I am passionate about small business and I'm thrilled to share my years of knowledge, experience and insight with other small business owners in this course, Small Business from Scratch.
I have learned that it's always best to do as much as you can yourself. I believe this is a huge part of any small business success to minimize outsourcing, cost and to stay true to your vision.
My story is a long journey of creating businesses when and where I see opportunity, and then working hard to make them successful. I have started twenty small businesses in different industries from tutoring to restaurants to ranching - and now full circle to sharing my love of small business in teaching this course.
As you can guess, this story is a long one! I do my best to tell my story here in this post, but if you'd like to listen to the audio instead, here is my story in a podcast interview with Rural Revival. (just click play to listen!)
I have been starting businesses since I was 9 years old, before I even knew that I was running a business and before I knew what being an entrepreneur meant.
My Life in Small Business...
I have always loved turning a business idea into a reality. I love seeing a need in a community and creating a profitable business to fill that niche.
When I see an empty store front my wheels start spinning with what could fill the space and serve the community - all while making money. After all, a business is just a hobby unless it makes a profit!
My grandfather, Jim Arnerich, was an entrepreneur and I was always inspired by him.
We had a special relationship as the eldest grandchild. Driving around town we'd see a building for lease and he’d ask me what business we should start there - a taco bar or an ice cream shop? He was always looking for a need he could fill.
Early Entrepreneur Days...
In Junior High, my aunt asked me to babysit her twins, my cousins, in the mornings from 9-1pm while she worked for a few weeks. I figured if I was entertaining two kids all summer, I might as well entertain a bunch of them and make a little more money.
I called it Mary’s Summer Fun Camp and I had 15-20 kids in my backyard each week with games and activities, making a lot more money in those hours than I could have babysitting all summer.
I ran that camp every summer until I was 18 and made enough money to buy my first car and put half of a downpayment on a house in college (I convinced my parents to invest in the other half) and rented out rooms to friends, managing the utilities and finances and making a little extra money to cover books and living expenses each month. I was running a business then too, but I didn't even know it.
My First REAL Business...
I went to William & Mary in Virginia for college and majored in Biological-Psycholgy and was set on becoming a doctor. After college, I started tutoring students for extra income while studying for the MCAT (the Medical College Admissions Test).
Pretty quickly, my schedule was full everyday from 3-9pm tutoring local students and I saw a huge need for either more hours in my day or more tutors to match with these students.
I interviewed and hired local tutors to work for me. I met with them every Friday at a coffee shop to give them their paychecks, the next week's schedule and a backpack full of tutoring supplies with my logo on it. I called it "Academic Trainers" because kids needed a personal trainer for their studies just like at the gym.
After awhile, I realized how much it would benefit the business, staff and students to have a central location in a tutoring center. I envisioned high-tech, but kid friendly, working cubicles where students could feel confident coming to do their homework just like their mom or dad might do at their job.
I found a space in our downtown and applied to lease the building. I was young, 22 years old, with a decent credit history and a little savings. I had to sit outside the the city offices a few times to convince them to grant me a use permit and talk the landlord into taking a chance on me. They agreed, and I signed a 5-year lease for Academic Trainers.
The day I signed the lease I realized I needed an $11,000 security deposit, that I didn’t have. The same day, I got my credit card statement in the mail with my limit extended to $12,000 and included checks with 0% interest for 3 months.
I wrote that check for my security deposit because it was my only option and I knew I had to work my hardest to make it work, there was no other option.
That mindset has always followed me into any business I've opened since then - there are no shortcuts but with hardwork and commitment you can make almost anything happen.
I worked every day and night - building IKEA tables and chairs, making a front desk from recycled pieces of desks, staying late every night to make brochures, building a website and ordering text books, computers and office supplies.
I reached out to potential students in any way I knew how. Telling my story to teachers and parent groups, offering to host meetings in the space to get the word out. I had to be scrappy to get it growing and profitable quickly once I started paying rent - but I did it and in 3 months I had that credit card check for the security deposit paid off.
It wasn’t for a few years that I felt like I could hire a manager to run the front desk and give me a little more time to do other things. You have to be committed to put in the time, especially in the beginning.
I poured my heart into it and it was successful,
because I knew it had to be.
*I just sold this business in June of this year - after 19 years!
It became a well-oiled machine and provided a steady stream of income for us for many years before I sold it, passing it on to a young, aspiring small business owner.
