Recently I reconnected with my sister Melanie while I was in the process of transitioning from full-time business ownership to part-time consulting and she was dreaming of her first business venture. All she needed was a little business advice and encouragement to get her plan off the ground.
Melanie had long been collecting items to open a high-end thrift boutique, including some vintage clothing. She wanted to start by selling clothing and accessories and then later introduce consignment goods and artwork. Future growth would be built on as firm a foundation as possible.
Beginning a business is harder, and far more expensive, than a prospective owner anticipates. In Illinois, where she lives, you must register with the state, establish a business banking account, and register a trade name with her county. She had very limited cash savings, no banking experience or credit rating, and she’d never used a computer or sent an email.
These would be huge deterrents in a larger city, but in her more rural setting, a cash-only lifestyle is more prevalent and computer literacy is more often the exception than the expectation. We visited the area Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center for regional advice, met with an accountant, and then traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to visit prototype stores.
She then rented a vacant storefront on a major thoroughfare in the nearest city. She cleaned, we painted walls, she decorated, and we moved her inventory into the store.
Melanie really worked hard to get the door opened this month. She’s mastering new skills like electronic cash registers, email, Facebook and Excel. She has invested her entire savings on things like signage, inventory tags, racks, and hangers, and the fire burns hot in her belly to succeed.
My sister never thought of herself as brave or as a risk taker before, but she’s showing her true spirit now. She will compete in a space dominated by non-profits offering thrift store items donated to them at no cost. Before she earns dollar one, Melanie first has to sell enough to cover rent, utilities, equipment rentals, internet, bank fees, insurance and taxes. There are no silent partners or investors; she has to sell a lot of $4 jeans and tops just to keep the lights on.
But even knowing that, there still is a new light shining in Melanie’s eyes, even though she’s beginning her business at the age when most people are planning their retirement. Certainly her eyes sparkled when she brought home her first boyfriend, and her eyes brimmed over with love when she looked at her newborns for the first time, with hopes for their bright futures. But this light was sparked by the discovery of a dream, and her belief that she has the core strength and new found abilities to bring it to fruition.
“I should keep a journal and mark down every time I learn something new!” she beamed. “It seems like every single day there’s a new challenge to handle, but I’m doing it!”
I’m proud of her, and so today I’m giving my sister that journal with hopes for her bright future.
When business owners are asked about their greatest regrets, the number one answer is “that I didn’t start it sooner”. If you have a dream, remember Melanie’s example: learn everything you can about running a business, wager more than you can comfortably afford to lose, and then jump in with both feet.