ROCKLAND — For anyone who has ever imagined owning a business, Midcoast Women (formerly Midcoast Women’s Collective) hosted three female entrepreneurs with small businesses on Rockland’s Main Street on Thursday, November 15, at the Rockland Public Library. Here are four takeaways from that night, with insights on dealing with the obstacles and what energizes them to keep going.
“I grew up in the environment of small businesses,” said Lacy Simons, owner of hello hello bookshop. “My parents owned a photography studio when I was young, however I didn’t actually believe until 10 or 12 years ago that I could own a small business myself. I thought it was this magic thing that you had to go to this tree and the tree would tell you what to do and then you had to learn math. I went through a lot of paths to get here. So, I started taking small business classes with Betty Gensel of The Women’s Business Center and I didn’t have to fight with myself on whether I was capable, there was no doubt in my mind.
“For me, the desire to be independent and not take directions from anyone, was my inspiration,” said Leah Ondra, owner of Clementine. “One of the unglamorous things about my bio is when I went to college, I worked in retail. I was grateful for the job, but I had to work weekends, late nights, I had to do whatever they said. So, when I moved back to Maine, I felt ready to do something slightly different. Two months after we got back, a friend of my mom’s had a space in Bar Harbor, but it was in the process of getting the roof repaired. I was told if we got into that space, they’d let us have it for three months before it shut down for repairs. So if someone told you you had two weeks to open a business—why not? Also, at the time I was reading the book, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously and was so inspired by it. These are the little breadcrumbs that happen, but until I looked back to all of the little steps I’d taken, it’s how I realized I got here.”
“Back in 2009, I had a great job, and a new husband,” said Nancy O’Brien, owner, FIORE Artisan Olive Oil and Vinegars. “We lived in Rhode Island. We didn’t live in Maine full time yet, but wanted to. After a few years of talking about it, I had the idea of opening an oil and vinegar shop, but I really didn’t have a plan. I happened upon an available space in Bar Harbor before I had a plan. I’m usually a black and white thinker and not much of a risk taker, but this time I went out on a limb. I signed a lease and filled a notebook with a million things to do.”
“I had student loans; I had no savings,” said Simons. “So, I just did it and I’m going to pretend it was just as easy as it sounds. I had to get to work immediately; I had to build a business plan, secure a loan and rely on my community to help me get through all that. Those first days of opening the bookshop, I was working six days a week, I was exhausting myself. I’m not saying I did it all by myself; I had the help of my husband and friends. I also had to learn how to delegate to my manager, and that was hard. It’s still something I’m learning to do.”
“When you’re given an opportunity, go with it,” said Ondra. ”Pick a [starting point]. Because you’re going to have 20,000 things to do before next Tuesday. I did end up having to move all of the items in my store in Bar Harbor from one side to the other three or four times because the roof kept leaking.”
“In 2009, it was during the onset of a big recession, when I was going around to bank to bank with my business plan, and was turned down several times,” said O’Brien. “This was a time when businesses were failing; banks were too big to fail and I was trying to open an oil and vinegar shop.”
“The down side is, you never stop putting out fires,” said Ondra. “And I used to think it was just the opening day fires, then it was the ‘we need more staff’ fires, but you have ask yourself: “Can I be okay with how far I’ve gotten past each obstacle?’ Because there will be 20 more things that need me tomorrow. It can sometimes overwhelm and burn out, but if those 20,000 things you have to do are connected to what you love, you can do it.”
“Even though I was turned down a couple of times, the banks said I had a really strong solid business plan,”said O’Brien. “They liked the concept; they just couldn’t fund it. Great You believe in me, but you’re not going to give me any money. But, I took every conversation apart from those bankers and I learned to alter my plan and knew what to say at the next bank. Persistence paid off and I found a local bank that believed in me and was willing to work with me.”
“The number one thing is to develop a business plan,” said moderator Diane Sturgeon and Deputy District Director for the US Small Business Administration's Maine District Office.
“My business plan was an outline on paper for me to show myself and my bankers what my vision was. And that plan has always helped me to look back and see what I intended to do, what I didn’t do and adjust the vision.
Midcoast Women continues their Collective Voices storytelling series this winter, highlighting women of different backgrounds, interests, ages and career paths. See more at https://www.midcoastwomen.org/
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org