Marquette area women discuss business challenges
MARQUETTE — Starting your own business is challenging, no matter what your gender.
Several women entrepreneurs shared their experiences at a “Women in Entrepreneurship” event Thursday at Barrel+Beam in Marquette Township.
The event, sponsored by Innovate Marquette SmartZone, featured Beth Millner, owner of Beth Millner Jewelry; Sarah Ruuska, owner of Lutey’s Flower Shop; Carrie Pearson, children’s book author and consultant; and Michele Dupras, owner of Revisions Design Studio and Revival.
Starting out in early education at the University of Michigan, Pearson has made several career transitions to get where she is now.
“This part of my path seems to have combined all the things that I have done in the past — working with people, working on my own, sales, marketing, promotion, creativity,” Pearson said. “So, I’m really happy to be back in front of children.”
As with many fledgling business owners, Dupras acknowledged misgivings.
“The biggest challenge is just having the guts to get started,” said Dupras, who started out with only $500 in the bank.
Millner said how entrepreneurs approach those obstacles is key. “Rather than thinking of them as a struggle or a thing that you don’t like, it’s sort of looking at those challenges and sort of guiding into them instead of shying away from them,” she said.
She performs a lot of the design initially but lately has been involved in systems work. “Something that for me has been a lesson lately is that I’m not just a jeweler,” Millner said.
In high school, while working at her cousin’s coffee shop, she learned the importance of customer service, giving them the best possible experience they can have and treating customers as if guests in her home.
“I try to help them feel comfortable and at ease with their experience,” Millner said.
Entrepreneurs can work alone or have staff. Ruuska has a few people.
“The three of us all do everything together,” she said.
While Pearson doesn’t have any employees, she does have to manage a team of 15 volunteers.
“I think one of the challenges for me is figuring out how to keep people motivated,” Pearson said.
Finances, of course, have to be watched. Dupras said she wondered how she could make a living with art.
After helping her father with QuickBooks as a teen, she saw how deposits could be tempered by expenses. The lesson? “All that money that comes through your hands is not necessarily yours to keep,” Dupras said.
Entrepreneurs also face the issue of dealing with employees who aren’t working out. Ruuska said an employee once told her, “I just wasn’t raised to be nice to people.”
Millner had a few words of advice on the issue: Approach it with tact, and don’t gossip with other staff before a person is fired.
Then there’s the ongoing creative process — and avoiding online distractions.
“You’re not just going onto the site where the research is,” Pearson said. “You’re going to be all over the place if you’re not careful. So, many days I try not to even go there. I’ll turn on the computer because I have some writing on the computer. I’ll turn it on and won’t even open up the internet. Black hole. I’ll just be creative for ‘x’ amount of time that morning, and that heats my soul, because we all have to be creative.”