Getting Started: Small Business Wisdom from a Local Entrepreneur

by Jessica Sommerfield · 6 comments

coffee beans
I had the opportunity this week to chat with a small business owner from my local farmers market. Three years ago, she launched a coffee roasting company which sources its beans from Colombia — her country of origin, and the place her family has grown coffee for generations. Her story is inspirational for many reasons, but it also offers practical wisdom about what it really takes to be a small business owner. I’d like to share a few lessons I gleaned from our conversation. My hope is that those of you who are just starting (or dreaming of starting) a small business will walk away with practical advice and encouragement from someone who is already ‘in the trenches.’

Tip #1: Start Where Your Knowledge, Education and Experience Meet

My friend Maria’s business concept is a combination of her knowledge, career path (she studied agricultural engineering) and family heritage. In other words, she started with what she knows and loves. You could also add personal positioning to this combination — location, business contacts, social connections, etc. The crossroads where your natural ability, experience, training and opportunities meet should be the source of your small business idea and the place to start your groundwork. Where is that ‘sweet spot,’ for you?

Tip #2: Don’t Be Intimidated By Other ‘Big Fish’ in The Pond: Find Your Place

Choosing to start a coffee roasting business in the city known as the birthplace and international headquarters of Starbucks isn’t for the faint-hearted. Maria didn’t let this intimidation get to her, though. She doesn’t try to do business like, or compete with, a coffee corporation: she knows her place, and that place is local. People buy her product because it’s unique — fair-trade sourced from Colombia, roasted and sold locally, and enhanced with personal touches. It doesn’t hurt, and as I can personally attest to, that it tastes amazing!

What about you? Have you cast aside your business plan because you’re afraid you’ll be overshadowed? Find out what makes your idea, product, or service unique — then capitalize on it.

Tip #3: Ask for Help

Maria shared that one of her biggest challenges was learning to ask for help. Whether it’s asking for advice or direction on how to do something related to setting up your business, or seeking out a business partnership, admitting your own insecurities and inadequacies can be very scary. If you can get over that, you’ll quickly find there are others who’ve been there before and are more than willing to help. You’ll never learn and grow unless you admit what you don’t know.

When it comes to considering a business partnership, it’s important to draw up a solid business plan and confide in people you trust. For instance, Maria’s business is bolstered by an investment partnership consisting of four close families. Creating a team or business partnership with others who have similar goals but unique talents and resources to bring to the table doesn’t just benefit you, but everyone involved.

Tip #4: Start Small, Dream Big

Don’t plan to stay at the bottom rung even if you’re starting out there. You’ll be investing a lot of personal time and energy into your business at the beginning, but it’s important to leave at least a little time to dream, market, network, and plan for the future. Know where you want to be, and start laying the groundwork to get there, even it’s as simple as creating a short-term savings goal or investing in your own education and training.

Tip #5: Share Your Dream

Lastly, don’t stay quiet. No matter how ridiculous or unrealistic it seems, tell people your dream — what you want to do — and things will start to happen. You never know what connections, resources, wisdom or ideas others might be able to contribute, so don’t be afraid to talk about your dreams of the business.

Let us know if you found these tips encouraging. Better yet, go and talk to a local entrepreneur in your area to see what advice their personal experience has to offer.

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  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    Allow me to put in my multiple 2 cents worth .
    I started out as a basically lazy teenager , joined the Navy for 4 years and became a cook and baker on board ship – U.S.S. Leyte CV-32 . After me 4 years I went to the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven , Conn. to learn the proper way to cook and bake . I now became serious about life . Always worked for only the finest and most high end hotels and private clubs in the country [ in order to learn from my superiors ] Worked at the Plaza Hotel [ Central Park South ] in New York City , the Bath and Tennis Club in Palm Beach , the Everglades Club in Palm Beach , Florida , etc. in order to further my education . After several years I had reached the top salary wise and decided to try to get a college degree so that I work my way up in a food industry corporation . Was a mediocre high school student but suddenly loved being a student . [ I was 28 years old ] Once I had my degree , was hired by a franchise food chain and after a few months became their Director of Training ….teaching new franchisees how to run a business . Did that for 3 years and then ended up buying businesses that were BANKRUPT . [ because of poor management ] Four of the 5 businesses I bought were bankrupt , one was prosperous . Built every one up and made a killing . But you have to know what you are doing and be better than your competition. To briefly sum it up , my food was A – 1 , my prices were about 15 % lower than my competition , my decor was interesting , the landscaping was beautiful , etc. But this all came at a high cost . As the owner , I worked 12 hours a day , 6 days a week in order to keep an eye on my employees and their performance …..but in the long run it paid off BIG TIME . Remember you have to be superior to your competition considering you have a lot of competition . Supposedly 4 out of 5 or 6 restaurants go out of business within 5 years . Aside from good food , reasonable prices , sufficient parking spaces . traffic count , how close is your competition , you also have to be concerned about your employees and their performance ….. a high percentage of employees put in minimal effort therefore you have to be there to oversee them.
    No pain , no gain .

  • Centsai says:

    Thanks for sharing these extremely helpful tip! It can seem to people trying to start small businesses that there are obstacles upon obstacles blocking their view of success. These tips help with that. I especially like Tip #1, which gives people an idea of what they might want to and be good at doing in the beginning stages of establishment. Great job!

  • Jessica says:

    Thanks, Finance Solver. I originally met this entrepreneur at a local farmers market and chatted with her over coffee.

  • Great advice for anybody who wants to start their own business. It’s hard to make the leap from a want to actual reality but this is a great starting point for anybody considering it!

    Quick question, how were you able to connect with the entrepreneur?

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