Confession time: When I started LocalShops1 back in August 2008, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
My entire career was spent as a journalist, and my job was to help create a quality product, with no concerns on how that product was financed or marketed.
The business side was a foreign concept to me, and I didn't care to learn much about it.
* * *
In my defense, when I started LocalShops1, I never set out to start a
business. I already had a job, a full-time one at that, as a copy editor and designer at the St. Pete Times. LocalShops1 was my creative outlet, my way to connect with the community.
I had been a big supporter of independent businesses for nearly a decade, and LocalShops1 was an extension of that life. I hoped to encourage other people to support local businesses by creating a place that made it easier for them to find them.
Other than marketing (which somehow came naturally to me), I ignored all other aspects of running a business. My mom tried to push Quick Books on me (at least three times). I pushed her away (all three times). A longtime friend offered to help me write a business plan (at least three times) and I scoffed at her (all three times).
* * *
And with all my efforts going toward the "product," rather than the "business," LocalShops1 started growing. We started gaining a huge social media following, winning awards (My favorite: Best Voice for Small Businesses!) and getting a ton of news coverage (Times! 10News! Bay News 9!). We were getting emails from shoppers asking to help their favorite struggling businesses and emails from businesses asking us to keep up what we were doing.
At the same time, LocalShops1 itself was a struggling business. I was still at the Times, so I was able to subsidize LocalShops1 with my personal savings and by maxing out my personal credit cards. But there was no business plan and really no sustainable operating model, and I started to worry that if I were to drop dead, LocalShops1 would die, too.
I didn't drop dead, obviously, but I did lose my job at the Times. And then it became suddenly clear that if LocalShops1 were to continue, I'd have to start taking it seriously.
* * *
With much support from my brother Mo Venouziou (now VP of LocalShops1) over the past year, LocalShops1 is now happily self-sustaining.
A couple of months ago we hired our first regional director (Billie Jo Grassinger Bell).
Shortly after that, I finally broke down and bought a filing cabinet.
* * *
Last week I enrolled in the St. Petersburg Chamber's Entrepreneurship Academy.
This is a 10-week course filled with, well, many things I despise: accounting, legal matters, and so on. But these are the foundations of running a business. And that goes for non-profits and freelancers, too. If what you do involves money or the potential of money (for you or for a cause, full-time or part-time), it is a business. And for it to be successful you need to have the right foundation.
I'll be blogging about the course -- and interviewing fellow classmates -- for the Chamber. If you are starting a business, or if you have been "winging it," like I had been, I encourage you to join me. (Extra incentive: free publicity when you get included in the blog!)
For more information on the Entrepreneurial Academy, contact Sean Kennedy,
the Chamber's Economic Development specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Are you leaving the corporate world to start your own business? Starting over after a layoff? We
want to hear your story! Please email us at email@example.com, and
include your story and contact info. We will try to include as many
stories as possible in future blogs.
Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects:
writing, editing, design or social media. She can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 727.637.5586