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Finding My Place While Helping Our Youth Find Theirs: 7 Tips to Become A Successful Entrepreneur

Have you ever felt that in certain times of your life, no one truly knew who you were or you didn’t feel like you belonged, but then later in life something happens that makes you rethink things? That’s pretty much how I felt about my last few years of high school. I switched schools in the middle of my Sophomore year because I was done with the antics at my school, and after spending the first year and a half of high school at a Baptist Christian school that felt as though I had landed in the middle of the set of “Pleasantville” I was over it. When Spring Break came to an end and I refused to return to school, my parents dug deep in their pockets to send me to the all-girls Catholic school down the street from my house, Elizabeth Seton.

Here I was, a girl from 'around the way', starting class midyear with an entire high school full of girls who already had their clubs, groups, and cliques while all of my friends were in other schools. I am not one to insert myself into cliques or even network groups. It's the one reserved aspect of my extroverted personality. I found it easier to get a job after school and work than to try to fit in.

Along the way, I did build a close connection with a small group who made me feel like I was a teenager living my best life rather than being the independent adult I was trying so quickly to become. But, for the most part, I never felt like I knew anyone else or that they in turn knew me.

Fast forward thirty years. I was entrenched in my corporate life while hosting elaborately themed girlfriend parties several times a year for fun. I jumped at the opportunity to take the lead in producing my 30th high school reunion, along with one of my girlfriends from the group that 'adopted' me back in high school.

Needless to say, it never dawned on me that once I signed on to run the event everyone would know who I was. The night of the reunion, I was in complete event planner mode, and all that mattered to me was that the girls were having the time of their life during our Purple Rain/Prince-themed night while catching up with each other. Most of the time I forgot it was my reunion, too.

I say all this because you just never know when the past will make such an impact and a COME BACK into your present. Just last week, I was invited to come to speak to the 11th-grade students at Elizabeth Seton that are in a class on entrepreneurship. First of all, I was beyond honored to be asked, and secondly, I have always believed that “Success is when you reach back and help someone come forward”. In my corporate life, I would share my finance and accounting knowledge with my staff to help them climb the ladder and succeed, or to just better own the position they had. Here I was about to give these students advice and share my entrepreneurial journey - I could not have been more excited!

In my senior year, we had a “consumer living” class. This was the closest to 'real life' as it was going to get in 1987. This class taught us about budgeting for bills and groceries and the most important thing I remember learning was how to write a check. Now, look at where we are! We are teaching young ladies that they have choices, that they can follow their passions, and that they can own their own businesses.

The girls had just finished the chapter on entrepreneurial ethics and moving into creativity, innovation, and invention, which was the perfect time for me to share with them my journey and what I have learned while building Girlfriend Therapy in a Box.

As I started to talk, the girls just sat quietly, expressionless, and listened. I felt like I was a psychic and they were the skeptics trying to debunk my information. It was a bit disconcerting but I forged ahead anyway.

Here are the top 7 things I shared:

1. You have to have a fire burning in your soul. We become entrepreneurs because we become passionate to help fulfill a need. As they say on Shark Tank, “find a solution to a problem”. The more this need to fix a problem or create a solution builds a fire in your soul, it will be impossible to not give it attention and move you from the thought process to the strategy process. It will tell you, “You can do this”.

I spent many weekends at my beach condo listening to nature and waiting for the answer as to what to do next. At first, everyone said I should be an event planner. However, I knew that my passion was hosting the events that I designed from start to finish. It was never my passion to just offer myself as a service. I kept asking myself what am I doing when I am the happiest. I came to the conclusion that it was most definitely hosting parties for my girlfriends. Not just any party, but my parties had to have a theme, with theme décor, and sometimes even theme outfits.

They always included sparkling décor with photo backgrounds, because I just loved glitter. A DJ or an amazing playlist was a must to keep us on the dance floor, along with signature cocktails and small decadent bites, because we love to indulge in great food but we don’t want to feel overly full. The fun of tasting small bites is an experience in itself. And most importantly, we had time to connect over maybe a game, or fun conversations that would make us laugh. The night would end with a gift to commemorate the evening. We never wanted the night to end but the anticipation of the next event would make it easier to leave.

As time went on and I continued to hone in on what I wanted to offer, I realized that it wasn’t the right time yet to open a venue of my own. I knew I wanted everything I listed above, especially for those ladies that were going through hard times. Each time I hosted one of my parties, I was actually going through some of the hardest times of my life. The parties would rejuvenate my soul and let me know I wasn't alone.

While sitting at my desk one day, I wrote out the above things that I offered at these parties. We SPARKLED in the décor, we MOVED to the music, we INDULGED in the food and drinks, we LAUGHED until it hurt and we EXHALED as we left. Oh my goodness, there it is - SMILE!

