I love hearing from current and aspiring small business owners -- about their challenges and their successes.
In the last year, I've heard more and more via email and Facebook posts from people who are pursuing entrepreneurship after a pink slip. (I get that, since I did the same.)
The good news is the Internet and social media in particular make it possible to share your story, promote your business, ask questions, and get advice with just about anyone. (If you want to talk to me, I'm always at Facebook.com/Tory or you can email me through my website.)
Introducing Signature Flan.
Just a few months ago Vivian Tenorio contacted me on Facebook, Twitter and by email to say I absolutely needed to hear her story. She was proud of what she launched and was ready to share her early successes.
Tenorio had been working as a software installer and noticed orders were slowing down considerably because of the economy.
She worried that it might mean she would lose her job, but instead of burying her head, she spent nights and weekends plotting and planning a business idea around a family recipe for the sweet caramel dessert flan.
Everyone who tasted it, loved it, so she perfected the recipe and sampled at farmer's markets, high-end grocers and restaurants. Everyone who tasted placed an order.
So Tenorio packed up her car outside of Dallas and drove to the Austin headquarters of Whole Foods to drop off a batch of flan for the dessert buyer -- begging the receptionist to make sure it was delivered. The next day, they placed an order.
A few months later, Tenorio was laid off, so her instinct was right.
Signature Flan is now in more than 100 Whole Foods locations and other specialty markets.
Tip #1: Bootstrap for solutions. If you have an idea for a food product, zoning laws and other regulations probably prevent you from cooking at home. Look into renting inexpensive hourly space in a co-op kitchen (which you can find by searching online in your area) or even by calling churches to ask about renting during off hours in lieu of committing long-term to an expensive commercial kitchen before you know the real potential.
Tip #2: Talk to bankers before seeking a loan. If you think you need a bank loan, which Tenorio did for $15,000, ask for advice and insight from your current bank on what's getting approved, what kind of business plan is expected, and the timeframe for turnaround -- poke around and get friendly with the branch manager before just showing up with what you think they want.
Enter Boutique Larrieux.
Until earlier this year Lydia Hamilton was an IT project manager who decided it was time for a complete career change. Her dream: a women's clothing boutique where "exclusive fashion becomes inclusive."
She needed funding, but was turned down by banks for her $25,000 loan request. Each time Hamilton was told she had the best business plan they had ever seen, but the answer was the same: Sorry, not now.
Determined to not be deterred, her Internet research led her to Prosper.com, the largest peer-to-peer lending site. In just 10 days, her $25,000 request was fully funded by more than 700 strangers who liked her idea.
She has three years to repay it at about 11 percent interest, which is higher than the banks would have offered, but the banks said no, and she wanted the money now.
Boutique Larrieux is thriving in Milwaukee and online.