That Was Just the Beginning...
A couple of years later, I saw another local gap to fill in errand runners and babysitters. So many young families were desperate for these services and didn't have a good resource to hire them.
I saw a need. I started a business called “GoGo Menlo” in Menlo Park with Go Go Girls to run your errands. I created this basic logo with self-taught Illustrator skills one night, built a website the next day, registered a DBA and "GoGo Menlo" was born.
The GoGo Girls had hot pink polo shirts with our logo and a hot pink razor cell phone to use while they ran errands or shuttled kids. I just missed the Task Rabbit model but apps weren't a thing yet. :)
Seeing Needs and Filling Niches...
We were already tutoring the older local kids, but I also saw a need for a place moms could have the flexibility to drop off their little ones for a few hours to get some errands done, have lunch or meet some friends. A place where kids were engaged and entertained for "guilt-free" babysitting.
I wanted to create a flexible drop-off space with great toys and activities and qualified teachers but on a short term flexible basis. I knew people were willing to pay for high-end services for their kids - more so than even for themselves. I was in the family-centered market and I wanted to capitalize on that. So I created a business called "Brilliant Babies" that filled this need we usually had a waiting list of kids to drop-in!
And then, Accidental Restauranteurs...
Brian and I loved to go out to eat, but we realized how hard it was to find a place we could bring the girls along when we dined out. We wanted fresh, well-sourced food for ourselves as well as our kids - something beyond the pizza and chicken fingers. We wanted a place we could relax with good wine and beer where we could also feel comfortable bringing kids.
I envisioned a "clubhouse" where we could build a comfortable space, aesthetically pleasing to the adults but also fun and engaging for kids. I thought we would just have daily food catered in, with no desire to open a restaurant.
I found a cute older cottage in our downtown and thought it would be a great place for a family gathering spot that served great quality food. We jumped in to make it happen, but quickly realized we needed a full commercial kitchen to accomplish what we wanted and it made more sense to hire a chef and open as a full-service restaurant.
I wanted a playroom where kids could be engaged and entertained by staff while parents enjoyed the rest of their meal and maybe another glass of wine. We turned an old porch in the back into a beautiful, self-contained playroom where parents paid to check kids in while they ate, helping our business model and margins on a restaurant.
Before & After of “The Playroom”…
With lots of hard work and a steep learning curve, we opened a farm-to-fork, full service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. It was a huge undertaking and Brian jumped in to help me in every way (this was about when we really started working together everyday!) and we learned a LOT along the way.
Restaurants are hard. But it was busy. We had a line out the door most days and had to figure out how to make more food in a small kitchen and keep up with the demand. It was an unusual concept, but with the right execution... it worked.
Small town, ready for small business....
We opened a second restaurant with a simplified model - a quick-serve breakfast and lunch, juice & coffee bar with take-out dinners. We stayed true to our very family friendly brand with an indoor play structure spanning the perimeter and great quality ingredients in everything we did.
We also saw a need in this town for brick-and-mortar businesses with new energy geared towards families with children. The town was just starting to see new young families moving in left and right. It was a rare opportunity for growth and we were focused on the opportunity in it. We jumped on the DIY trend and opened a do-it-yourself craft shop...
We started a little throwback coin-arcade next to our restaurant when we realized a lot of our customers were “aging out” of the playroom. We started another drop-in playspace and a small hobby shop with a lego bar.
All Roads Lead to a Ranch...
The restaurants were always our main focus and we spent a lot of our time sourcing really good quality ingredients for our menu. In the quest for super high quality meats, raised ethically but with great flavor, we did a ton of research with our chefs to know exactly what we wanted.
+ We wanted superior quality beef with a great story behind it.
+ We wanted a grass-fed lifestyle with a barley finish and a 28-day dry-age.
+ We wanted to know the animals were raised right and harvested humanely.
We searched high and low in small farms and couldn’t find anyone who could do this on a large enough scale to supply what we needed...
So we decided to do it ourselves.
We found a piece of property that suited our needs and relied heavily on my brother-in-law who is a 5th generation cattle rancher and other seasoned ranchers to give us sage advice on raising cattle for premium beef.
We thought we could hire a ranch hand to manage the ranch during the week and we'd commute back and forth (6+ hour drive each way with four kids in carseats) on the weekends. We were excited about the opportunity for recreation and ranch life for our kids while we got this operation started.
