Saturday, March 20, 2010

Never Too Old to Learn!

I will be the first to confess that I knew nothing about running a business when I decided to start GumdropSwap. I was very cautious. I did lots of research and agonized over the decision to be an entrepreneur. It was risky, I knew. Especially, since I was investing my own savings and the failure of my business would mean I'd have to start from scratch financially. Of course I would need support from family and friends, but I knew I could count on them. They're good about that kind of stuff. And when I shared my business idea with people in it's infancy, I got nothing but positive feedback. Well, maybe some apprehension from my husband. But that's to be expected since I was putting the financial future for our family completely on his shoulders until my idea actually made a return. But he was more supportive than I anticipated. This MUST be a good idea if he is on board! I thought to myself.

So in my research I discovered some support groups for budding business people. Many have heard of SCORE where mostly retired business owners volunteer to council entrepreneurs. I met with 2 nice gentlemen for a private counseling session. They liked my idea too. But they cautioned me about choosing the right location for my boutique. This wasn't the first time I had heard these concerns. See, Bridgeport is one of the largest cities in Connecticut. It is in on of the wealthiest counties in the nation (Fairfield) which extends down to the NY/CT state line. Lots of wealthy people consider Fairfield County a suburd of New York City. Well, Bridgeport used to be a bustling, industrial port city. And like most American cities that depended on industrial businesses years ago, it suffered when those types of jobs went overseas. Then, people are left without jobs, municipalities can't maintain the city and buildings and homes are vacated to look for greener pastures. So the Bridgeport of 10-20 years ago is what people still have in mind. The revitalization process has been slow but I saw the potential in 2005 when I moved into a renovated department store in downtown Bridgeport that was turned into artist lofts. People would look at me cross-eyed when I told them I lived in downtown Bridgeport. I would ask when was the last time they had been there and it had been so many years they couldn't remember! Well, little did they know it was a ghost town after 6pm when the courthouse and handful of businesses that remained closed daily. I walked from the train station at night many times and never encountered another soul. Maybe there was someone staying warm in the Dunkin' Donuts on the corner of Main and John St but that was probably it.

Ok, I went off on a tangent. But what I was trying to say is, the men from SCORE encouraged me to look elsewhere. But the surrounding towns they suggested were out of my price range for square footage (about twice what I was quoted). They didn't know that 3 years before I could look out my bedroom window and watch the renovations on the atrium ceiling of the Arcade Mall. At the time I dreamed of having a artist co-op gallery there. Little did I know, I would actually sign a lease there a few years later. Everything comes full circle! So, I listened to there suggestions and looked elsewhere for support. I didn't need someone to talk me out of what felt so right in my heart.

I had found another organization in my search that sounded more appropriate for my needs. The Women's Business Development Center (WBDC). Yeah, I needed development! After months of teleseminars, an Exploring Entrepreneurship class, and webinars, I was confident that the WBDC was a great resource for me. I guess the estrogen helps. Even though I had already started my business, I decided to sign up for the FastTrac® NewVenture™ course. It's a weekly class for 9 weeks and then optional group or one-on-one sessions. I started on March 10 and I have learned so much already in the first 2 sessions. The instructor, Janet, is an expert in loans for businesses. By the end of this class, I will have a complete business plan. That seems like such a daunting task on my own. But we are getting counseling on every facet of a business.  The book for the class is extremely insightful and asks pertinent questions I should have asked myself 6 months ago (before I actually launched my business). But, it's never too late to do things right. I'm used to putting the cart before the horse. But this time, I realized my error quickly and put the horse in her rightful place.

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