My Journey: Part 3
Where does one even start making business friends & connections as a grownup when working from home?
I started looking online for some support groups. I had visited a couple networking groups in the area, but it wasn’t for me. It felt cold. I wanted comradery, and mainly I wanted other females to connect with. I found a group online that had just formed and was excited to attend the first meeting. 2 weeks before the event, it got cancelled and the group disappeared. It was done before it even got going.
Disappointed, I said screw it, and decided I would create my own group. In September of 2016, Girlboss: Women Entrepreneurs was born. I had no clue what I was doing. I was in utter shock that I even did this because I was shy and got social anxiety.
My first meeting had 25 women attend. All I had planned for the meeting was to pass around my cookies, say a spiel about how women need each other to thrive, and let everyone else introduce themselves and their businesses. After my quick speech, the room erupted in hoots and applause. I realized I wasn’t the only one seeking support and a tribe. I was pumped and inspired. I decided that our meetings needed to have different topics every month that we could discuss roundtable style.
While women were excited about the group, they were also moms, wives, and business owners. This means they are busy. My second meeting was a quarter the size of my first one. The excitement was still there, but I was a little disheartened by attendance. My third meeting had 3 people. It was dwindling fast.
Before the night of my fourth meeting, I was considering giving up and closing the group. Why put the effort in if no one shows up? It’s not in my nature to quit so I told myself I would give it one more try. I didn’t have a big turn out, but I did have a new member come. She was friendly and easy to talk to and so very enthusiastic. She and I became quick friends. I left that meeting thinking maybe I should keep it going…you never know who you’re going to meet.
A few meetings after that something big happened. Word spread about my group in the community and the local networking chambers. My small little group, that I almost quit on, had 20 new members descend upon us all in the same night. I thought it was a fluke like the first meeting. It wasn’t. Most of those women are still members today.
In 2021, our 5-year anniversary, I rebranded the group and it became Boss Evolution. Over the last 6 years this group has had a lot of changes, a lot of ups and some downs. I stay consistent with what the group stands for, its values and its mission. Women have joined, women have left, I even had a few be nasty, bully me and try to take over. No matter the very small bumps we’ve had over the years, I’ve stood strong, believing that this group does so much good for so many women that I will fight for it every time. The positive far overshadows the negative.
It took me a few years to stand back and look at what I’ve created. Entrepreneurs struggle with observing the actual moment…we’re constantly on to the next thing or just DOING IT. What I have created is a family. These women are each other’s ride or die. They are brilliant and supportive and we’re each other’s biggest fans.
With a seriously kickass group of women business owners from the community supporting me, I started making moves to open a brick-and-mortar bakery in 2017. My first step was, of course, a business plan. This can be a bit overwhelming. But something came across my path and kicked me into high gear.
I used to take some fun online classes from a large educational website called Craftsy. It features online courses where you can buy mini courses, ask questions, and share your projects. I saw that they were offering a Cake Fellowship, created to help newer entrepreneurs. Although I wasn’t super confident in my decorating skills quite yet, I decided to just go for it. Why not?
The requirements were to send in a few pictures of our work, answer their questionnaire about our business, and send in a business plan. The winner would get $5k, a trip to Denver to hang out with a biggie in the industry, a business mentorship, and be a guest on a podcast.
Now, I honestly didn’t think that anything would come of this, but I’m a HUGE believer in goals and this seemed like a perfect excuse to stop stalling on putting my business plan together. The deadline for the contest was 2 weeks away. Everyday I hauled my butt to the library, popped in earbuds, and worked for hours straight brainstorming and writing about what I wanted my business to look like.
I’ve had people in the past tell me a business plan isn’t necessary. I say this advice is complete hogwash. It helps you get focused. It helps you figure out what the hell you’re doing. My business had so many aspects to it there was no way it would become successful without planning it all out. Also, if you need loans no bank is going to lend you a damn thing without a solid business plan. But I digress.
I rocked out my business plan in less than 2 weeks and was feeling pretty good about it. I met my goal, turned in all the other requirements for the fellowship, and went back to filling orders in my home kitchen.
I don’t remember how much time passed. I don’t remember even thinking about the fellowship after I completed everything. I was busy with my home business, my women’s group, my kids, my life. I DO remember when I received an email from Craftsy regarding my application and was surprised I had even heard back from them at all.
I was a top 10 finalist. There I was, on their website snuggled in with all the pros. They had said that they were impressed with my cake designs, but that they were absolutely blown away by my business plan. The judges loved my business idea; they said they didn’t know another business like it. I wasn’t just going to open a bakery, I was planning to have classes, summer camps, and parties as well. I wanted a learning center (and use that teaching degree!).
I didn’t win the fellowship. The fact that I even placed in it was enough for me, along with the feedback I received from some top players in my industry. I was so proud of myself and ready to take the leap to make it happen.
