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Intro: Welcome to the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast with JP Stonestreet, episode #3.
JP: Today, I am happy to introduce Jennifer of Sugar District & Co. Jennifer and I have been friends for years and she has been baking me her delicious cookies and brownies for years and for years I have been trying to convince her to start selling them. Finally, about eight months ago, I succeeded in convincing Jennifer to start selling her cookies and brownies online through an online bakery. She does delivery in the Denver metro area. She also had some motivation from some outside sources of people she had given her delicious cookies and brownies too and they asked if they could start buying them. So, she finally took the plunge last summer and launched her online business. She has faced tremendous obstacles to get to this point and to launch her business. Her story is very inspirational and I honestly think that after you listen to her story, you are going to think “Wow, if Jennifer can do it, so can I” because she is one of those stories that is just really remarkable and her business has done really well too and she has done no advertising whatsoever. It’s complete guerilla marketing. She has contacted bloggers, she has been featured in the Denver Post, she has done events at Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie. She is on the books for an event at Madewell. She was featured in a very popular mom blog. She has delivered brownies and cookies to the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders and you name it, she has attempted or succeeded in doing it and it’s all through her guerilla marketing efforts, contacting people and just asking them if they would like to sample her cookies and brownies. So, Jennifer is a great story, a great person to learn from as far as how to start a business with very little budget and how to do it successfully. So, without further ado, here is Jennifer of Sugar District & Co. Hello Jennifer and welcome to the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast. How are you doing today?
Jennifer: Fine, good, thanks.
JP: Great, I am so happy to have you on my second interview, my third episode of my podcast with my second interview and you are going to talk today about the online business that you started, the online bakery and I am really excited to hear your thoughts on this and how you went about doing it and what you thought about the process. So, let’s go ahead and jump right on in. How long have you been in business Jennifer?
Jennifer: I have been in business for about 6 months.
JP: How is business going?
Jennifer: It’s going very well. It’s only word of mouth and I have had a great response.
JP: How are you getting your word of mouth?
Jennifer: I am a big fan of guerilla marketing.
JP: Explain that what you do, what kinds of guerilla marketing?
Jennifer: I make bags of samples and I take them into local businesses and check them out and find out what their needs are and that works really well.
JP: Great and so how do you follow up with them after you drop off a sample. Do they buy right then or what’s that process look like?
Jennifer: I ask them for their email address and if I can add them to my newsletter I ask so, pick up their business cards so their phone number is on there and that’s really simple to do because their business cards are usually right there on the front desk and then I follow up with them a couple of days later, I will give them a call or if they agreed to follow the newsletter, then I will send them a newsletter real quick.
JP: Okay and I understand you have had some success with some blogs talking about you. What are those?
Jennifer: I followed some blogs before I even launched this business. I decided to guerilla market them, so I asked them if I could mail them some samples and they both readily agreed and I mailed them off both a package of the cookies and brownies and within a few days of receiving them, they both posted it on their blog which drew a lot of response.
JP: Wow that’s hardcore. So basically you contacted people that you didn’t know, you just took a risk and contacted them hoping that they would respond to you.
Jennifer: Exactly. There was a lot of risk in it, it was expensive, but worth it.
JP: Yes, sometimes you have to do that, sometimes you just have to reach out to people who are further up the ladder as far as online traffic goes and ask them for help and a lot of people are really eager to help.
Jennifer: They are, especially if you have a business that you are passionate about, you have a personal story, other people get really involved in that, they want to help you as much as they can, especially other business owners. A lot of people don’t realize that blogs are businesses.
JP: Yes, that’s true. So, let’s talk about your story. What is your inspiration, why did you decide to start this business?
Jennifer: About three years ago while working one of my favorite jobs, I had a back to back concussion, I had two concussions within a 10-month period and I ended up with a traumatic brain injury and it took about three years to recover to a point what the doctors called the “new normal” and being the person that I am, I don’t sit still very well. A friend of mine told me that I should launch my dream bakery and I took his advice, that was you.
JP: Yes, who was that friend?
Jennifer: …and here I am.
JP: That’s great. So, you also have a culinary degree, right?
Jennifer: I do, I have a culinary degree from 2009 that I wanted to use, but I wasn’t sure how, you are not familiar with the culinary world, the starting pay is very low and it’s hard to get into that to the market and it’s long hours, we are talking 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., pretty brutal and as a single parent that just wasn’t going to work up.
JP: So, by basically by starting your own online business and baking cookies and brownies and selling them through website, you kind of get to set your own hours.
Jennifer: Exactly I do, which works really well if you have a disability like I do, I can block up certain days, I can limit the number of orders per day, gives me more flexibility.
