Building a Business Out of Adversity

© 2000 by Priscilla Y. Huff 

We all go through hard times in our lives, and we can either curl up in a little ball and hide away somewhere or we can turn and face the current storm to try to come to terms with the crisis, learn from it and hopefully move on with our lives. While none of us wants or looks forward to bad times in our personal and/or business lives, sometimes an unexpected turn for the worse forces us into ventures that we never dreamed we would be doing. Here are four such examples of entrepreneurs prevailing over adversity:

1. Sally Silagy of Woodland, Colorado, started Gardening Greetings, a unique home-based business specializing in greeting cards that introduced the delightful "Garden Lady," after the loss of her youngest son (age 15) in 1995. "In order for me to survive this 'ultimate tragedy' I was desperately in search of a purpose for my life...being a bereaved parent somehow shifts you into a different class in society and the feeling of not fitting in anywhere was overwhelming," says Silagy. "I felt the difference and knew I needed to be involved in a work-at-home career. Not only was a home business a necessity, but the desire to immerse myself in something I would enjoy was vital!"

2. Eunice Lawson invented the Seat Belt Buddy, an emergency and medical identification device worn on a seat belt, which she sells in her business, Universal Medical Emergency Devices (UMED). "The idea to begin an identification business was born in the late 1970s when our daughter was misidentified as the person killed in an auto accident. Actual production and sales began in early 1999."

3. Patricia Gallagher, mother of four children, created a "Team of Angels" pin accompanied by a special poem she wrote when she felt totally overwhelmed after her husband suffered a debilitating accident. She felt compelled to give away 10,000 of these pins and poems to help others who were struggling with personal crises, in addition to giving 5,000 to U. S. troops serving in Kosovo. When people who had received the free pins asked Gallagher if they could purchase more pins to give to friends, she began to sell the pins along with new poems she composed. This demand resulted in launching a successful home-based business that involves Gallagher's entire family - including her 74-year-old parents.

4. Rochelle B. Balch, owner of RB Balch Associates and author of C-E-O & M-O-M: Same Time, Same Place, founded her computer consulting business in early 1993 after being downsized out of her job. She was a single mom with a mortgage to pay. Balch says, "Trying to get a line of credit after only about nine months in business was tough. The banks kept saying 'No!' They only wanted businesses already in business for three years. It 'ticked me off' and I went back and got reeeeeaaalllly pushy. I said 'Read my business plan, look at my financials, look at my customers, look at my personal financial history, and do not make a decision based on what's in your book. Make it based on my business.' It paid off and they gave me a line of credit. My point here is that women starting off, especially, need to be a little pushy and a little gutsy and must be very self-confident," says Balch. "In a relatively short time," Balch says, "we have received city, state, and national recognition - and created a three million dollar-plus home-based business." 

Some Tips for Turning Adversity into Success

1. Sally Silagy: "My 'survival' tip would be to never, ever give up hope. If your home business is truly what you want to do, then keep at it until your accomplishments are met. And remember: How much energy one puts forth, is how one will be rewarded."

2. Eunice Lawson: "My key to survival has been to work toward small goals each day, week, and month. When going through hard times, I reflect on where I first started and look at the progress I have made. Oftentimes I feel as if I am getting nowhere, but, when I look back, it makes me see that those tiny steps made in days gone by have become steady stepping stones to reach the ultimate goal of success." 

3. Patricia Gallagher says, "Listen to the wisdom of seniors. I was able to get so much help, encouragement, and mentoring from the older volunteers who represent the Senior Core of Retired Executives (SCORE), Chambers of Commerce and other business support groups. They've 'been there and done that' and can draw on their many experiences to help you."

4. Rochelle Balch says, "Recently my business was way down ( by about 30 percent due to loss of a big account -which it looks we will have back again). This had me worried quite a bit at first. Then, I took my own advice: Consider the worst case scenario and plan for it. Anything other than that is up. It really works. Plan on the worst, see if you can live with it, then proceed. Things will get better and the motivation and passion returns quickly with each success - just like in the beginning."

Where are these women now?

1. Sally Silagy: "With just being in business with Gardening Greetings three years, I have now opened my own gift shop, where I have a garden section displaying my cards as well. In addition to this, I am still filling reorders for all my retail customers and offering my "Home-Based Greeting Card Kit" to other creative individuals who would like to venture into the greeting card industry. Life is full and busy."

2. Eunice Lawson says, "When I wrote my business plan, I outlined monthly, six-month, yearly and five-year goals. Since I am now in year two of development of the Seat Belt Buddy, I am right on track. My first year was devoted to research and development. I have completed the local test market phase with the plastic "prototype" and am now in the process of improving from plastic to a cloth cushion Seat Belt Buddy with a removable Emergency and Medical Identification Data Sheet carrier. Our next step is move from the local market to introduce the Seat Belt Buddy to the national market." 

3. Patricia Gallagher is continuing to expand her line of angel pins, and is often invited to be a speaker to encourage others. She says, "You have to reach out for help when bad times happen. You cannot do it alone."

4. Rochelle Balch: "After dipping to a low, we're on our way back up. Our future plans? I'd like to sell the business - or at least part of it - and move towards speaking and business consulting (which I have been doing, time permitting, for the past five years). I have started pursuing the speaking career, and am a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and will be a speaker at the first annual NSA convention in Auckland, New Zealand in November, 2000. My topic? 'Self-promotion, Brag Your Way to Success.' "

Do these women's stories mean that you need to have some hard times before you can start a successful business? Of course not! None of these women would wish anyone to have the experience they have had. My point is that, even though these women have had trials in their lives, they did not give up but went forward and, in doing so, found a venture that helped them survive and even thrive!

About the Author:
Priscilla Y. Huff is a freelance business writer and author. Her first major book was 101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women and her latest book, HerVenture.com, was released in October, 2000. She owns LITTLE HOUSE Writing & Publishing which publishes and syndicates five different business columns authored by Huff each month. She welcomes  business-related questions and comments. Send them to pyhuff@littlehse.com.