Sarah Menzies, a barista at the Coffee Tree in downtown Loveland, greets customers Friday, April 28, in the locally owned coffee shop.
By shelley widhalm
Opening a small business and taking on the entrepreneur mindset seems easy at first. Just do what you’re good at and clients or customers will rush to grab your business card (just because you’re that good!)
That’s what I thought in my worker mindset when I had tasks scheduled from clock-in to clock-out. I figured I could build it (open up shop), and they would come, overwhelming me with too many assignments to fit in the day.
I brought to my business 15-plus years of writing and editing experience working for newspapers, even nationally known ones. I took a marketing class in college. I checked out “Starting a Business for Dummies” from the library. And I became a client of the Loveland Business Development Center. That was enough, right?
National Small Business Week
As I talked with other business owners, I realized my struggles of establishing a business, getting the clients or customers and earning a living from what I do all by myself (without an employer) is a difficult enterprise.
National Small Business Week, #SmallBusinessWeek, is an annual event hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration to recognize the contributions of entrepreneurs and small business owners, and this year it’s April 30 to May 6. The event celebrates the fact more than half of Americans either own or work for a small business.
I interviewed small business owners and entrepreneurs in my hometown of Loveland, Colo., to find out what’s challenging and exciting about starting and growing a business.
Candy and Coffee
Kim Rak and her husband, Rick, opened Skimmeez Sweet Shop, in April 2015 in downtown Loveland at 526 N. Cleveland Ave. in what they saw as the perfect location in the perfectly sized building for a candy shop. They offer candy, homemade chocolate, ice cream and soda.
The challenge the Raks face is growing their business enough to merit hiring a part-time staff person but not yet reaching that point, leaving them in a chicken-and-egg situation, as Kim Rak describes it.
“I’m there all the time,” she said. “It’s a balancing act to grow fast enough to make enough money to pay a part-time person to continue your growth.”
Michael Thrash, co-owner of the Coffee Tree, with his wife, Heidi, has seen their business grow from a coffee cart to a thriving 90-seat downtown coffee shop at 210 E. Fourth St. in downtown Loveland. The Thrashes opened the Coffee Tree in June 2006 in the former Anthology Book Co., also on Fourth Street, and moved to their current location in June 2012 and now operate with a staff of 15 to 20.
“It’s a learning process,” Michael Thrash said. “You get so many curveballs when you own a business, you can’t be prepared for everything. Learning to pace ourselves with the learning curve has been the hardest part. … No matter how much experience you have, there will always be something that surprises you.”
Clothing and Jewelry
Rabbask Designs, at 243 E. Fourth St. is another downtown Loveland business that has seen significant growth since its opening in October 2013. Jacki Marsh, owner of the retail store, started off selling her jewelry and displaying one rack of clothing and one shelf of purses. She now sells clothing, jewelry and art from 100 artists.
“We’re pretty eclectic and diverse,” Marsh said. “We have art to wear and art for the home. … Beyond that, we’re a gathering place.”
Marsh’s biggest challenge has been seeing consumer confidence decline in the past year as a result of the political climate and customers slowing down in their spending. She also finds it a challenge to manage having a personal life with keeping her business open six days a week, she said, adding that she has one full-time and three part-time staff members to help out.
“When you own your own business, there’s not a lot of downtime,” Marsh said.
Art and Coaching
Harrison Hand, owner of Purmea Press Ltd., self-published his book “Skylar Tortuga,” in December 2015 and is at work on his second book.
“The challenge of being a business owner is knowing that you have to juggle multiple things. You have to do things you don’t necessarily love when you can’t hire employees,” Hand said.
Hand pointed out other challenges of gaining access to capital, growing a customer base and becoming sustainable.
“There are a lot of market forces and uncertainties to deal with that make it harder for small businesses to navigate through,” Hand said.
Franklin Taggart, owner of Franklin Taggert Coaching & Consulting, in Loveland, works with independent creatives, including artists, musicians, filmmakers and authors, to help them build sustainable business models based on their creative pursuits. He started his business in 1996 to support his music career and now focuses more on consulting with the result that playing fewer gigs makes them more enjoyable for him.
Taggart sees his biggest challenges as finding customers, doing the administrative work and not being able to rely on a support staff, he said.
“That’s one of my biggest challenges is having a constant stream of people,” he said, adding that his biggest excitements are seeing more ways for creatives to make a living and seeing the growth of downtown. “It’s hard to not get excited about that.”