Sara Blakely was just starting out, she had no marketing budget. She would visit department stores and do a personal pitch for executives. Neiman Marcus agreed to test the product, and the rest is history.
Don’t be afraid to be a walking billboard for your product, especially if you don’t have the money to pay for advertising and promotion. A personal demonstration can actually be an advantage in today’s crowded marketplace. By being authentic, showing your passion and providing the story behind your brand, you can form a deep connection with potential customers -- something that money can’t buy but that customers will happily get behind.
2. Don’t go it alone.
As a CEO, you don’t have to know everything, nor should you. This can actually be a detriment to your company, as scaling when you're a "one-person show" is difficult, if not impossible. According to CB Insights, the No. 3 reason entrepreneurs fail is that they don't have the right team. Don't be that person. Be strategic. Know your weaknesses and find the people who can help you.
In my case, I made a point to not only strategically partner with, and hire, only a few people who would live and breathe Simple Green Smoothies, but also help with my blind spots: online marketing, customer happiness and email marketing.
By hiring strategic people, I could not only grow my business but also disengage from work when my "mom" duties called.
Another illustration of this rule comes from Danette May, a healthy lifestyle expert. May was unable to juggle everything, so she convinced a social media expert to become her business partner. That way, May could spend more time on content, while the social media expert helped with marketing on Instagram and Facebook.
From there, May's tiny team was able to grow its email list using this divide-and-conquer approach; today, the result is an eight-figure business.
It's important to ask for help in your personal life, too. If you truly want to have a business and a life that makes you happy, you have to bring in a team to get you there. This can be a housecleaner, a babysitter, a meal delivery service -- there’s not enough time in the day to do it all, and there’s no reason you should.
3. Add "go-giver"’ to your "go-getter" mentality.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term "go-getter," an important trait to have as an entrepreneur, especially when you're someone starting from scratch. But equally important is being what I call a “go-giver,” or someone who finds ways to generously give out the product and/or provide value to customers for free.
This might mean pieces of content, photos on Instagram and how-to videos.
Starting out, my team gave out recipes and tips to anyone who would read or listen. This was very beneficial in helping us gain a following. Keep in mind, you don’t have to hurt your bottom line by implementing this strategy. If you can’t afford to actually give away products, provide samples or discount your services instead. Focus on the value you can provide for free, or at a very low cost.
The goal, when you're growing your business, is to engage with your audience and put yourself in front of new people. When you do this, they are more likely to purchase from you, as they already know you are a company they can trust and a company that provides value.
A great example of this is life coach Marie Forleo, named a thought leader by Oprah. Her weekly entrepreneur video series, MarieTV, shares valuable content for free across social media platforms. Forleo reaches thousands of people every day, which has built her credibility and trust in the marketplace.
Her viewers don’t have to buy anything to get incredible value from her, yet she’s managed to become a multi-million dollar company through her online business courses.
4. Ask and ye shall receive.
The idea for Simple Green Smoothies came from an encounter with a friend. This friend, Jadah Sellner, wasn’t a co-worker or boss, but rather a fellow mom in my child’s playgroup. Sellner ended up being my business partner for a few years. One reason I share this is you never know who in your network will bring you valuable business advice or inspiration.
Don’t underestimate the people you surround yourself with. And, more importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your circle. Join a local networking group or meetup, as these people are a great way to not only share information about your business, but also to become or bring you brand ambassadors who'll help you help spread the word.
You also may find a person willing to barter with you to benefit his or her own business. For example, if you need updates to your website, you may find someone willing to do that in return for something you can provide assistance with. You'll also find bartering opportunities online.
Another way to save on money while growing your business is by teaming up with another company to create a brand partnership. An example of this is Shira Berk of the cookie company Goodie Girl; Berk teamed up with a baking company that helped her with production and logistics, so she could focus on building the brand and sales.
While being scrappy may seem exhausting and overwhelming, trust me: The payoff for your hard work will make the challenging path you've chosen worth it.