Erica Walther Schlaefer founded Parenthood for Me in 2008 in Rochester, New York.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Parenthood for Me is a national 501 c(3) tax exempt non-profit. Our mission is to provide financial and emotional support to those building families through adoption or medical intervention.
How did you come up with your business idea?
My husband and I experienced infertility treatments and procedures for 4 years without a successful pregnancy. We spent $25,000 out of pocket because in vitro fertilization is not covered nearly all insurance carriers in New York. We are now proud adoptive parents of a 2 year old boy. We wanted to help make a difference in other people's lives who endure a similar struggle.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I also work for my father's real estate business as a realtor and office manager. This is the first business that I started on my own.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
YES. It was very effective for me because it allowed me to stay focused. There were so many things to take into consideration that I had to organize them into steps. Once the major steps were completed like filing for a tax id number, creating a Board of Directors, becoming a corporation and receiving our tax exempt status, there was an entire new list of things to conquer. Without a business plan I would have been extremely overwhelmed.
Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers …? Would you suggest others do the same?
I had a lot of help getting my non-profit off the ground. Thankfully I was able to get the services of a lawyer, accountant and web designer donated. Without them I would not have been able to become a full fledged non-profit as quickly. Whether for profit or not for profit, we all need help in some capacity. If you pay for advice from a professional such as an accountant or marketing consultant, you will most likely avoid costly mistakes and allow your business to be more successful in a shorter amount of time.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
Yes. Because we are non –profit everything needs to be done at no cost or very little cost. My blog is the greatest resource for the non-profit. It took me about four hours a day for roughly 7 months to get a steady and growing following, however. Facebook is a huge resource for word of mouth advertising. I created a page for the non-profit and it is all free.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Contacting people individually and trying to meet face to face. I have used the press as a way to market my business. Within the first 6 months we were written about in both of Rochester's newspapers, on a local TV show and featured in an on-line column about successful women in our area. I have shown my passion and people seem to connect with that. I am a writer and my ability and willingness to be open about my personal journey to parenthood has been essential in gaining respect from community members and people nationwide.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Do a lot of research, write a concise mission statement and find great volunteers and board members. And, be very passionate about the cause or you will never be successful.
Thank you for sharing your passion about entrepreneurship, Erica.