You have to have passion.
Passion is what kept Jill Fecteau going when businesses waved away her offer of stainless steel straws to replace the one-use, plastic straws they were giving customers. It was 2018, before the public and retailers embraced reusable straws as a better alternative to one-use straws. It was frustrating, but Fecteau kept going because her travels in Tanzania, Thailand, Sierra Leone, Mexico and elsewhere had shown her the impact of plastic trash. Here in the United States it is often hidden, Fecteau says, but in her travels she saw plastic trash everywhere. It clogged streams and roadsides - soda bottles, water bottles, chips bags. Back home in Saratoga Springs, she started a campaign, "Earth's Last Straw," to convert plastic straw users to reusable straws. She was working two jobs at the same time, when she decided it was too exhausting - her passion for the planet had to be priority number one, and to do that, she had to make a living selling reusable materials.
In 2019 Fecteau launched Earth Sunflower and added cotton shopping bags, makeup rounds and handmade bamboo cutlery to her product line. All products are made by artists in India and Indonesia under fair trade practices.
Fecteau is still working other jobs on the side to pay her bills, but in addition to selling products directly to customers through her website, she has 20 wholesale clients, including Healthy Living Market in Wilton and Fort Orange General Store in Albany. She promotes her mission through speaking engagements and a podcast, Sincerely, Earth.
"What matters most to me is I wake up and I love what I'm doing," Fecteau says.
While building her business, Fecteau turned to SCORE, a government-funded, volunteer staffed nonprofit that helps small businesses get off the ground. Rita Cox is among the local volunteers. Cox has been in the marketing business for 30 years and in 2017 went into business for herself with the launch of Cox Marketing Solutions. Passion is important, Cox says, but so too, is planning.
"Figure out who your market is - who is going to pay you to do what you do," Cox says. "Understand who your competitors will be and what makes you different. Start with Google and do all the research you can do to learn who you are competing against."
Next, know your strengths and weaknesses. Cox went out on her own because after 13 years with the Saratoga Casino Hotel, she wasn't excited by any of the job opportunities available to her. It was never her intention to start an agency. Instead, she wanted to work as an inside marketing director for her clients to help their businesses grow. When she first started, she set a goal: to do well enough to hire a bookkeeper, a task she didn't want to do.
"Managing a business is a challenge. You may know how to run a restaurant, but not know how to do accounting or manage a staff. Look at all the areas and decide which of those do I need to pay for and which can I do on my own. Decide where your time is most valuable," Cox says.
Research will also help you decide what price to put on your services.
"At the beginning, you need to understand how much you need to make to maintain your lifestyle and do the math to find out where the money is going to come in from. You also need to know what your competitors charge so you know where to set your prices. It's common for people to undervalue themselves. It's scary to sell yourself and what you do, it's easy to undervalue yourself," Cox says.
Also important: ask for help. Cox went to people she knew who worked in related industries and sought out mentors. There is free help all over the place, she said: SCORE, the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region offers classes and local chambers of commerce have resources on hand.