I'm starting a new project and I'm so excited! I have met so many wonderful women who have been instrumental in helping achieve all that I have. Now I want you to meet them too! So, I am interviewing each of them and each week I will share an interview with you. Prepare to meet some of the most talented, dynamic, and successful women entrepreneurs. Take notes - because what they will teach you can change your life!
My first subject is Jeri-Lynn Woods. I met Jeri-Lynn through Ryze, a social network she and I both belong to. I had posted an article there which she read and responded to. We exchanged a few messages and in the course of that exchange, the idea for this project was born. So - without further ado - may I present businesswoman and friend -JERI LYNN WOODS! (applause!!)
1. Jeri-Lynn, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Jeri-Lynn Woods. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and married a Canadian man I met through a personal ad in the Mother Earth News magazine. We corresponded for four months, I flew out to visit him in January 1977, and we got married in March. That's 31 years of struggle, laughter, and music! We have no kids, but we've seen a lot of North America - Ron is a musician, and we've moved a lot. We've lived everywhere from an Indian reserve outside Hanceville, BC (which consists of a gas station and general store), where Ron was teaching, to Nashville, TN, where Ron did NOT succeed in cracking the barrier to becoming an international country music star (*sigh*).
My talents lie in the area of art, singing, math, and office skills. Ron (stage name Dusty Woods) is an immensely talented singer, songwriter, and guitar player with nine albums which he has produced himself.
2. Tell us about your business. My business is called Dustwood Media. I produce and sell Christian meditation CDs, computer wallpaper, and screensavers. My meditations are multi-media CDs featuring beautiful photographic images (most of which are mine), Bible verses, and peaceful instrumental music (my husband's). The wallpaper and screensavers are spin-offs of the meditations.
3. Why did you start your own business?
I originally started working as a Virtual Assistant in my spare time, to make extra money. After seven years of living in Alberta (think Montana winters - only farther north), my husband and I were anxious to move back to beautiful, mountainous BC (British Columbia, where Ron grew up and where we lived for several years after our marriage). My VA business was doing pretty well, so we pulled up stakes and moved to Trail, BC.
After a year, my business wasn't doing well, and I heard of an opportunity to get funding for a new business through a branch of the Employment Insurance program called the Self-Employment Plan. My husband came up with the idea of doing Christian meditations, and we ran across a program called Pictures2Exe which creates PowerPoint-like slideshows. That's where I got the idea of doing my Christian meditation CDs using music, print, and photographic images, instead of the usual music-and-voice meditations.
4. What do you like most and least about being your own boss?
The best things about being self-employed are the flexibility, and being able to do things your own way. You can build your work day around your needs. You can get up at 5 a.m. if you're a morning person, or start work at 4 pm if you're a night person; take time for medical appointments, emergency car repairs, and family celebrations. You don't have to grit your teeth and do things the boss's way even when your boss is obviously doing things wrong.
The worst things are that you have to cover ALL the bases yourself, regardless of your natural talents and skills - design, creation, production, advertising, maintenance, bookkeeping - and the lack of security. You have no medical insurance (unless you pay for it - through the nose), no regular paycheque, no short-term or long-term disability, no one to take over the business if you're sick. You go into business partly to do something you love - but in running the business you spend and awful lot of things doing things you DON'T love, and even things you HATE (such as - for me - promotion).
5. What personality traits and skills are needed to run a business?
All of them! No, seriously, probably one of the most important personality traits - unfortunately, one that I lack - is the natural flair for networking, promoting, getting people excited about what you do. Different personality tests use different terms for it - one I've taken calls this personality type the "promoter" - but it involves the skills necessary for getting out and promoting your business. Promoters actually enjoy everything from making cold calls to networking at parties. To succeed in business it is vital to be able to get the word out about your product or service.
Oddly, another necessary personality trait is the opposite: the ability to gather and analyze data, to focus on facts, to understand and manipulate numbers. This is my personality type (called by one personality test the "analyzer"). This is necessary for doing the back-office work. To succeed in business you need to be able to track income and expenses, gather information and analyze it.
People who have the first personality trait aren't likely to have the second one - and vice versa. That's why there are very few businesses that are completely a one-person show. If you don't have a partner in your business who can cover the areas you are weak in, you need to be able to hire the skills you don't have yourself.
6. What has been the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur?
For me, definitely the lack of security and the need to make all decisions myself.
I'm a very slow decision-maker; it may take me months to come to the right decision. In business you often don't have that much time.
The lack of security stimulates some people; it just scares me!
7. Do you have any resources you have used to build your business that you would recommend?
Heavens, it would take a separate blog to list them all! First would be to check your local government for small-business programs. In Canada, check your Community Futures office for all kinds of business help, a business library, small-business loans, and - if you have qualified for EI any time in the last 3 years - the Self Employment program. I'm sure there are similar programs in the US.
There is some terrific free software out there too. For an office suite, you can't beat OpenOffice.org (http://www.openoffice.org/) - it includes a word processor and spreadsheet program, and with it you can open, edit and save files in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel format. For an FTP program for uploading files to your website, try FileZilla (go to http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=21558). For an excellent free zip program (for creating compressed ZIP files), ALzip (http://www.altools.com/ALTools/ALZip.aspx) is topnotch. And to create PDF files from almost any program, use CutePDF Writer, http://www.cutepdf.com/.
8. Do you have any tips to share on promoting your business? That's a toughie for me, as promotion is my weak point. I will share what I learned in a marketing workshop: People need to hear about you a lot before they will trust enough to buy. The number we were told in the workshop was 49 times! So when you are planning an ad campaign, for instance, don't figure on putting out a single ad "just to see". Plan on a series of ads, always. If you don't have much advertising budget (welcome to the club!), pick a cheaper place to advertise.
Basically, you need to make sure the people in your market hear about you wherever they turn. Whether they run into your name as author of a useful article, read about you in a press release, see your ad, or run into your website when they are searching - they need to see you again and again.
9. What other advice do you have for someone starting their own business?
Think about it a LOT before you jump. Starting a business is intensive, hard work, it's frustrating, and you WILL NOT MAKE MONEY THE FIRST YEAR. On the average, a new business has to be around for FIVE YEARS before it really starts making a profit.
We all hear stories of the new business that was an overnight success, of course, and it does happen. The odds are, though, that it won't happen to you. You need to be sure you have a source of income that will support you for a minimum of two years while you get your business going.
You're going to be very, very busy! For at least two years you will have all the work of getting your business going, on top of the work you need to do to keep food on the table and a roof over your head.
And be prepared to put money into your business! Even a "shoestring" business costs money. A business phone, a business bank account, advertising, membership in the local Chamber of Commerce, business licenses, opening inventory or materials if you are selling a product, tools and possibly training if you are selling a service, a place to work from.
Finally, DON'T SKIMP ON BOOKKEEPING. If you aren't a trained bookkeeper, figure on hiring one. This is absolutely vital. Remember, when you are running a business, the tax people let you deduct the amount you spend on expenses from the amount you make on sales. You need to keep accurate track of the expenses and the sales!
A special note for Canadians: if you are selling a product/service that you have to charge GST on, remember that you can deduct the amount YOU spend on GST for business purchases! In the early years, when you are spending more on expenses than you are making on sales, you can actually wind up getting a GST refund from the government!
10. How can we contact you about your products and services? My website is http://www.dustwood-media.com/. You can contact me (Jeri-Lynn Woods) by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by cell phone at (250) 512-1215 - remember that I'm on Pacific time.