Second Chance Month Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Webinar Recap
In honor of Second Chance Month, GEO Reentry Connect invited Inmates to Entrepreneurs to teach our participants how to start a business. During this free two-hour webinar, participants heard from guest speakers Josh Nowack, Claudia Shivers, and Brandon Lowery as they shared their experiences about starting a business post-incarceration. Participants were engaged in the discussion and had many questions for our guest speakers.
After incarceration, Brandon started two businesses—a lawncare business and a successful car detailing business. He advised that when starting your business, do not be afraid to start small and simple. “If you think your business is simple, make it simpler,” he said. Many people who are starting a business think about how they want the business to look five years in the future, but the key is to start slow and take it one step at a time. With just $400 and a borrowed Honda Accord, Brandon created his second business, Royal Touch Mobile Detailing in 2016. Today, he has four employees and is adding new custom services such as car wraps and stereo systems.
Claudia also shared insight into how she started her business, Queen Coffee Bean. She reinforced that, at the beginning, you must be okay with not making a profit. She told us how in the early stages of her business she would attend church events and offer free coffee just to get her name and her business in front of potential customers. Similarly, Brandon shared that he would offer his neighbors lawn mowing services for free when he was beginning his business. Many times, his neighbors would tip him, but offering these goods and services for free, at first, gave his business the exposure he may not have had otherwise. When people tried Claudia’s coffee and engaged with her outgoing personality, she was able to win over loyal customers. The absolute best way to get new customers is through word-of-mouth. People trust the opinions of other people and are more likely to purchase a good or service when it is referred by someone they know.
Throughout the webinar, Claudia and Brandon stressed the importance of networking, whether with other individuals in the community or with other business owners in the industry. They emphasized that the greatest qualifier of a good business is the business owner themselves. People want to do business with people they trust and like supporting. When multiple companies are providing the exact same good or service, the key distinguisher is a personable and trustworthy business owner.
Josh owns a t-shirt printing shop in California and expressed how important passion is when you are starting a business. You should expect to put a lot of time and effort into the business, so it is important to be passionate about what you are doing. The good thing about being a business owner is that even if one business fails, you can use what you learn to start a new one, as the skills are transferrable.
Our guest speakers shared some additional tips to start your own business. First, there is no shame in keeping your day job while initiating the new business. While it may be tempting to quit a job you are unhappy with, the reliable income will help you fund your start-up business expenses. Another tip our speakers gave was to hire slowly and fire quickly. They suggested that if the workload and demand for your goods or service becomes overwhelming, the first step should be to increase your prices before hiring additional employees. If the demand does not balance out with the price increase, then it may be time to hire help. However, if the employees are not doing the work, then you must be able to let them go to lower overhead. Lastly, they suggested that when setting prices, do market research to see what the competition is charging and do not be the cheapest option as consumers will often perceive value in how you price your services or products. Not everybody has to be your customer, and that is okay. It is important to take pride in your work and charge what it is worth even if that means being the more expensive option.
The webinar concluded with a Q+A session where participants asked questions related to their current personal business endeavors. One participant was passionate about comedy and wanted to know how to turn that into a profitable business. Claudia suggested that he host comedy shows and sell tickets. Not only would he be able to earn money from ticket sales, but he would also be able to practice his comedy skills and get his name out there. “Being an entrepreneur is learning how to turn everything you touch into money,” said Claudia.
If you are interested in learning more from Inmates to Entrepreneurs, consider joining one of their free online courses.