Following their passion: Local women follow their dreams of entrepreneurship
It might seem reckless to trade a steady job for the often unpredictable life of an entrepreneur. But for many women, following their passion is more important than a regular paycheck.
Resources for entrepreneurs
Center for Women: www.c4women.org, 763-7333
Charleston Local Development Corporation: charlestonldc.com, 724-3796 or 965-4089.
S.C. Small Business Development Center: www.smallbusinesscharleston.org, 740-6160 (North Charleston) or 953-6007 (at The Citadel)
S.C. Women’s Business Center: scwbc.net, 763-7333
Coastal SCORE: coastal.score.org, 727-4778
Passion is exactly what prompted Meghan Walker to rethink her successful career.
For the past six years, Walker has worked in Portland, Ore., and here in Charleston for pacemaker manufacturers. The paychecks are good, but Walker wanted more.
On March 15, she opened Pink Dot Beauty Bar on Meeting Street, the result of a seed planted many years earlier.
While working in Portland, Walker discovered a makeup boutique called Blush Beauty Bar across the street from one of the hospitals where she worked.
She was far from her hometown of Charleston, so Walker would frequent Blush, where she discovered new product lines and made friends with the women who worked there.
“It was more than a boutique for me,” Walker said of Blush. “It was a destination.”
When Walker returned to Charleston two years ago, she started shopping for the powder she’d been using and discovered it wasn’t available in Charleston or even in the state.
In fact, Walker said she found the beauty bar concept, which is prevalent on the West Coast, didn’t really exist on this side of the country.
“I was looking for an environment and a product offering,” she said. “I wanted a place like the one in Portland where I could be introduced to lines I’d never heard of and learn about them.”
The wheels started spinning and Walker wondered if she could bring a beauty bar to Charleston.
Over the past several months, Walker has been doing market research, surveys, securing funding and remodeling the downtown shop she’s renting, all while maintaining her full-time job with the pacemaker manufacturer.
She’s given her supervisors plenty of notice and anticipates making the leap to full-time business owner in August. It’s time to trade purses for passion.
“I work hard, make good money and use the money to go and buy a purse at the Kate Spade store and that purse brings me happiness,” Walker said. “What if happiness came directly from selling a pacemaker? It’s a good job, but I don’t thrive on selling a pacemaker. I do thrive on making women feel beautiful and capable.
“My paycheck was allowing me to buy things that were awesome, but now when I’m in the store, I really love being in the store and helping women feel good,” Walker added. “My perspective has changed.”
While rewarding, the experience has been anything but easy. It’s been months of very little sleep as Walker spent a year developing her business plan, taking classes and seminars and working with the Small Business Development Center to obtain an SBA loan. She used her 401(k) to secure her 2,400-square-foot retail space. All those Kate Spade purses have been sold to help pay for the business.
And she’s struggled to make the men in this process, such as bankers, understand the validity of her business idea.
“I think most men have very little concept of how robust this industry is,” Walker said.
Add to that the fact she’s 28 years old and doesn’t own a home, so she went to 10 banks trying to find one that would give her a loan without the collateral of a house.
“I’ve told so many young women as soon as you can, buy something,” Walker said. “Having that in your name will influence everything you can do.”
Walker’s struggles to secure financing and the fact that she’s been working nonstop at two jobs isn’t news to Christie MacConnell, director of the S.C. Women’s Business Center.
She counsels many women around the state who want to follow their passion and start a business. She helps them determine if a market exists for their business idea, develop a business plan and seek out funding.
Startups can’t get 100 percent financing, she said, so women need to have their own money to invest along with collateral, usually 25 percent equity and cash.
MacConnell also recommends women, if possible, keep their existing jobs while they do their research and write their business plan.
“It’s a great fall-back position,” she said. “And they’re going to have to be putting in those kinds of hours anyway. Welcome to the world of entrepreneurship and the 80-hour workweek.”
MacConnell worked closely with Laura Cannon and Julie Simuang over 18 months to develop a business plan for The Orange Spot Coffeehouse, which opened recently in North Charleston’s Park Circle. Cannon has kept her sales job at the Charleston City Paper, and Simuang continues to nanny in the evenings after the shop closes.
To develop the plan, the two women would meet in their off hours as they pursued a passion for creating a business that would build community, encourage creativity and foster relationships — all through a cup of coffee.
As young business owners, the two struggled to secure financing but eventually received help from the Charleston Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit that provides funding to small businesses.
Throughout the process, the two have asked a lot of questions, learned from other small-business owners and relied on each other.
“We had to have the confidence to know we can do this,” Cannon said.