My next step was to seek out a business partner. I didn’t think I could do it alone, and honestly didn’t want to. I had talked to a few friends that knew some chefs and cake decorators, but they were busy with other projects, and it didn’t work out. I ended up doing some projects and local events with another part-time cake decorator that I met through my kid’s daycare. We worked well together and had a lot of fun, so it was a match that worked.
After about 6 months of trial projects, planning, contracts, all the partnership details, we were ready. Early 2018 was filled with driving around our area to look at potential locations, all while still fulfilling orders in my partner’s basement kitchen.
After a couple of months searching for a space, we found one in the downtown area of our little city. It was right in front the municipal grounds and sat on a major road that ran through the area. It was a long, old building, but the inside didn’t require too much work. Behind us was a Sangria tasting lounge. We had found our place.
May 1st, 2018, we received our keys. We did so much work on our own and hired a contractor to do our kitchen. Commercial kitchens are no joke. There are A LOT of requirements that need to be met not only for the health department, but for the city as well.
Being the researcher that I am, I knew what the requirements were for the health department. I had briefly rented commercial kitchen space & had a license, so I knew what to expect from the inspection. The city on the other hand…hot mess. The township’s inspector showed up once we were in the building and was, for lack of a better word, a complete dick.
The inspector quickly walked around pointing at things here and there giving us violations. “Trip hazard. Fire hazard. Trip hazard.” When asked questions, he was short with us and annoyed. He wrote it up, handed it to us, and left with no explanation to what we had to do to fix the violations. This just added to our stress level.
I needed to chat with the city to ask if we were required to get a building permit since we weren’t actually building anything (walls, rooms, etc.) so we decided to try and speak with the inspector to get clarification on our violations so we could fix them. The woman I talked to regarding the permit assured me that, no, we did not need to apply for a building permit. We managed to get the inspector but again, he barely gave us any answers all the while walking away from us. He couldn’t even spare us a minute of his time.
We had a goal to open in July, so we were working our butts off to get this done. We had electricians & plumbers come finishing up. Our contractor was done with the kitchen. Things were going exceptionally well. I had found and read all the city codes for commercial kitchens, plumbing requirements, electrical oven, hood vents, trip hazards…you name it. I had spent so much time reading the codes I could have applied for a job at this point.
Everything was wrapping up for us and we were getting excited to open. Our commercial kitchen inspection went great. The community was excited; we both had a large network at this point from being in the industry for 5 years. We had set an opening date but hadn’t released it yet. We still had city inspections to get through and there were a lot.
As the plumber was finishing up, he put in his request to the city to come do the final inspection but came back to me saying the city has no record of our building permit. As one can imagine, I was somewhat confused by this seeing as the city told me, multiple times, that we didn’t need one. Following this conversation came a phone call from the head of the department. He condescendingly explained to me why we needed a permit, that commercial kitchens had a lot of requirements; we couldn’t just throw in an oven and sink and open for business.
At this point our stress level was at a ten. The lack of support and incorrect information that we were receiving was astounding. I will say that the building head changed his tune after coming to our building. After seeing our kitchen and talking with us, I think he realized we were not, in fact, complete morons and had actually done the research. But this still left us with issues and violations we needed to fix in order to open.
The details of this experience are long, and not worth going into in this particular post, but we had 7 inspections to get through with the city. They showed up in groups with clipboards and books (Codes for Dummies, I kid you not) in hand. They would forget instructions they had given us on previous visits. I knew the codes better than most of them. I found loopholes. We made it through, but it took months. In early October, we were finally ready to open our doors.
Our opening day was insane, to put it lightly. I don’t know what we expected, but we were not prepared for the amount of people that showed up. It was non-stop. We had our husbands and kids helping. We sold out 3 times and had to hit the kitchen to get more product out. I distinctly remember us sitting on the floor in our once clean kitchen after we closed, after our helpers left, just laughing and crying. The support we received from the community, friends, family was amazing. We were wrought with emotion. We did it. We successfully opened a bakery and learning center.
Through the years things were going very well. We surpassed our 1-year projections within 6 months. We were filling up our classroom schedule with weekly themed projects and kid birthday parties. Everything we offered was high quality, completely from scratch, and we were getting amazing feedback. We quickly had regulars that would pop in once a week to visit with us and buy their favorites. Kids were super into our cupcake classes and summer camps they would sign up for every single one. We had waitlists. We were killing it.
2 ½ years after opening our doors we were exhausted and needed help due to the rate we were growing. We were having to turn down orders. We were just about to hire our first employee and were filled with excitement and anxiety. But as we all know, the world came to a halt in March of 2020. A year later the universe threw in a plot twist to my life, and it again would change in a major way.
Join me next week as I wrap up my Journey Series!