“When did you realize you wanted to be your own boss?” someone recently asked me. It stunned me because I hadn’t even thought of it. It’s always felt as if I’ve had crazy ideas that no one really understood.
But as I thought of this, I started remembering my entrepreneurial attempts.
My first job was when I was 10 years old. I worked for an entrepreneur who would provide his kid employees a box of candy. He’d drive us kids around “rich neighborhoods” to sell the candy bars.
It was hard work for a 10 year old because we had to walk house-to-house and get a lot more NOs than Yeses. We’d make a profit from the sales and the kid who’d sell the most would get a bonus at the end of the day.
Then, I started working for a lady who would give my Mom patterns to sew from home. By the time I was 14 years old, my mother had become a single mom of six.
She’d try to find any way to earn money and take care of us and in a way, I think she’s who taught me to be resourceful and to use what I knew to earn a living. She’s been the best role model of survival in my life.
My younger siblings would help my Mom with minor tasks while the my two middle kids and I helped sew some of the clothes. Later, I asked my Mom’s employer for a job. So, I became her helper at her clothing boutique during the week and I’d go sell the clothes at a high-end flea market with her on the weekends.
While working for someone was not exactly me owning my own business, it felt good to work on my own terms and to chose what I wanted to do. I loved being able to go to school and being able to earn money.
Years later, when I was in the military, I became a Mary Kay consultant. I did pretty well despite the fact that I was not a good seller and I wasn’t into make-up or skin care products.
Later, as I was getting ready to leave the military, I became a Realtor & Real Estate Consultant. While I did great, my career was short lived due to the market crash in 2007.
While in college, I learned about a program called the Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) with Disabilities. I applied and was accepted.
I think this was the real moment when I realized that I was meant to be an entrepreneur.
I had always seen entrepreneurship as a thing that people with money did, not realizing that entrepreneurship is for people who are willing to do the hard work.
I learned then, that all the crazy ideas I’d always had were not crazy at all. I discovered I have always been a multi-passionate person. I just hadn’t had access to the right tools to make something really viable.
So, after graduating from the EBV program, I decided to start a high-end chopping block business called Maestro Blocks, while I was a full-time college student with two kids under the age of 3 (crazy, right!?).
What scared me a little (ok, a lot!) was that I had to take big risks and that only a very small percent of entrepreneurs succeed. But I suppose those facts didn’t scare me enough because I kept pursuing ways that I could offer something to society that might also help me make a living.
While it didn’t do well (mainly due to lack of capital), I did manage to learn a lot about patenting ideas, marketing, public relations and research and design. I even got interest from QVC, but I was unable to commit to a large volume of product due to lack of funds and I couldn’t find an affordable manufacturer.
My desire for entrepreneurship did not die then. During the past couple of years, I started selling my very own handmade greeting cards on Etsy (though most of my sales have been word of mouth).
I started selling cards mostly because I love crafting and I take a lot of joy watching people’s reactions when they receive one of my cards.
But, while card making and selling is something I enjoy, I wanted to do something with more purpose. So, I decided to follow my real passion-to help society, particularly children.
If you haven’t read those blog posts, the short story is that I’ve committed to combat bullying and to help kids accept diversity because not doing so allows for kids to bully others for their differences. Bullying lowers academic potential, self-esteem and kids become enthusiastic about going to school, thus affecting their learning.
Fortunately, I successfully create a program that I now offer at schools called, Embracing Differences: Combating Bullying By Debunking Stereotypes & Accepting Others.
Parents attend each week with their kids to learn various topics related to causes of bullying and we diminish stereotypes by learning about different people.
Soon, I’ll be offering an online course to parents and teachers called Sticks & Stones: Combating Bullying By Debunking Stereotypes.
FREE Resources For You!
Getting back to my original message to you. The point of my story about my entrepreneurial adventures is that if you’re one of those people who have always wanted to start something of your own, I know where you’re coming from.
It’s petrifying to dive into the unknown. I get it. You don’t know how much it will cost or how viable your idea will be. But there are ways you can find out and resources to look for if you have no idea how how to get started.
You know that saying, “live without regrets”? I take it seriously because….why not try doing something you’ve always wanted to do, than to live wondering how it could have turned out? It also makes your life story more interesting. Just sayin’.
I get it. It’s risky, it takes courage, and sometimes we worry about what our friends and family members will think of us. But IMAGINE the things they would say if your “crazy” idea works out?!
So, to help you get started, here are some of the most helpful FREE resources you can look into to help you get started. But remember – you have to truly take advantage of them if you want the best results.
- SCORE.org is a nonprofit organization (supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration) dedicated to helping small businesses get started, grow and achieve their goals. SCORE offers education and mentorship through local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). Workshops are usually available in various areas of the country, but they also offer webinars and of course, mentors! In addition they also offer many others tools to help people with their businesses. If a mentor near you is not available, there is an option to connect online with a mentor who has the expertise you seek.
- Small Business Administration (SBA) is an organization that helps people start, grow and succeed in business. They too provide many tools, resources, classes, meet-ups and mentors. They inform the public of any grants or loan programs being offered by the government or other entities and they also provide resources to special groups such as Veterans, Women Owned Businesses, etc. In addition, they also help people who are interested in doing business with the government. So, if you’d like to become a government contractor, SBA is a great place to get information from.
- Each city has an Office of Economic Development (OED), where it’s residents can reach out to start or grow their businesses. Each OED offers different resources depending on the city’s funding. So, call up your OED or check out their website to see what they offer. You can expect them to list the city’s incentives to start or boost businesses in the city. So, this can be a big plus if you’re trying to keep your business local.
- Each university has an office of Research and Economic Development. It’s a hidden gem and though their main focus is to boost grants and donations for the university, they also help out the local community by providing resources for entrepreneurship. Each university offers different resources from workshops to entrepreneurship classes that include business plan competitions for the opportunity for either money or access to valuable tools or resources that’s usually available only to staff, faculty or students.
- Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). I must let you know about the organization that helped me light that bulb in my head. Though this is an organization that provides resources FREE of charge to it’s students, they offer these services only to the military veteran community and their families.
Now, word of caution. There aren’t any government agencies or private organizations that hand out money to people who want to start businesses. Sorry to kill your hopes.
BUT, there are many, many organizations that hold business plan competitions for the chance of prizes from a few hundred bucks to thousands!
Also, some organizations give away free mentoring or other resources in lieu of money to the winners of business plan competitions.
I know that the resources I’ve mentioned do not offer a single dollar, but when you start using them, you’ll realize how much you can get done throughout the startup process without having to spend thousands.
Again, the best part of using these resources is that you’ll be able to get help in order to find out if your business idea is viable BEFORE you dump a lot of hard earned money into it.
So, here’s to you! To your courage and passion to pursue your business idea. I’d love to hear back about your business venture. Share in the comments and don’t forget to share this post with other passionate entrepreneurs like you!