Welcome to my week-long women's series. It's no secret that one issue that I'm passionate about is female empowerment. I used to answer a domestic violence hotline, coach cheerleading, lead a girls technology club in my local middle school, and met with a monthly girls book club. I'm currently on the board of our county's domestic violence program and doing some writing for the Maine Women's Fund. My point is it's certainly been a common thread in my life no matter where I am or what I'm doing.
So this week, it's about the ladies, and of course money (as usual). Enjoy!
Leslie Harlow is a local business owner in Ellsworth Maine. She not only owns the coffee shop The Maine Grind but also has a thriving website and blog called It's A Maine Thing. As a businesswoman and great person, I asked her a few questions.
Full disclosure: Leslie is one of my Internet PR clients.
Please summarize the idea of your online business in a few sentences.
I have lived in Maine my entire life where I have been captivated by it’s mystique, people and the landscape. Recognizing that many other people who either live here or live outside of the state have the same feelings I thought that an ecommerce web site, my services and keeping my audience in touch through my blog would be a good business idea. I did not model after anyone else’s site as this type of lifestyle marketing is fairly new.
What or who inspired you to start your own business?
I have always been self-employed and run my own businesses here in Maine since 1976. For 16 years (1990-2006) I was involved in the start-up and eventual success of Sullivan Harbor Farm Smokehouse in Sullivan where I ran the enterprise, along with a B&B, with my live-in male partner. After building a new building for the business in 2005 I ended my relationship with him. I attempted to work with him, but the situation fell apart over time. Do to the technical nature our financial relationship I was forced out of the business by him. Maine does not have Common Law in regards to protecting partners in longterm relationships so after I left I had to figure out what I was going to do. A crummy settlement was not going to provide me with the financial foundation that I expected to have by this point in my life (I am 54). Family and friends were very supportive and encouraged me to act on my creative side, but also recognized that my entrepreneurial spirit was still intact. Hence the hatching of my web site.
How did you bring the idea of It's A Maine Thing from business plan to thriving enterprise? Perseverance. Reached out to smart, experienced people. Understood from the get go that mistakes will be made. Parked my ego at the door.
In what way(s) has your business turned out differently then what you are expecting?
Building a web site and management of an e commerce site takes a lot of time which I was not expecting. Initially I figured that it would take a few weeks, maybe a month, to build a site. Boy, was I mistaken! I am a hands-on person who was used to instant results so the tedium and detail work that e commerce requires has been a challenge for me. Frankly, I do not enjoy that aspect to my business.
What was one unexpected challenge you had, and how did you overcome it?
Fear. A year ago I developed an idea to begin a blog that would keep my audience up to date with happenings, musings and personal escapes that I encountered around the State of Maine.. I was certain that I could not write, but as time has marched on I have discovered that I can write well, I have fun doing it and am rewarded because people actually read my blogs.
What have been the most popular online items? Sea Bag Sail Bags, Klean Kanteen water bottles, art work
If someone was interested in starting their own business like yours, what advice would you give them?Breath deep. Eat well. Accept that you will be sitting on your seat for hours on end working through problems. Recognize that you will spend A LOT more money than you expect getting it started. Sign up with a reputable outfit to handle your credit cards. Hire a pro…not friends who “can create a web site”. Hire an experienced web site builder, preferably someone young who has had FORMAL training. Take good pictures or hire someone who can do it for you. Be friendly to your customers. Don’t be afraid of your own ideas, not matter how outlandish they may seem. Personalize your site. Wear lipstick when having one on one meetings. It’s all in the details. (I am finally at a juncture with my site where I have to begin listening to my own advice…).
What question do you wish I would have asked? Feel free to write it down and answer it!
Do you have employees? I did have a part-time staff person for 5 months who helped manage my site, but she left for a full time job. I did not hire a replacement which forced me to learn new skills…a good thing. Currently I have a person who helps me on occasion with my blogs and I use the services of my web master from time to time. I could use a very part time person to help me handle the technical details of my site like changing pictures, adding products, etc.
Photos: Leslie, the "Maine Girl" at the helm, and the best selling sail bag