The major narrative in the business community these days concerns business owners’ struggles to help their companies survive the economic downturn. But the entrepreneurial spirit is still thriving; some people are taking advantage of enforced downtime at home to nurture their startup plans or nascent ventures.
Tina “TJ” Oliver, who’s on the grounds crew at Brunswick Community College, saw opportunity in her modified work hours. She’s using the extra time off work to think through her plan to open her own nursery in Bolivia, where she lives.
“To begin with, I’ll be running it out of my home, so it needs to be small scale,” she said. “And with a small scale, the startup costs will be much less. I’m still eight years away from wanting to retire, and I still want to keep my job. My goal is a customer base I could grow from.”
Oliver has seen plenty of small nurseries come and go in Brunswick County in the past 20 years, but notes that people are still moving to the county in significant numbers, and many of them love to garden.
Drawing from her associate’s degree in horticulture from BCC and her years on the grounds crew there, she’s mapping out an initial inventory of plants she knows will sell. Once she gets the nursery established, she will begin asking her customers what other plants they want but can’t find locally.
Never having had a business before, Oliver needed information and encouragement. She found it at BCC’s Small Business Center.
“I had wanted to start a business but it was a broad umbrella, too much stuff. I didn’t have a good plan,” she said, adding that her coaching sessions with SBC Director April Scott helped her narrow her business focus to something she knew and could launch on a manageable scale.
Oliver has recently come back to the SBC for help on more specific topics.
“Should I become a Sole Proprietor or an LLC? What does each of those mean for your taxes? What all is involved?” she said.
After doing some essential spadework in the next few months, Oliver hopes to launch her nursery by fall – always a good time for gardening. Initially, she figures, she could operate it for the fall and spring planting seasons.
“To start in the fall, I would need my business license and all my supplies by mid-July,” she said. “The paperwork of registering a business is, I understand, fairly quick.”
MaryThom Newcomb’s new venture, licensed last fall after she received her certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner, was ready to launch this year, but the novel coronavirus got in the way. And the virus-caused slowdown in surgical activities meant that there is less demand for her services as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) with Columbus Regional Hospital Healthcare System in Whiteville.
Newcomb is the owner of Coastal Hydration + Aesthetics, a concierge hydration therapy and botox injection practice that brings these services into a client’s home. She was all set to do an event in March to introduce potential clients to her services, just in time for the Azalea Festival Garden Party.
But that was not to be.
She’s using her extra time at home in Wilmington to polish her online marketing efforts and to reflect on what she learned through the Cape Fear Community College Small Business Center in her initial startup last fall.
“I’m going over my website with a fine-tooth comb, doing more content writing, making sure my ducks are in a row,” she said of her focus now. “Jerry [Coleman, director of the CFCC SBC] reached out the other day just to check in with me and see what I am continuing to do.”
Coleman also has counseled Anne Tilghman Reiss, who has found the energy and “nooks and crannies of time” in her self-quarantining day to move ahead with an online gift business she started the summer before Hurricane Florence.
The business, Thoughtygifts.com, was always meant to be something Reiss could run from home when she wasn’t busy with her priority: her family. But a year later, she needed help, learned about the CFCC SBC and contacted Coleman.
“A year out, I wanted to turn up the volume. I wanted to have the right contacts and the right platform in place to reach out locally on the corporate end,” the Wilmington resident said. “I took a class on social media marketing and SEO. It was fantastic, and a great opportunity for me, since I was doing all this on a shoestring budget.”
While Thoughtygifts.com does offer packages for individual gift-giving, it is aimed primarily at corporate gifts. Coleman made several suggestions as to how Reiss could expand her selection of gift packages and put them into a catalog for companies.
“I’ve pulled that completely together now. One of the gifts I have created in this time is a work-from-home gift, thanking employees for reconfiguring their lives, making a home office and staying productive,” Reiss said.
“People talk about post-traumatic stress,” she said. “But there’s also such a thing as post-traumatic growth. Sometimes when you take a course, you take a million notes and put the notebook on a shelf. Now that my husband has more flexible hours to be home with the kids, I’ve been going through those notes and ‘re-taking’ the [social media marketing] course.
"I just recently started experimenting with Facebook ads to see what’s resonating. These are things I can do now that I learned specifically from that course. You can find benefits to this [coronavirus] time, and I’m trying to do that.”
Dean and Laura Lamaine had a completely different business venture in mind when they recently connected with April Scott at the BCC SBC.
“We’re in the process of buying an existing business from its owners, a husband and wife,” said Laura Lamaine. “We’re buying the land, the building, the equipment and the business.”
Because the deal is not finalized – the Lamaines are hopeful that it will close in July – they are not at liberty to disclose the name of the company.
A year ago, becoming business owners wasn’t on the Lamaines’ horizon. They had just moved to St. James Plantation, scaling back from their corporate, six-figure careers and looking forward to living where they wanted to and doing what they enjoyed. But they became customers of the business, got to know the owners, and – in short order – Dean Lamaine started working for the company. When the owners decided it was time to sell, the Lamaines stepped up.
Online research convinced the couple that they would pursue financing through an SBA 7(a) loan. Scott has referred them to a banker who can help with that. She also spent three hours with the Lamaines going through all the details of a business plan, listing elements and information that a lender will want to see.
“We’re looking to expand the business,” Laura Lamaine said. “It’s already well-run and successful, and Dean says it has a lot of potential.”
She points out that she and her husband are becoming first-time business owners later in life, but says they are excited at the prospect. “You keep yourself open and, if you are not afraid, it’s surprising what is out there.”