JP: Yes, that’s one of the great things about owning an online business is that flexibility that you get. So, how much experience do you have specifically relating to doing an online bakery or just doing a bakery, how much experience did you have before you started?
Jennifer: Some people could say zero, I had the culinary degree and I baked for co-workers and family and friends just testing recipes, fine tuning everything, but as far as running the business, I have zero experience.
JP: So, how did you overcome that obstacle?
Jennifer: I have you as a great mentor and coach, that’s been priceless, but to be honest WordPress is fantastic for helping people run a business.
JP: I am sorry, did you say WordPress?
JP: Okay, we are having a little bit of a technical glitch, the Google Hangouts is sometimes a little glitchy and so some of your words cut out, but yes WordPress is an easy system to use and I teach people how to use it. Because of that non-technical business owners can use it and build their own websites and that’s exactly what you did, right? You built your own website.
Jennifer: I did using your tutorials.
JP: Well thank you, thanks for that plug, shameless plug. What was the most difficult challenge that you faced starting your business and launching your website and how did you overcome those challenges or that challenge?
Jennifer: I think the hardest challenge was knowing where to start. That was really difficulty because when you think about owning a business, it sounds like so much information, so many things that you have to do that I sort of felt like “Oh my gosh that would be equivalent of somebody throwing me into the deep end of the pool and I have no idea how to swim,” but using your tutorials, had the checklist right there that I was able to follow them so I knew that I had to get an LOC, check; I had to pick up a cell phone, so I could have a separate phone line, check, and I just followed those and that kept me on task and I knew exactly what I needed to do without feeling overwhelmed by the entire process.
JP: Well that’s great, I am glad that it helped you. I may pull that little segment out and use it as a testimonial on my sales page. I appreciate that. It took a lot of energy and work that I put into those tutorials and it is nice to know that they help people and it’s so amazing to see real legitimate businesses launch as a result of the work that I have done. It’s so rewarding for me to see that.
Jennifer: Thank you because honestly I would not have launched it otherwise. There was so much work that goes into it. It is not hard work. It’s just knowing where to go and what to do.
JP: Yes, that is the hardest part, it’s not really doing it, there is just a lot of little things that you have to do to start a business, but the real challenge really is knowing what to do. That’s the hardest part.
JP: So, what is your favorite aspect of owning your own business?
Jennifer: Well, I am a control freak, so that’s probably the best part is controlling everything right though, I really enjoy making my own time, my own hours, although I have to be honest, I do work about 60 hours sometimes, I am constantly working on this, and it’s really hard to turn it off.
JP: Yes, what do you, you are not baking all that time, are you?
Jennifer: No, I will work on my website, I will create a newsletter, I will do marketing research, I will do some guerilla marketing. I spend a lot of time on the internet researching new business ideas or new ways to reach customers.
JP: Yes all of that takes a lot of time. The marketing takes as much time as anything else as much as creating your product or offering your service, marketing takes about the same amount of time if you are doing it right.
Jennifer: It does, it does take a lot of time.
JP: Starting your business isn’t free obviously, so where did you get your seed capital to start your business?
Jennifer: Gosh are we supposed to talk about that?
JP: You can just say did it come from your personal savings or credit cards, did somebody gave you a loan? Where did it come from?
Jennifer: My seed money came from my personal saving.
JP: Yes, personal savings, that’s where most businesses start. I meet a lot of people who say they need startup capital. They need to get an angel investor or somebody to loan money and a lot of times that’s just really not possible with the web startup. People don’t loan money to web startups especially if you don’t have a proven website meaning it’s not live and you are not generating cash flow and also if you have never done a startup before, those are two nails in your coffin if you want to go for startup funding. So, what I tell most people is try and figure out how to get the website built and generating some cash flow and then start worrying about getting funding or getting a loan.
Jennifer: Right, when you have a proven business model.
JP: Yes, so tell me how did you get your first five customers? I know who your first customer was.
Jennifer: Youwere my first customer.
JP: Yes, we were on the phone. You told me my website is live and while you were talking, I was ordering and I ordered my first batch of delicious triple chocolate chunk cookies, my favorite. So, I know who your first customer was, what about the other four, how did you get the other four?
Jennifer: They were followed through some guerilla marketing that I did through the Denver Post. I sent the Denver Post an email, their food writer, I targeted a food writer, I copied a link, sort of article that he had written recently about a cookie bakery and I said “Wow you did a really great job with this article.” I have started a new business, told him a little tiny bit about it that I love to bring some samples by and he responded immediately that “Oh this is fantastic; I love organic cookies and brownies and love to try these.” So, I met with him, we spent about 20 minutes chatting and he wrote a little paragraph in Denver Post about me a week later.
