Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why I Started a Business in the Worst Recession since the Great Depression

These are questions from business journalist, David Zahn, to help him write his article about me for the Connecticut Post. I thought they may be helpful to another budding entrepreneur:

1. What was your "career" prior to starting the business? My employer wasn't thrilled when I started a family and it was evident that my days were numbered when I returned from maternity leave. is quite a departure from my Design Production Manager at a furniture retailer. The failing economy late last year was the timely excuse for them to sever ties. I realize that running this business takes a culmination of all of my design, administrative, organizational and problem-solving skills. It's like I've been training for this job my whole life.

2. How did you learn the parts of the business you were not previously experienced in or knowledgeable about? I was investing my personal savings into this venture so I had to make careful choices. I interviewed acquaintances that have owned or currently own a business and asked what worked and what I should avoid. I knew the basics of web design but had to search for a web designer that was knowledgeable and affordable. The website was key and I had to find someone I could communicate and collaborate with. The designer proved to be a great asset and even suggested features I never thought were possible.

3. What was the reaction from others when you suggested the idea? Every parent I pitched this idea to was enthusiastic. I asked for suggestions and incorporated the feedback. It was very important to me to create a business that "sold itself" because I needed word-of-mouth marketing to build my customer base. The question I get most often after I tell people how inexpensive it is to join is, "how do you make money?" It's a game of numbers. I had to keep the subscription price low to make this accessible to everyone. I was marketing to people suffering in a recession with unemployment rates soaring. I need many members to make a profit but I was willing to take a loss in the beginning, until I could recruit more customers.

4. You mentioned you are looking to get into more permanent space. How is that decision being reached? I was blessed to know someone who donated office space to while I tested the entrepreneurial waters. I originally planned to focus only on a web presence and limit direct contact with customers. But the local parents I surveyed expressed the desire to come into a location. It didn't make sense to have people mail in a package when they lived within driving distance. So I evolved the business to allow for a boutique shopping experience with a local member subscription. Currently, member can swap and shop by appointment seven days a week. I am planning to move into the historic Arcade Mall in downtown Bridgeport, CT in early 2010.

5. Provide insight into the marketing being done (networking, word of mouth, etc.) - is it "viral" or more controlled? With a limited marketing budget, it was imperative that I use social networking sites to take advantage of my existing social circles. I have found a supportive online community of fellow "momtrepreneurs" and other small business owners. I have petitioned local child care centers and churches to inform their parents that this service exists. So far, the efforts have been controlled, but I hope it will take on a viral life of it's own soon. GumdropSwap answers all the downfalls of children's clothing consignment, thrift stores, and resell stores. It also promotes eco-friendly living when most people are searching for way to reduce their impact on our planet.

6. What suggestions would have for others looking to start their own businesses? Ask for the opinions of potential customers and keep an open mind! Your original idea will likely have to be tweaked a few times, even after you open your business. It's important to have an elevator pitch (2 minute speech) ready when people ask what you do. You may not have time to fully explain a complicated idea.

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