Entrepreneurship is in my blood and yet I’m surprised at the many directions it has taken me during my life.
During my childhood my mother owned a home-based beauty salon in an inner city neighborhood of St. Louis, MO. I grew up watching her manage her business, serve her clients and make enough money to support me and my two sisters even after she and my father separated.
Because I loved school so much I always wanted to be a teacher, but a part of me was always drawn to having my own business as well.
In my mother’s beauty salon customers treated their appointments as visits, especially the widows or retirees. They would arrive hours early and spend time chatting with my mother and the other customers. Sometimes they would help my mother with chores by doing by folding clean laundry or by preparing meals in our kitchen.
My first business was running errands and selling things to these customers while they waited their turn in the beauty shop. Whatever I had learned to make in Girl Scouts or at the local YMCA craft classes would be my latest products: crocheted doilies, tea towels with embroidered edges, pot holders or slippers made from face towels.
From my early success at making money from selling handmade products to my mother’s customers, I learned several things that served me well.
• Be pleasant. People like to buy from people they like.
• Remember details about the customer. Their names, of course, but also what grades their children are in or what they bought last time.
• Even though customers may be personal friends, be professional when you’re transacting business.
• Keep your word. If you promise to do something, do it.
• Count money accurately. As a business woman it was very important to my mother that we count change back to customers correctly.
When I finished college I began my teaching career as planned. Even though I enjoyed teaching junior high English and reading, the entrepreneur spirit continued to burn inside me. As I worked with my students, I began to modify materials and techniques to suit my teaching style. The more I did this, the more the idea began to form to create a private instructional program. I didn’t want an entire school, but a specialized program that would focus on the skill that is the first big hurdle for students—reading.
By the time this idea of starting my own reading program was taking hold I had gotten married and begun my family. I felt that I wanted to learn more about the reading process before starting my own program so after 8 years of teaching I decided to leave my full-time teaching job and enter USC’s doctoral program in education with a specialization in reading instruction.
My first two children were 5 and 2 at the time, but my husband supported my goal so I proceeded. Managing two small children is a full time job under any circumstances, but doing so while attending graduate school is especially challenging. To add more excitement to our schedule, I had entered my oldest daughter in the Suzuki violin program at USC when she was 3. When I started the doctoral program I had to schedule my classes and study time around her lessons, practice time and recitals.
Along with the challenge of managing all our activities, we had to manage on less money as well. Remember we went from two salaries to one. With the children (I decided to have my third child during my doctoral years) and school as my main focus, however, we learned to live on a lot less and enjoy the many free activities that were available.
During these years I learned more things that served me well.
• With proper time management you can get all the important things done.
• There are many things we can live without.
• Little by little is the best way to reach big goals.
• Children learn best by watching what their parents do.
After I received my doctorate, I accept a university position in secondary education and started my private after school program. After 3 years of full-time teaching and one more child later, I left the university to run my tutoring program full time.
Morris-Brown Reading Academy became a popular tutoring program in Los Angeles during the late 80’s. We were soon offering not only reading instruction, but also math, test-preparation, adult literacy and graduate consultation.
When the program outgrew our small beginnings we bought a commercial building where we could have multiple classes and activities going at the same time. Parents could wait for their children if they wished in the comfortable waiting room.
During those years, I learned many more things that served me well.
• When you want something passionately and are willing to put your full energy into it, it will come into being.
• People love to help you achieve big goals. Good teachers and parents were attracted to my program.
• A press release with photo to the local newspaper is the least expensive and most effective way to promote local business. I would show up at local events and have my photo taken with visiting celebrities and politicians. They were always gracious enough to approve.
• Other businesses want to partner with you when you are successful.
After 8 years just as my tutoring program had reached my goals and run its course, my husband passed. I decided to go back to work for a school district. Let someone else handle the overhead, management, staffing and payroll I thought.
I accepted a position at Fullerton College and moved from Los Angeles to Orange County. You would think I would my entrepreneur spirit would have dimmed by now. But not so.
Shortly after relocating to a new job and new home, I began to seek another outlet for my entrepreneur spirit. This time I wanted a business that I could begin slowly and grow into a full time business that I would run when I retired.
After actively searching for a business that would be fun and profitable, while engaging my left and right brain, I discovered the gift basket business. I plunged in full speed ahead attending gift shows, subscribing to magazines, and networking with other gift basket designers. I finally had enough information to start my on business, Gift Baskets by Flora, in the early 90’s.
During my first few years in business I began to get requests for startup help from other business owners. As I helped other business owners, I began to be invited to speak at major gift tradeshows around the country. I eventually co-founded a network group of gift basket professionals and a number of websites and blog to encourage, motivate and inform gift retailers.
Just as I thought I had found the business endeavor I would continue throughout my retirement, another dream starting making its way to my consciousness. I wanted to help not just other business owners, but a wider group of people seeking happiness, fulfillment, successful careers and satisfying relationships.
Could it be that I was reinventing myself again?
Once the idea of helping people see how their choices lead to their destiny took hold, a new endeavor was born. I began a blog, www.ColorYourLifeHappy.com , to show people how to create the lives they want by making their own choices. As the blog grew and became popular it lead to a book, Coloring Your Life Happy, scheduled for a Fall 2008 release accompanied by a speaking tour.
As a child I could not have imagined I would be in this exact place in my career at this point of my life. But being here is no accident.
There is a saying that if you figure out “what” you want, God will figure out the “how.”
So how did I get here?
• Listened to my inner spirit
• Had courage to follow my dreams even when they didn’t make sense to anyone else
• Accepted that I didn’t need to know every detail of my journey in advance
• Took the baby steps that would make my dreams a reality
• Attracted people to me who could help me reach my goals
Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. is an author, coach, speaker, consultant and entrepreneur. She has impacted the lives of students, educators, business owners, leaders and many audiences during her 40+ year career. Her passion for encouraging people to make choices that shape their happiness lead her to create her blog, www.ColorYourLifeHappy.com