JP: Wow that’s amazing.
Jennifer: Yes, it generated a pretty big following. A lot of people respect the Denver Post’s opinion about food.
JP: Wow, that’s really cool. So, what do you think was the key to that email because I am sure he gets a lot of emails, the food critic for a major newspaper probably gets a lot of emails, so how did your stand out, what did you do to make it stand out?
Jennifer: I have to give Brad credit, Brad DeGraw. He told me when I contact somebody to include a comment about a previous article they have written to show that you are actually reading their work and I did that and I think that’s what he appreciated.
JP: That’s great advice. It does show that you are interested and you are not just looking for something from them that you appreciate what they are doing and legitimately so I am not saying that you should be fake about it, if you read somebody’s blog and you can’t find anything that you like about it then I would question whether or not you should be contacting them in the first place, but don’t just try and find something just to show that you are interested, find something that’s really relevant and that you thought was good, I think that’s great advice. Brad has tons of great marketing advice like that.
Jennifer: Yes, I believe that’s what opened the door for the Denver Post for me.
JP: Besides me of course, do you have a partner or mentor or coach or someone that helps you think through your decisions?
Jennifer: I do, I just partnered with the score.org through the SBA and it’s a free organization, you are a mentor there.
Jennifer: They hooked me up with a gentleman named Mike who is going to mentor me on my new non-profit project.
JP: Let’s talk about that, what is your new non-profit project?
Jennifer: It’s called the Fiona Project and it’s going to give grants to people with traumatic brain injury to pursue athletic goals. Going to start out with very small grants, but as our funding grows then the grants will hopefully grow as well. It will give people the financial ability to have a gym membership, may be some new athletic clothes, may be a piece of equipment to play in their home because they can’t necessarily go to the gym, but I believe that was fundamental in my ability to heal to where I am now, was my desire and determination to continue working now.
JP: Yes, I know that you are pretty fanatical about that sometimes, pressuring me trying to get me to do it more, which I should and I am getting pressured from all angles. I am working out. So, you learned something new yesterday about doing a non-profit. I meet a lot of people and a lot of people want to give back and that’s a really good thing about entrepreneurs is that we all do want to get back, we are not just in this for the money or the fame or the fortune or whatever, a lot of us have social, we care about social issues and we want to give back and I meet a lot of people who want to do, a portion or their proceeds goes to a charity or some sort of a charitable organization. So, you learned something new yesterday and shared it with me that even I wasn’t totally aware of. So, why don’t you share that about non-profits?
Jennifer: What I learned through Mike, my score counselor, that your non-profit has to be 100% separate from your profitable business. So, even though my business Sugar District & Co. will give proceeds to the Fiona Project, The Fiona Project has to be its own entity, has to have an LOC, its own bank account, its own post office box, its own phone number. It’s an entirely separate business so to speak.
JP: Well, I didn’t realize that before. I thought you could just donate your funds to a charity or whatever, I guess if you want to have your own charitable organization that’s when you need the 501c3.
Jennifer: Right, that’s what I have to apply for.
JP: Okay, but if I want to just donate my proceeds to someone else’s non-profit then I don’t need a non-profit of my own, is that correct?
Jennifer: That’s correct.
JP: Okay, that’s a good distinction to understand because a lot of the people I counsel they just want to donate a portion of their proceeds to somebody else’s charitable organization that usually is related. It’s best if it’s somehow meaningful to your business or you or related in some way to your business, but it’s always a good thing to give back.
Jennifer: Exactly and that was one of the main reasons I launched my company was to eventually begin with Fiona Project.
JP: Yes and so you could help other people because it’s a challenge and we have been friends a long time and I have known you before your injury and after and I have seen you go through all of the rehab and everything to come out of the other side of that and it’s great to see you so blossoming and flourishing so much, especially with your new business, you got to stop making me brownies though, I am going to really have to start working out because I think I am full of brownies at this point.
Jennifer: I will have to force you to exercise more.
JP: I know, you have to put those brownies on a treadmill.
Jennifer: That’s a really good idea.
JP: I have to run so far before I get a brownie or something to that effect.
Jennifer: It’s a new business model, we should consider that.
JP: Yes, it’s a good business idea “Run for Brownies.”
JP: So, Jennifer if you had to do it all over again, would you do it, would you start your own business?
Jennifer: I would, I definitely would. I think about that sometimes I wouldn’t have been able to start my business if I hadn’t had the brain injury which took me down this new path of my life.
JP: Yes, because you still have a job.
