how my business began | part 3 | now I’m an entrepreneur…

Marian Parsonsmy business story, Running a Business36 Comments

As far as degrees go, I probably have one of the most useless degrees when it comes to preparation for the business world.

I have a degree in Musical Theatre.

My class schedule sort of looked like Fame.  I went from tap to private voice lessons to costume design to acting.  My backpack was filled with ballet shoes, leg warmers, scripts and a music binder.

When I decided on that degree, it was not because I wanted to prepare myself for starting a business.  It was because I loved theatre and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

When I started my business, it wasn’t because I thought I had the right credentials, background or degree or even a solid plan.  It was because I felt compelled to.  I needed to.  (Try explaining all of this to a guy in a suit when you need to get liability insurance!)

So I didn’t have very much going for me, it would seem, but I had hope and people who believed in me.

That doesn’t look very impressive on a list of assets.

But it was enough.

So, I had made the decision.  I had the name picked out and registered.  I had my EIN, web domain and sales tax license. I had the business card and the website.

I was now a business owner.

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Since this was a decorative painting and mural business, I started painting.  I painted everything I could paint.  Furniture, odds and ends from thrift stores and I went crazy in my house.  Some days, I would paint a mural and then paint over it by the end of the day.

You can see the flourishes I painted on the wall in my dining room in the photo below…

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People are never going to hire me or even hear about me, if I’m only painting my house.  I had to gain some experience with clients for my portfolio and references, so I put the word out in our church and a family hired to me to paint a historic, folk art-style mural in their 1700’s home (that was also a Civil War hospital!)

Here’s what it looked like before…

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…and after…

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I loved that mural.  Still do, really.  The house above the fireplace is how their house looked in the 1800’s and the covered bridge was a favorite family spot.  The other buildings are famous barns in Gettysburg…the McPherson and Codori barns.

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Let me tell you what.  I knew how to dress to impress a client.

Now, I had to go beyond friends and family.  I actually met with a rep from the phone book about placing an ad (that was out of my budget).  I put lettering on my van (that is still there!)  I printed up 500 post cards with the intention of handing them out…door to door, if necessary.  It was slow going and seemed too hard to get things off the ground.

Again, my mom stepped in.  She gave me some money to purchase about 120 raw wooden ornaments, so I could paint and sell them at a craft fair.

I spent hours, hunched over my kitchen counter, ornaments in various stages of doneness spread out on brown paper, brush in hand, babies at my ankles.

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Each one was unique, entirely painted by hand, sealed with a satin polyurethane and finished off with a coordinating ribbon.

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I stayed up most nights until two or three AM working on them.  I painted ornaments when dinner was on the stove.  Every five minutes I could steal away went to those ornaments.

I signed up for a local Christmas craft show in an elementary school, hoping to sell some ornaments and meet some potential clients for murals and decorative painting.

I set up my table with a pretty linen tablecloth, mini tree with lights and a spread of my ornaments that I was selling for $4.00 each.  Don’t even say it.  I know my average hourly rate was probably about $1.50.

I was excited the day of the fair, though.  I was hoping and praying I would sell them all and it would be a huge victory.  I could then sign up for more craft fairs and paint more ornaments and I would have a clear direction.

I quickly realized that “craft fair” didn’t mean that the vendors actually crafted something.  I was wedged between two vendors pushing their mass-produced “crafts” that recently arrived from China.  I did sell some ornaments, but only enough to just break even.  The entire experience was a disappointment and felt like a huge failure.  I put the ornaments out of sight and licked my wounds.

Enter mom.  Again.

She came to visit for Christmas and insisted that we take the ornaments around to local shops to see if anyone would sell them on consignment.  Or even just buy them outright.

We packed the boys in the car and I wore my best jeans and hoodie.  I was ready.

We went from store to store I would slink in, pull a few ornaments out of a brown paper bag, accept rejection and then move on to the next store.  The truth is, I wasn’t in love with these ornaments and I didn’t feel like they were a good representation of my style.  I was really just doing it, so my mom would leave me alone about it.

