Recently I was asked the question, “When did you know you were a woman entrepreneur?” I already shared on this blog about one of my earliest entrepreneurial ventures, “Pam’s Place.” And here’s where my entrepreneurial journey continued, in small ways.
We had a choice in our family regarding summer. You had to work and I found I was more excited creating opportunities. That summer at age 10, my 13-year old sister and I created “Hawley Camp.” It had 1, 2 and 3 week sessions where we had children age 3-6. Parents could sign up for one or all three sessions, and their children came from 9-1 or 2-5.
We had to create a program. We had arts and crafts where we painted, made bookmarks, and decorated picture frames with glitter. We played games such as toss the tennis ball through the hoolahoop and “Red Rover, Red Rover.” We dressed up as hobos and marched around our backyard in search of treasure. We had snack time and nap time. We played on the “Slip n’ Slide.”
We had to learn how to market. We created flyers and distributed them in our neighborhood on telephone poles, at the library and at church. We sent out the message word-of-mouth. We had quite a mix of known and new customers.
We had to learn how to budget. We were able to get deposits which secured the children in our program and allowed us to spend food for snacks in advance. We had to think of the costs for snacks every day, arts and crafts, goodie bags, games.
And we had to learn how to plan our day. How long was nap time? How long were the games? How long would they last on the “Slip n’ Slide?” I must say we also learned some valuable management lessons along the way when one child refused to play with us and began climbing the large, old, creaking walnut tree, which was off limits to them (but loved by my sister and me.) That’s management at a young age (and another story!)
From there I can see places where I continued to “intrapreneur,” or be an entrepreneur within an existing organization. In one of my first jobs out of school, I worked at a food service company in downtown L.A. serving Fortune 500 clients lunch in our restaurant. Yet we were losing money.
So I went out on the street to sell door by door a newly launched catering menu. In the process I gathered some of the top lawfirms, such as Latham and Watkins, to buy our catering services for lunches, client meetings, annual events and holiday parties. The point was to use our existing kitchen, leveraging our current facilities and expanding into catering services. Within 6 months our subsidiary was profitable.
I didn’t have any remarkable experience, I just knew I had a service, and I wanted to sell that service with integrity. I wanted to provide excellence in client relations, and I wanted the business I was working for to succeed. It was a daunting, humbling experience that kept me close to serving the client. I knew listening and caring for clients was the only way I might help the company succeed.