Jennifer: Exactly, a job that I loved and [inaudible] but now I am very thankful to own my own business, it’s extremely empowering and just that the new people that I meet everyday and the new paths that I take in this Fiona Project, now I love it, I would absolutely do this again in the heart.
JP: Would you do anything differently?
Jennifer: That’s a good question. I think I wouldn’t have spent so much time over thinking it, more doing and less thinking.
JP: That is a common problem that some entrepreneurs have, it’s called “analysis paralysis” and not every entrepreneur has that, like Brad. I don’t think Brad has analysis paralysis. Brad is just a doer. For him, it’s idea-action. Those are the two steps, idea-action. You and I are different than that. We think differently. For us, it’s idea-analysis-action and the problem with that approach is that sometimes we get bogged down in analysis and then we never take action.
Jennifer: Exactly, we sort of get stuck in this loop.
JP: Yes, the recurring loop. Yes, that’s a developer’s nightmare, recurring loops they kill computer systems and it also kills business ideas.
Jennifer: Yes, that’s the one thing I would advice anyone else doing this, don’t ever think it, just do.
JP: Yes, in my book I have a section called “Ready, Fire, Aim” and the whole premise there is that figure out what you are going to do and then do it and then adjust and adapt as you go along because if you spend too much time aiming then you are likely never to fire and it’s different, that’s a different philosophy than what most people are used to. Most people are used to “Ready, Aim, Fire,” you prepare then you aim, you pick your direction, you do all of your analysis and then you fire, but sometimes as an entrepreneur you have to trust your gut and you just have to go for it and then adjust and adapt, that’s the nice thing about being an startup and an entrepreneur is that you can adapt quickly, you are not a massive corporation like, you are not the Titanic, you can change directions very quickly as an entrepreneur unlike large corporations which is why they let us entrepreneurs do our startups and then they buy us.
Jennifer: Right, exactly.
JP: Exactly, we are figuring out what works, what doesn’t work, what sells, what doesn’t sell and then they buy us. They buy revenue streams is what they do. So, we are almost done here. What last piece of advice or what’s the most important piece of advice that you can give to people who want to start their own business?
Jennifer: I think the most important thing I found is that owning your own business is like riding a rollercoaster. So, there are highs and lows. You feel sometimes like you are climbing up that first hill and it’s so exciting and then oh my gosh it’s so scary and I think for myself there are days where I think “Oh this is the most ridiculous idea I have ever had” and then there are days where I feel this is fantastic and that fantastic feeling is always undermined, but there are some really scary moments for you, you really start to question if you have made the right decision and I think the best advice I could give someone is to stick with it, persevere and don’t give up, never give up, just stay determined and then follow through.
JP: Yes, I think that’s great advice and you are right, starting your own business is a rollercoaster ride, you get your idea and you are all excited about it and then you start the process of launching it and you have some ups and down along the way, but those are kind of smaller, but then once you launch it, especially a website, any kind of an online business, I remember the day that you launched your website, you were so excited and then on day two you were depressed because you hadn’t had any sales on your first day of business and I said what did you do to tell people your site was live and I think your answer was nothing. That’s when the guerilla marketing really kicked in because I said you can’t be upset if nobody knows your website is live. A lot of people do that, they launch their website and they are expecting it to be like inundated with traffic on the first day that it’s live and when it’s not then they get all depressed and are like “Oh why did I do this, why did I spend so much of my time and money, nobody likes it” when really is just nobody knows about it and so you have to spend all of your energy and a lot of your money on marketing and word of mouth, advertising and you tell all of your friends about it and you do whatever you can to drive traffic there. If you built it, nobody is going to come unless you drive them there.
Jennifer: Right exactly and that’s the thing, you build this great website and you have a fantastic product that you know is wonderful and you think well I built it, now they will come and it doesn’t work that way, it’s not a baseball field.
Jennifer: You have to get the word out there and that’s a very challenging aspect of it.
JP: It is, it’s the most challenging aspect. I just wrote a blog post about that topic yesterday about why online businesses fail and how you can avoid that and how you can be successful and the number one reason is lack of traffic, you build it and nobody comes and that’s the number one reason online businesses fail and there are all kinds of things that go into why businesses fail, but that’s the number one reason an online business fails is because they don’t have any traffic and if there is no traffic, there is no revenue and it’s not as easy as it used to be to drive traffic. When we launched QuoteCatcher we bought pay-per-click advertising on Google. That doesn’t work as well as it used to because there is some much competition, the clicks are a lot more expensive, Google has changed their ranking algorithm for ad so that you don’t have a lot of control over where your ads show up especially if you have a small budget. If you have a small budget, there is a good chance your ads may never show up, so it’s a different world out there, now it’s really more about guerilla marketing, this is the age of guerilla marketing and luckily it’s easy to do because of the web, you have social media, you can go read people’s blogs, contact people. It’s easier to find people to guerilla market now, but that’s the real way to get people on your website is to go out and lead then there.
