Claudia Chambers Beach was sick, jobless and wondering how to pay the mortgage when someone knocked on her front door six years ago. It was the repo man.

But rather than taking something, the repossession agent left something with the Beach family: the impetus they needed to turn Beach’s jam-making hobby into a real business.

Today, Beach operates Country Girl Jam by Kayterra Farms in Durant. She overcame financial despair to develop a commercial food business serving Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the Cherokee Nation’s 20 travel plaza stores.

The Durant manufacturer has sold nearly $400,000 worth of handcrafted natural jam and pickles since 2018.

“I remember the day I sold $330 worth of jam for the first time,” she says. “I was over the moon. That meant we could pay the electric bill.”

Long before she ever thought about starting a business, Beach was building the foundation.

First, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree. Business icons like Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Bill Gates dropped out of college, but experts say degrees or classes such as marketing, entrepreneurship, business, accounting, management and writing can help aspiring business owners.

ad

After college, Beach held down supply chain management positions and continued perfecting her jams. Her business plan came long after the repo man showed up.

“First thing is to start thinking about your business plan and get some help, somebody to bounce your ideas off of,” says Larry Weatherford with the Oklahoma district of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “That doesn’t cost you a dime.”

Choctaw Nation Small Business Services helped Beach write her plan. The SBA, SCORE, National Minority Supplier Development Council and Emerging Young Entrepreneurs are also good resources.

The business plan should explain who will buy the product or service, and what’s so special about it. Obstacles and marketing plans need to go into the plan. Above all, the main question you need to answer is this: how will the business make money and grow?

“The most important part is the numbers,” says Weatherford. “What separates a business from a hobby is the ability to earn money.”

The SBA says entrepreneurs should be prepared to spend $2,000 to $5,000 to start a small business and set aside six months to two years of living expenses.

“You’ve got to be ready to be broke for two years and work 80 hours a week,” says Kevin Ducey, president of Whiteboard Mortgage CRM.

Funding is tough. Many lenders require six months to a year of revenue history to fund a business, according to Guidant Financial. Beach, who hasn’t taken a paycheck in three years, would like help with growing the business and has applied twice for a spot on the entrepreneurial-themed reality TV show Shark Tank.

“I don’t have quit in me,” she says. “You don’t fail until you quit trying.”

Such bulldog tendencies play well when entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to investors.

“We want to see entrepreneurs who have passion, drive and grit,” says Nathaniel Harding, managing partner of Cortado Ventures.

Unfortunately, he says, the Oklahoma City-based venture capital firm turns down about 95% of the break-through tech companies that seek funding. But Harding has some tips that might help improve the odds.

“Explain the problem now, and how you’re uniquely situated to solve it,” he says. He advises that entrepreneurs should detail their response to the massive market, offer a polished pitch deck and respond quickly to emails.

“Do not give the excuse that you can’t do anything until someone fully funds you. There is a lot you can start doing for cheap or free,” he says. “And that scrappiness and creativity is what early-stage investors look for.”

Tips for Entrepreneurs:

Build a network through comments and questions on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Bounce the concept around at local groups, like the rotary club, chamber of commerce, alumni association, sports groups and neighborhood associations. 

Ask potential customers for honest feedback.

Google “entrepreneurship resources.”

Market to investors interested in your business sector.

Expect raising capital to be hard.

Understand your industry.

Deliver more than expected.

Stick with it.

(Sources: Small Business Administration; Bruce Barringer – Oklahoma State University’s School of Entrepreneurship; Brad Rickelman – Meridian Technology Center for Business Development; Denise Parris – University of Oklahoma Price College of Business, Entrepreneur.com.)

Entrepreneur Must-Reads:

The Power of Broke –
Daymond John and Daniel Paisner

Crushing It! – Gary Vaynerchuk

Launching a Business,
The First 100 Days

Bruce Barringer

Tribes, We Need You to Lead Us – Seth Godin

Think and Grow Rich
Napoleon Hill

The Introvert’s Edge
Matthew Pollard

Radical Candor – Kim Scott

Feature photo courtesy Oklahoma Venture Forum