We then came to the last store on the main drag of downtown Gettysburg.  It was called “Accessories” and there were mostly purses and jewelry in the window.  “I don’t know if it’s even worth going in there, mom.”  She pulled the you’ll never know if you don’t try argument, so I sighed and went in.

I went through the motions.  Introduced myself to the shop owner and showed her my ornaments.

“Oh, I think they are cute.  It’s a little close to Christmas, but let’s put them out and see what happens.”

I was stunned.

“I have more in the car.”  I ran out to get them, shaking.  My mom was in the car, keeping my two boys entertained.  I think the two year old ate six lollipops that afternoon.

I sat on the floor in the shop and priced the ornaments with tags the owner provided.  I was so overwhelmed, I forgot her name twice.  I babbled about how I could do painted furniture and a mural in the “baby room” in the back of the store.  She nodded and expressed an openness to all of my ideas.  I signed a consignment agreement with her at a 70/30 split and left my ornaments to see if anyone would buy them.

The ornaments weren’t a runaway seller and I did end up taking most of them home with me after Christmas, but it gave me just the leg-up I needed.  Those ornaments weren’t much in and of themselves, but they gave me something to work on and something to sell.

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I said in the beginning that my degree was pretty useless, but in hindsight, it only seems that way.

You see, one of the classes I had to take between Modern Dance and Set Building was a little nugget called Audition Techniques.  In that class, I learned how to manage and market myself as a product.  It was a class intended to prepare me to work successfully in the entertainment industry, but at the heart of it, it was a class on how to run a business.

It was time to realize that I had a lot more going for me than I acknowledged.

It was time to dig deep and find that girl who would walk into auditions confidently and belt out a song.

It was time to find my style and put a plan together to sell it.

It was time for me to start acting like an entrepreneur.

Little did I know, that cold December day when I spread those silly wooden ornaments out on the floor of that woman’s store, that I had walked into the perfect place at the perfect time.

And I was on the edge of discovering the thing that would be the hallmark of my business –

Painted furniture…

part 4 | finding my niche

how my business began | part 3 | now I’m an entrepreneur…

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36 Comments on “how my business began | part 3 | now I’m an entrepreneur…”

  1. Marian, I love these stories. Your current work product, sponsors, blog and photography make it seem as though your success has been effortless. Faith, hard work and determination are what I gain from your inspiring stories. God bless and thank you.

  2. Marian-I love this story! Obviously your Mom was attuned to the universe and knew there was more out there for you to discover! I just love it when family & loved ones push us to succeed. Yeah for you & your Mom. (And your Dad, husband, brother, etc.)

  3. Love that you have a degree in musical theatre! My undergrad is just about as useful for what I do now – Forestry Conservation! I did go back and get an MBA in Marketing, but I never worked a day in Forestry in my life. I don’t regret it though. It was a really fun degree to get. I’m loving following your story!

  4. WOW, just love these little insights into your early career. It gives me faith that with perseverance and a little nudge here and there anything is possible. Well done for being so brave and vulnerable x

  5. I love the fact that your Mom had such confidence in your abilities and pushed you even when you were not quite sure of yourself yet. However, had it not been for that musical theatre degree and knowing how to apply those auditioning skills to promote yourself you might not have had the success you have today.

    After high school my son attended a auto body trade school and one part of the program included welding which he loved. After he finished school he went and worked in a auto body shop for a short time. His heart just wasn’t in it and he knew then it was actually welding he wanted to do instead. Today, he has a welding fabrication shop and loves his work. Sometimes, it just one element of something broader that helps you find your niche.

  6. Love Love Love!

    Stir the dinner …paint a draw…throw the washing in
    …paint the other draw..give the kids some biscuits so I can buy a few more minutes to paint the last draw

    And the 3am nights ..wooden signs spread all over the dining table trying to get a few more prepared for the craft show on the same morning..

    Strolling around windsor shops with a huge bag of my hand painted wooden signs ..being rejected ..then finally!

    I can relate so much it pulls my heart strings!