Jennifer: It is, that’s how I did a fashion show recently for Anthropologie, the major women’s fashion chain here in the US and I was in there shopping and they mentioned that they are going to have a fashion show, they are going to go to whole foods and buy some snacks and I said, “Oh my goodness, I can make some great organic cookies and brownies for your event and we can decorate the table and it will be so much fun” and right then and there I guerilla marketed myself and they ended up having me do the cookies and brownies for their event and from there I was hired to do another fashion show for a separate company called Madewell, it’s a sister company for J. Crew. Getting out there and talking to people, you just never know who is going to be a customer.
JP: That’s an important piece of information you just shared there Jennifer is that it’s not all done behind the keyboard. A lot of people would rather just sit behind their keyboard and their computer screen and try and do all of their guerilla marketing from there and sometimes there is no substitute for getting out there in the real world and talking to people and shaking hands and getting referrals as the other thing too is that you got a referral without even asking for it because the person at Madewell they went to the fashion show, that’s right, correct?
JP: So, they went to the fashion show, they saw your display, they loved your brownies and so, you got a referral by doing an event that was a result of guerilla marketing. So, if you hadn’t gone into that store that day, if you hadn’t have talked to the woman, she hadn’t brought it up and if you hadn’t followed up and said, “Wow, you know, I can do that,” if you would have just said, “Oh that’s great to know” and walked out of the store, then wouldn’t have that experience and you wouldn’t have this experience.
Jennifer: Right, exactly, but it’s just really about putting yourself up there.
JP: It is and that means sometimes actually getting out there, not physically, not virtually.
JP: Yes, sometimes there is no substitute for shaking hands with people. That’s great advice Jennifer. I have really been impressed to see how you have taken the bull by the horns with your business because you are somewhat of an introvert, you are not exactly the type of person that likes to put yourself out there and you and I both know that and I think that’s great inspiration for other people who may be think “Oh I just don’t know if I have it in me.” I think you are fantastic inspiration for people because you have overcome the obstacle with your injury, you are an introvert and yet you are putting yourself out there, you are talking to people. Jennifer you are a great example and I think that a lot of people can learn from you and be motivated and inspired by you.
Jennifer: Wow, thank you.
JP: You are welcome.
Jennifer: It really is one of those situations where I can say “If I can do it so can you” because if people knew the obstacles that I deal with on a daily basis, just to have this conversation is challenging to find the right words.
JP: I know, I am sure you are self-conscious about it, but you do great at that. I remember that pretty soon after your injury you did chose the wrong words occasionally and it was occasionally funny even though you were able to laugh at it and thankfully because sometimes it was funny the words that would come out, they were just wrong, but you don’t really do that as much anymore and I am thankful for that that you have figured out how to live with this and adapt to the “new now” as your doctor said.
Jennifer: Well, I have a lot of speech therapy and lot of physical therapy and occupational therapy and you learn this little tricks to sort of mask it and I have become a really good masker.
JP: Well you are doing a good job because I don’t think most people would notice now.
Jennifer: No, I don’t think they would, they would just think I am really quirky.
JP: Yes, well you’ve always been quirky. Well, Jennifer this has been a great interview for my second interview. I am so excited that you are able to do it because I do really love your story and you did some shameless plugs for my services as well which I appreciate, but you are a very inspirational story and I hope people listen to this and think to themselves “Well you know what if Jennifer can do it, I can do it” and that is my whole goal with the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast is to share the experiences of some of the smart and energized entrepreneurs that I know and hopes of motivating other people to follow in their footsteps.
Jennifer: Well I think you are well on your way.
JP: Well thank you Jennifer.
Jennifer: You motivated me.
JP: Thank you Jennifer. Thanks for joining me on my Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast.
Jennifer: Thank you.
JP: I will talk to you soon.
Jennifer: Okay, bye-bye.
JP: See, I told you that was an inspirational story. If you would like to check out Jennifer’s website, it’s sdand.co that’s sdand.co. I will put the link on my website as well. The links to any of the other things that we mentioned or talked about in this Podcast will also be in the show notes in the podcast section of the website at JPStonestreet.com. Thanks for listening all the way to the end of the third episode of the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast. Hopefully, you learned something new today and got some new ideas for your own business. If you did, please go to the website JPStonestreet.com and put some comments in the show note section. I would love to hear from you and I promise that I will respond. Until next time, I am JP Stonestreet with the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast.