We're excited to bring a new series to the Business.com blog, where we conduct Q&As with people throughout the country who wanted to start a small business and have seen success in doing so. We ask them for their thoughts on how challenging it has been to start a company, and collect some tips and advice that could help you take that next important step in becoming a small business owner.
For the first of our series, we spoke with Joe Proulx, owner of Elite Backyard Rinks, located in Bedford, NH. Though Joe has been in business only a year, he used the questions from readers of his blog, Backyard-Hockey.com, to identify an eager local market for his services. Since his business is seasonal, he was able to jump on the opportunity right as the busy season began, and had an impressive first year. Now, with more time to plan and market before next winter, he's looking forward to many more successful seasons of business.
Tell us about your business.
We are a small, NH-based business that designs and installs backyard skating rinks, in addition to selling parts and supplies for DIY rink builders.
Why did you start this company?
I started blogging about backyard rinks several years ago, and while only 25% of my blog contained instructional, how-to-like posts, they received the most consistent traffic month after month. I realized that if people online needed help building rinks, then local people likely did as well. After reaching out to several other backyard rink companies (none of which were local to me), I decided to give a go at building rinks in my area.
What's your favorite thing about running your own business?
My favorite thing about running my own business is the satisfaction of knowing that my company is serving a need in my community. I am passionate about backyard rinks and how they bring families together during the winter months, and I take great joy in knowing that other families are able to experience this because of my company. The sincere appreciation my customers show is the barometer that tells me we're doing our job the right way.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in growing your company?
For me, it's twofold: not spending too much on advertising and marketing, and trying to grow the company without debt or a large financial investment. The issues go hand in hand. Before I started my company, I'd go to fairs, parades, and other places where lots of folks congregate and never think twice about the businesses who set up shop there. Now I see it [through] an entirely new lens, and everything seems like a great marketing opportunity. The challenge is really pinpointing my target audience and making sure my marketing efforts (and dollars) are spent wisely.
Likewise, as much as I want to grow my business, I need to balance that desire with a sound financial strategy. For my particular situation, being a parent of young children, I need to ensure that my business grows organically without unnecessary debt or financing. It may grow slower, but the security of having no debtors is worth it.
Of all the ways you're marketing your business, what has been most effective?
I've had success using a mixture of on-site advertising (for me, that means signs posted at local hockey rinks) and leveraging my high-traffic blog to funnel potential customers to my business website. Paid advertising, like AdWords and Facebook, hasn't been effective at all.
What mistakes have you made along the way?
Not saving up enough time off from my day job to handle the demand brought on by my business!
Final words of wisdom for anyone wondering how to get started?
Just do it! Analysis, research, surveys...these are all important things to do when starting a business. But nothing will replace action. Build a website, launch a product, list your services, and just get started!