    Can’t wait for the next chapter ?

  7. Oh, geez! What a cliffhanger! I can so relate to this…I started my first business by making air freshener dolls. Oy! I didn’t love them, but they sold…and on and on I went!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing, Marian. Like always, I enjoy reading about how you got started. It was also so encouraging to read about how you were at the right place at the right time. I think that’s half of the praying and waiting process. It’s also encouraging to know that you didn’t have a degree in business, but you were able to start. Keep the stories coming – they’re my favorites!

  9. Love hearing these stories about your beginnings! It’s an encouragement to all of us to never give up on our dreams!

  10. Thank you for your inspiration! I had a mom just like the one you describe who would always gently encourage me to pursue my dreams. Making those dreams a reality is the scariest part but the only way to grow.

  11. i love your story!!! and can’t wait to hear more! yes, it reminds me of the shoestring i started my business on 15 years ago! thanks for taking the time to share it all, and i can’t wait to hear more! – karen

  12. You left me hanging! It was like I was watching a great television show and just when things were getting good………….it’s over. I will stay tuned for the next episode on the same Bat Channel, same Bat Time. (Old Batman reference) I Love This!!! Thank You for sharing!

  13. Thank you, Marian. Your story gives me courage to not minimize my skills and training and to not give up on dreams. I bet everyone who has gone on to success has some stories like these where they got so discouraged they could have just sat down and quit. But, remembering the struggles makes the good days that much sweeter, doesn’t it?

  14. Gosh, this segment ends like a real “cliff-hanger”! I can’t wait to hear what happens next! Plus, you can sing and dance! You are amazing, Marian. Not to mention courageous and resourceful.

  15. Your opening statement hit my button. I’m a retired theater professor, dept. chair, costume designer. I printed a brochure for our students about skills they were acquiring as a theater major so they could convince their parents they were preparing for “real jobs”. Many employers value theater majors training because it develops the skills needed in today’s world. Our job as teachers was to MAKE THEM REALIZE the skills they were learning and teach them those skills.
    The skills you learned as a theater major were:
    1. Oral Communication Skills
    2. Creative Problem Solving Abilities
    3. More than “get it done” – get it done RIGHT
    4. Motivation and Commitment
    5. Willingness to Work Cooperatively
    6. The Ability to Work Independently
    7. Time-budgeting Skills (WHEN THE CURTAIN GOES UP THE JOB MUST BE DONE)
    8. Initiative
    9. Promptness and Respect for Deadlines
    10. Acceptance of Rules
    11. The Ability to Learn Quickly, Correctly and knowing how to listen
    12. Respect for Colleagues
    13. Respect for authority
    14. Adaptability and Flexibility
    15. The Ability to Work Under Pressure
    16. A Healthy Self-Image
    17. Acceptance of Disappointment– And Ability to Bounce Back
    18. Self-Discipline
    19. A Goal-Oriented Approach to Work
    20. Concentration
    21. Dedication
    22. A Willingness to Accept Responsibility
    23. Leadership Skills
    24. Self-Confidence
    25. Enjoyment — “This is Fun!” I told my students “I get paid to play”

    Marian, I’m glad to see that you realized you actually did learn valuable skills as a theater major. Thank you for listening to my vent. This is a favorite topic of mine, educating people on the value of their theater education. No other major offers all of these skills which can lead to employment in many areas, not just theater.

    1. Marian…I would frame this…..what a wonderful insight to a career path you didn’t go down, but what experience it has created for you now! karan

  16. What an inspiring story! Just what I need to hear, at just the right time. It’s nerve-wracking starting a business, especially as your putting your interests and loves out on display for all to see.

    You have definitely made me want to carry on with my new venture and go for it!

    thanks
    http://www.homemadebyhail.blogspot.com

  17. Seriously, Marian, your story is a script for musical theatre! Attractive girl has hard times, overcomes obstacles and makes it in the big time. Ready for the showstopping number at the end of Act 3!

