Darline Turner-Lee founded Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond in 2009 in Austin, Texas.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Mamas on Bedrest & Beyond provides support services locally to high risk pregnant women on prescribed bed rest. Services include transport to and from OB visits, errands, grocery shopping, light house keeping, supervised modified exercises and massages.
To serve women locally and nationally, I am organizing online activities such as "learn to knit", How to start your own business and others so that women on bed rest can have some mental stimulation, amusement and pass the time.
I am also planning virtual support groups for pregnant women on prescribed bed rest to begin in the fall of 2010. This will give women a chance to interact with other women on bed rest, to actually hear their voices, and to share experiences and to support one another.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I had a complicated road to motherhood with 4 conceptions, 2 miscarriages, surgery to remove fibroid tumors and two (successful) high risk pregnancies. With each pregnancy I was advised that I may have to go on bed rest to avoid preterm labor and/or complications. This would have been very difficult because my husband and I are on our own here in Texas and our families live on the east coast. With my first pregnancy we had just gotten married and I did not have a support network to help me if I was confined. Our parents were still working and would not have been able to come and stay with me for the 2, 3 or 4 months that I may have been confined.
When I was advised that I may need bed rest during my second pregnancy, the scenario was complicated by the fact that I had a 3 ½ year old at home with me and my husband was traveling extensively for business. I tried calling a home health agency to see if I could get adult daycare and was told that it was only for seniors, mostly those with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Thankfully I did not need bed rest for either pregnancy, but I realized that I couldn't possibly be the only woman who was pregnant and possibly confined on bed rest with no support. So after I had my son I decided to provide the services that I had needed when I was pregnant. I also offer the services to new moms because many women have difficult birth and may not be able to care for themselves or their families immediately post partum (i.e. after a cesarean section). We are there to keep the family and household running when moms are down.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before this, I had a small, part time business called Next Step Fitness, Inc., through which I offered personal fitness training and health and wellness education (via seminars, workshops and freelance health care articles) to women from maternity through menopause. I am a nationally certified physician assistant with a Master of Health Science degree, an American College of Sports Medicine Clinical Exercise Specialist and a certified perinatal fitness instructor.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
I did write a business plan and it has been a useful tool. Although the order in which I had intended to implement services and grow the business has flip flopped, the business plan gives me a "map" to refer back to and to make sure that I am still on path towards my goals.
It's very easy to deviate and take on other projects. Having a business plan I can refer back to it regularly, I am less likely to deviate away from my original intentions. Also, if I see that I have missed a step or find myself stuck on a goal, I then know that I need help in that area and look for assistance. If you don't have a plan, you may forget to do vital steps and potentially harm your business or at the very least omit a possible income stream.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
At a minimum you need a bookkeeper, Accountant and a lawyer on retainer. You won't need to consult with them daily, but in the beginning, they will make sure that you establish your business properly and legally, that you are in compliance with state and federal tax laws and let you know how your cash flow is going. A good start is essential to avoid costly and potentially lethal (i.e. close your business down) disasters down the road.
What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, …
I currently have a SCORE counselor, but in the past I worked intermittently with a business coach and I am currently working with an internet marketing coach.
I think it's important to work with a mentor of some sort. They keep you accountable, make sure that you are doing what you need to do and they keep you from making whopper mistakes. I wish that I had worked with a mentor more consistently when I started out in my first business. I think it would have prevented me from making more than a few bad decisions.
I also find that having a mentor/coach propels you forward faster. Many people avoid this thinking that a mentor or coach is too expensive. First, if you find someone in your field who will mentor or coach you, even if they charge, if they are well versed in the field, it will likely be worth the money. Also, check around for SCORE offices as well as Small Business Development Centers. They give great advice and support and are free.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish that I had had the guts to strike out in the niche that I wanted to do from the start. Initially I had wanted to work only with pregnant women but I was advised by many well meaning people to remain broad, not to limit myself, and to take on anyone who needed me. I think that I was so broad that I was not really effective.
Now I work with a very narrow niche demographic, high risk pregnant women on prescribed bed rest and new moms. It's a niche that I know very well-professionally and personally. I can tailor my services to the specific needs of the women and it's such a narrow field that I am able to have a great impact. There are hoards of personal fitness trainers in Austin, many women's health professionals and a boatload of freelance writers. And even though there is a large doula community, no one is specifically working with high risk pregnant women or providing that services that I do as I do.
I stand out, people are starting to know and remember me and this gives me a unique edge in the market.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Know your local market and figure out how you are going to draw your clientele. I don't think I did this well in the beginning and I have been slow to ramp up. As for the online offerings, work with an internet marketing expert. It makes things so much easier and you avoid a lot of hassles because they guide you as you grow your business.
Thanks for the advice, Dalene. Good luck with your business and your family.