Business Owners Share Passion & Advice, Class Offered for Ferndale Entrepreneurs
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 11, 2017)
Ferndale, MI – Maria Petrenko of Hadrout knows what it is like to believe passionately in dreams that are against the odds. She came to the United States from Russia in 1999, with English as her second language. And she started her own advertising business six years ago in spite of a climate full of large advertising agencies and many new startups. Working from home she built her client base bit by bit, and now does work for other entrepreneurs, businesses of all size and even municipalities.
When asked what advice she would give to would-be entrepreneurs, her response was a thoughtful one. “Don’t do it,” she said.
She would tell people that because “You’re either going to do it or you’re not. With entrepreneurs there is this need, an inability not to do this anymore…If you come to me and say ‘I want to open a beauty salon, what’s your advice. And I say that’s a terrible idea, don’t open a beauty salon, if you’re an entrepreneur and that is your passion, you’re going to do it anyway.”
That kind of passion is what leads many small business owners to take big risks, work long hours, and deal with endless challenges just so they can see their own creations succeed. Often they do this with little or no support, areas where they lack experience, and amongst friends and family who cast caution or doubts upon their dreams.
But the powers that be in Ferndale recognize the value of this entrepreneurial spirit and are working hard to create an environment where small businesses can succeed.
On Dec. 6 the City of Ferndale and several community partners – including the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce, Oakland County Michigan Works, the Downtown Development Authority and Oakland County One Stop Business Center – announced a partnership with Build Institute by hosting a networking event and entrepreneur panel discussion at the Rust Belt Market.
The panel was hosted by Ursla Adams of SheHive, and featured Greg Doyle of Oakland County, Juliana Perry who is Vice President of Relationship Management at 5/3 Bank, Emily Murray of Modern Natural Baby and Jessie James of Drought Juice.
Build Institute is an 8-week business and project planning class designed for aspiring and established entrepreneurs looking to open or have a business in Ferndale. The course covers essential business basics such as licensing, business plan, market research and financial literacy. And it gives participants a chance to learn and grow with others in a similar position as they are – from entrepreneurs who have been there too.
Mayor Pro Tem Melanie Piana learned about Build Institute’s efforts in Detroit a couple of years ago, and wanted to bring them to Ferndale. “This is part of economic development for the City,” she said. “And even though the City of Ferndale is a local government, not a business, we have that entrepreneurial spirit too, we’re doing innovative things to make Ferndale attractive to people that want to live, work, and play in our city.”
The panel touched on many issues entrepreneurs face, including the main question of how to make it.
Modern Natural Baby started as an online store created by a couple that wanted to sell cloth diapers. Emily and her husband John Murray then grew to farmers markets and events, before deciding to open a store of their own. Their first store focused on diapers, but they’ve since grown to a story with natural baby and children items such as toys, strollers, clothing, dishes, cleaning products, cribs and more.
When asked at what point she knew they were going to “make it,” Murray said “There was never a time I didn’t thing we couldn’t make it. Not to be vain, but failure was just not an option.”
Jessie James had a similar disposition when she and her sisters started Draught. “We thought of ourselves as millionaires from the start,” she said. “I was working just to make it off my parents couch, but I always kept thinking of ‘when we make it,’ we’ll have a nice car, or travel or do this or that.’ We’re not there, but we have fun and we dream big.”
For Hadrout’s founder Petrenko, there was a definite moment of hope. She’d been working from home and a woman called her with a small business selling wine. “This woman did not know me, but she came to my house and brought a $700 check because she wanted to work with me. And I was so touched. I thought, if she can believe in me, I can believe in myself.”
Murray advised that people continuously reinvest the money that comes in back into the business. “We didn’t pay ourselves for five years,” she said. “But we grew the business and now it supports our family and our employees.” She also recommended making sure that employees are well trained, knowledgeable about the products and that there are clear expectations for them.
“There is not one easy road to starting a business and becoming like Steve Jobs,” Petrenko advised. “It takes a tremendous amount of patience and determination.” She balances the hard work with a spirit of giving back by being involved with Habitat for Humanity, as well as with meditation. “Self-care is important,” she said.
Another helpful thing has been getting to know other business owners. Networking with the Ferndale Chamber and being involved in the community did not just get her clients, but got her emotional support and a network of people to ask advice from.
“Everyone in Ferndale is very approachable, and I love the Chamber coffee connections and after five events,” she said.
Another aspect of business-building is not just the constant challenges, but the constant failures as well. “Every week is a failure. You just kind of have to get used to it, and learn that the best things come out of failures,” said James. She talked about how her first store had people coming into to the location where they pressed the juice and pre-ordering a rather costly product without even being able to see it. “No fridge full of bottles, nothing,” she said. “We were so idealistic, and we learned along the way. We always were changing and doing this better. But it’s always a process.” The key, she explained, was not letting the failures get you down, but seeing them as a part of progress.
Adams added, “I don’t call it failing, I call it data-collection.”
Oakland County One Stop Director Greg Doyle talked about the free and low-cost services offered by Oakland County for small business owners, and he nailed down the biggest problem.
“The thing about entrepreneurs is that they just don’t ask for help. Help is out there. And when I talk to successful entrepreneurs, on thing they do is they ask for help. All the time. They’re always looking to learn all they can from other people. And when businesses get to that point where they see the value in asking for help, that’s when we see them really start to take off.”
The Build Institute’s Basics class runs Jan. 10 through Feb. 28 at the Rust Belt Market. Sign up online at www.buildinstitute.org/ferndale.
For more on Oakland County One Stop, check out this article on resources for entrepreneurs, as well as their website https://www.oakgov.com/advantageoakland/business/OneStopShop/Pages/default.aspx