  18. I first hear this part of your story during the Creatively Made Business course and I love it still. It gives hope for the rest of us. 🙂 Keep being a blessing.

    Lisa

  19. Wow. We share some similarities. I too went to school for theatre. I was heading in the direction of costume design, although I didn’t complete my degree. I trained as a ballet dancer all my life. I even danced in a modern company here in Pittsburgh for a few years. I am a portrait artist (my mom and my grandmother were amazing portrait artists. It’s in the blood you could say). I’ve done a few murals here and there. Even though I could probably make a business out of mural work, I’ve never been passionate about it. I move my furniture in our rental house on a daily basis. It truly is an Olympic sport! I analyze and move everything around dozens of times before I figure out the right setup. And then a week later I change it. My sweet husband always comes home to a changed living room. Every time I ask him to move something, he does with no argument at all – even the piano for Heavens sake! I’m sure I could make a career out of moving people’s furniture around for them!

    All that said, I’m still trying to figure out how to use all that desire and bit of talent just as you did. It’s refreshing to read about the evolution of your business and what the journey was like for you as a very creative person and Mama. I can relate. Thank you for sharing!

  20. We own a marina and one of our very trusted employees had a degree in theatre as well.
    Guess what he is doing? His dream was to grow mushroom on a commercial basis and he
    is doing well. We miss him. lol

  21. I love each new chapter. Pure honesty because it is a lot of work and time and closed doors only waiting for the right one to open…please continue…

  22. Every time I’m feeling lost getting my own business going you provide an inspirational story that keeps me motivated and I’m reminded that it’s a marathon not a sprint. Thank you – Vicki

  23. Oh dear that was painful to read! Cringe worthy going into those stores on cold calls. You may not have felt it at the time, but you were so brave and your mom, oh my! That took courage too. Pushing your child past failure to success. So hard! I hope you kept at least one of those ornaments as a milestone. Awesome series and love the suspense! Thanks for inspiring once again!!

  24. I love that story. My daughter was often asked why she would pursue a dance degree and how that would help her. As SusanIrene said, there are multiple positives in getting an education in performing arts. When a coworker of my husband’s made some pretty unflattering remarks to my daughter’s face after asking her what her college major was, my husband said to him (a lawyer) “Try arguing a case in front of a judge and jury wearing a leotard and tights and standing on your tiptoes. You will see it’s not so easy.” Needless to say, it shut him up. My daughter graduated with a BFA and is in a completely different field, using all the skills that her 18 years of dance taught her. And she’s a rousing success (but not as a lawyer).

  25. Marian,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love your stories and you have inspired me and so many woman I have met along the way who restore furniture. I read your story of how Miss Mustard Seed began and my eyes fill with tears. This entry specifically has brought so much emotion because it sounds like what I have been doing, just asking friends from church if I can decorate their house so I can have a portfolio. People love my work but getting my name past my church family has been quite a challenge. I finally got a client that I never met and I was jumping in the air in excitement. It’s those little moments, those little victories that help you keep on keeping on.

    Aniah’s Window started because I had a heart to help the needs of orphans in Uganda. Every piece I sell I am able to give more generously towards their needs. A social enterprise & God placed it in my heart to give a portion of my bottom line with every sale I make. I felt early on to give faithfully with even the smallest of sales. Everytime I’m able to give it brings me so much joy. However it started 4 year ago when I feel upon your blog and I admired your work and thought to myself “I wish I could do that”, then my husband challenged me and said, “then why don’t you?” I made excuses I don’t have the paint or brush. My husband got rid of my excuses with the tools I needed and here I am 4 years later painting away. Thank you for inspire me and so many others!

    You honestly feel like an old friend to me already:) xoxo

    Lymari

  26. Hello Marian!

    Your story was amazing and I totally laughed at the part of your 2 year old eating 6 lollipops. It happens. I got chills from your story and I’m so thankful that you followed your heart and although it wasn’t clear at first, it became clear later on.

    Thank you for sharing.

  27. Love this but where is part 2. I just started reading this and I can relate but I’m missing the most crucial one 😉

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