2. As you dig deeper you will get closer to your niche. Your niche is what makes you unique and different than the rest. My SMILE method of girlfriend therapy is what became my brand and my trademark. There may be others doing what you want to do, but there is only one of YOU. And You are unique. You just need to let others see what that uniqueness is.

One other thing that became a problem for me, was never finding the right gifts for my girlfriends. When it was their birthdays, if they were sick, or going through a hard time, my go-to was Edible Arrangements. I mean who doesn’t love a great chocolate-dipped strawberry? Over time it just became so impersonal for me. I would shop and run around the mall but the time that took while juggling the rest of my life just added stress.

I knew I wasn’t ready to jump into a brick-and-mortar space, but what if I took the S.M.I.L.E. and turned them into themed gift boxes? Boxes full of curated items with a personal touch that people could easily order online. This sounded great to me but I didn't know anything about gift boxes. Subscription boxes were hot and I did have a background in the operation of memberships, so I knew there must be a way to learn. I found Subscription Box Bootcamp which was great because I didn't have the desire or time to start from scratch.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. There is always someone who has gone down the road before you. Maybe they don’t quite have your uniqueness or special touch, but someone out there has more than likely already built the foundation of what you need to learn. It saved me hours by taking this course, and even though I knew I wanted to produce a gift box and not a subscription, the foundation of the business was still the same.

Excitement sets in when you are so close, and when it finally hits you, you start burning the midnight oil without even knowing the sun went down. As you are developing your creation or service, you will learn all the ins and out’s of each part or process that needs to be done to get the finished product. This is when you start to look at numbers.

4. You have to become intimate with your numbers. There is no point in going into the business you want if you can’t make a profit. You don’t know what prices to set unless you know until you know exactly what your costs are and how much profit there should be. It becomes a process of documenting everything it takes to make your product or perform your service. Yes, there are many other operating and start-up costs, but you must learn, and know what your core cost of goods is. An Excel spreadsheet will be your best friend and if you don’t understand it, I promise you there is help out there.

The topic of numbers alone can start to paralyze even the greatest inventors out there. As an accountant, I could run a great business because I know and understand numbers - I just need something to sell. Meanwhile, inventors have something to sell but many have no clue about the business's financial side. P.S I no longer leave that a blanket statement - you need something to sell and a MARKETING PLAN (that’s in course 2).

5. Fear will take you out of the game. When we start to put it in our minds that we don’t know anything about XYZ we tend to let fear slip into our minds. For example, most Americans fear tax returns. I can’t tell you how many people tell me how they could never do it, and how smart I must be because I can do their tax returns. I am not doing anything on an average return that you couldn’t learn to do. There are plenty of tax laws and complicated returns but most Americans file a 1040 with a W2 and a few write-offs.

As an entrepreneur, this fear starts to creep in when you tell yourself I know nothing about that and you assume the degree of difficulty is beyond you. I promise you it isn’t and as others have said, ‘great things are on the other side of fear'. It happens to all of us, and it will continue to pop up. You just have to face it head-on and tell it to get out of your way.

When I started going to vendor shows and making purchases for my gift box, I had no idea what I was doing. The box was not launched yet but I needed products and had no idea how much I would need. Of course, you believe your product or service will take off the minute you make your first marketing post about it, so I thought I would need large quantities of products. This is where your excitement and belief in yourself can sometimes set you up for failure.

6. Failure makes us better. You can’t be scared to fail. I made a few start-up purchases that today I would say were a failure because I didn't fully understand my audience. Those mistakes cost money and I think that’s the part I could say was a fail versus a pass. But if I didn’t make those purchases I wouldn’t know my audience like I do today. It comes with building a business. We have always been told that practice makes you perfect. Well, nothing makes you perfect in business because the minute you might feel that way, your environment changes.

Shortly after I launched and all the boxes were perfectly put together with just the right themes I wanted to market, the pandemic hit. It was at that moment that I knew my environment just changed and so did this business. I had a call from a business friend who asked if I had a gift box for frontline workers who needed a break. I told her I would have it the next day. I went to work that night until it was done. Now today, I can whip up a new theme in a matter of hours.

7. Practice makes you better each time and that’s all that matters.

What I listed above and shared with the girls isn’t the recipe for a successful business venture, but it is the ingredients to become a successful entrepreneur. At the end of my talk, I still felt a bit like the mid-Sophomore year high school 'new girl' trying to find my place when to my surprise, they all began to clap and came up to talk with me, with sincere smiles and joy. Things had come full circle and I left my alma mater that day feeling grateful, thankful, and like I finally belonged.

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Gracie Johnson
Gracie Johnson
Nov 14, 2022

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