It was only 8 short weeks later, that we decided we couldn’t do this part time. We wanted to be the ones taking care of our animals all the time, not just on the weekends. We didn’t want to rely on someone else to do it the way we wanted it done, which was a little non traditional and outside the box.
We wanted to be full time ranchers and we wanted to make this our livelihood.
Our lives switched paths and we found ourselves jumping in to ranching full time. This meant selling our businesses and leaving our beautiful home we’d worked so hard for, Brian leaving his busy law practice and moving away from a land of opportunity and the only livelihood we knew.
We knew we had to find a new model and create a business from scratch to sustain our livelihood, so we started from square one.
We knew if we couldn't, we'd fall back on lawyering and I'd switch gears to another business concept. But we WANTED so badly to make this work for our family. We wanted this lifestyle. And it's not an easy one to make a living on as first generation ranchers.
We've had more obstacles than I can count try to stop us dead in our tracks, but we knew we had to keep pushing, working harder until we found a way. We started with traveling for deliveries and then “farm stands” (our own version of farmers markets) but we knew that wasn’t sustainable for us because we wanted to be on the ranch - not traveling all of the time to sell our meat.
The answer seemed to lie in shipping our meats directly to customers - and finding customers who appreciated well-raised, well-sourced meats.
Selling & Shipping Our Products
Shipping meat is no easy task, it took well over a year to navigate - but with lots of trial and error and lots of mistakes, we have a great system now to sell, pack and ship meat to customers all over the US.
We opened a Farm Store in town as a retail shop where we sell and ship our meats every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
We use social media to share our story and sell our product and in four years of shipping we've grown to reach over 8,000 customers and we ship over 10,000 pounds of meat every month right from our ranch in rural California.
Expanding Our Brand...
Last year, we purchased the historic bar & restaurant in our small town that had become run down and re-opened as Five Marys Burgerhouse, serving all of our own meats to our local community and visitors who come from far and wide for the Five Marys experience and to try our own barrel-aged Whiskey!
Telling Our Story...
We share our story through experiences like "Camp Five Marys" where we host retreats and farm dinners in a first-rate outdoor kitchen and luxury camping site we built on our ranch to share with others. Guests come for a weekend to experience ranch life and be treated to beautiful meals to really feel connected to us - in knowing their rancher and knowing just where their meats come from they are usually customers for life!
Using Social Media to Grow Our Brand...
We've been featured in Oprah Magazine, Parent Magazine, Enjoy, Eating Well, Flea Market Style and Real Simple Magazine.
We were named "Best Farm" in America by Paleo Magazine in 2018!
I am a brand ambassador for the hard-working clothing brand Carhartt. They’ve filmed commercials and shot catalogues here on the ranch, helping to share our name and our brand. We've done partnerships with big brands like Verizon, Lowes, Tractor Supply, Bogs Footware and Lucchese Boots.
All of this is because social media allows us to share our day-to-day life. To share our story and help tell the story of agriculture in today's world. It helps us reach customers we never thought possible and has grown our business exponentially in just a few years. Social media is such a HUGE part of marketing any business right now - and the best part is, it only costs you your time. And I teach you all of my secrets in this course!
I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating business ideas. But right now I’m so happy working hard on the ranch everyday with my husband and our girls - and I want to focus some time and energy on helping others create their dream in their own small business. That's where this course was born.
I hope you'll join me in SMALL BUSINESS FROM SCRATCH. I'm offering the Complete Small Business Package with all three modules (Small Business, Social Media, and Selling & Shipping) with our private online community of entrepreneurs - or each individual module a la carte.
Whether you have an established business in any industry you want to grow and expand and take to the next level or you are just starting out... this course is designed to for you.
We open enrollment Friday March 8 and close Thursday March 14, so we can mail you all the printed materials to start the online course on April 19, 2019. We will hopefully open up enrollment again next fall. The course is self-paced and you'll have unlimited access going forward. I'm so looking forward to helping you reach your small business dreams!
So welcome to "YOU CAN DO IT. Small Business from Scratch."
I hope to help inspire you to refine your ideas, jump into a new business with both feet, carve your path, be your own boss, overcome hurdles and write your own story in a successful entrepreneurial venture.
YOU CAN DO IT!
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