Deborah Webster is a Menominee entrepreneur who has been running her Keshena, WI based business, Little Horse Amusements Inc. since 1997. She is here today to talk about how she got her business started.
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Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
I rent out an inflatable Moon bounce for children ages 1-15 and also suma suits "Football Fatties " which are clothed in Farve (GBP) and Zhurick (Bears).
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I was working with the Menominee County Health and Human Services Department as a Economic Support Worker and I continue to have a full time job with the Menominee Indian Tribal Head Start/Early Head Start Program as a Family Service Manager. This is my first business and business varies from year to year as it is a seasonal business.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Do it when you are young and strong. Stay in shape and don't smoke, the inflatables are very heavy and you need to have help lifting them. Make sure you have the right equipment and time to spend with bookings and clean up of the equipment. IF you have to work a full time job have dependable help available to assist you.
How did you come up with your business idea?
My business is named after my son who was killed by a drunk driver in 1981 at the age of three. I wanted to have something available to keep the children busy and having fun. I saw a movie with inflatables so I checked into it and found where I could buy them.
I'm very sorry to hear about that. Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Yes I submitted a business plan that took me one year to gather information and data for.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers…? Would you suggest others do the same?
I only hired help for setting up and monitoring the rides. I have a small business so I did not need a bookkeeper or accountants or lawyers. I would however, suggest someone who is looking into purchasing inflatable rides to hire those people if they have no training or work experience in those field themselves. Especially if they are very serious about investing their time and money into this type of business. It can be quite profitable if you know how to market your business.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, ….
The Menominee Business Center Private Sector helped me get my business plan organized and put together as quickly as possible. . I am also the President of the Menominee Chamber of Commerce which was started back in 2001.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
Yes, I use my own home to work out of. You have all the benefits you want when you work out of your home and you can deny or accept a booking dependent on your schedule.
Have you hired additional staff? What is your greatest human resources challenge?
I have a friend who is younger than myself who assists me with my business. The greatest challenge is finding someone dependable. One who will be there when needed and knows exactly what to do.
Do you own a business with family members? What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?
No, I do not and I would not suggest family get into business with one another. There can be some bumping of heads and a lot of different ideas that could cause arguments. I prefer to be on my own.
For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?
My advice is to think very carefully about the future of the business before entering into it. Will they have the help they have now, will they be able to manage it on their own if need to, can they afford to keep up with the changing times and equipment for that type of business. There is so much out there to get into but you need to remember times are changing and so must you.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
Nothing of my business is needed to go green for. Except that I need to start carrying a garbage bag for the litter of other people.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Think hard and long about what type of business you want and get only what you need to get a good start – don't go for the gusto immediately.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
Relatives or Friends help me with my business.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
Yes, my business varies from year to year. Sometimes I can't keep up with demand and other times I have just enough time to get the bookings complete.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Advertise put out brochures and business cards where a lot of business is going on.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I did not expect to have this type of equipment be so heavy so that has been a problem for me as I age. I am 55 years old now and do not have the capability of lifting these on my own as I could when I was younger. I need the help of my relatives and friends. Other than that the business is good for this area as this is unique and rare and the children love it.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Yes, invested in more inflatables for that age group (1-18). They are the ones who enjoy it the most and need something like this to keep them happy and entertained even if it is for one day.
Once again, thank you for your time Ms. Webster. It's always interesting to see an entrepreneur make the best of a difficult situation.