Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Gift Card Girlfriend with Gumption: Learn From Your Mistakes

Name of your company?

My company is www.GiftCardGirlfriend.com.

Date started?

December 2009.

What is your product or service?

On my site, www.GiftCardGirlfriend.com, are hundreds of ideas for turning any gift card into a thoughtful gift. In addition to gift card presentation ideas, I also offer practical advice on best places to buy gift cards, how much money to put on a gift card, how to give a gift card to a child, and ways to avoid gift card fraud. Using my signature approach, “Five Steps to Better Gift Card Giving,” consumers can feel give someone a gift card—guilt free.

Why did you start your company?

Several years ago, after the birth of my first child, I invented an infant travel accessory. Because I wanted to stay home with my kids, I hatched a plan to start a business so I could work from home. I invested a great deal of money on patents, designers, a website, and inventory. Only when a palette of product arrived on my doorstep the same week I was to deliver my second child, did I realize that I was in over my head. Not everything in my product design was right, but I was so heavily invested in it, that I couldn’t turn back. Eventually, I discounted and gave the inventory away, then closed the doors. For a long time, I considered the endeavor a failure and worked freelance for other innovators so I could fill the entrepreneurial void without the risk.

During that time, I had the opportunity to work with Mike Collins, CEO of Big Idea Group (www.BigIdeaGroup.net) on his book, “The Million Dollar Idea in Everyone.” One of the main themes of the book is that you should start a business “small” so it can evolve. He makes the point that if you’re too deeply invested (emotionally and financially) in your idea, then you won’t be able to adapt to customer reaction, a new discovery, market changes, and so forth.

Because I’d done exactly as he’d described, I took his advice to heart and started to think about ways I could go into business for myself again without spending so much money.

How was it financed?

GiftCardGirlfriend.com is (so far) entirely web based. Other than buying a good camera, I invested almost nothing. My sister, Brooke Hall at www.Brookehalldesign.com, is a graphic designer and web developer. She built the site and continues to make changes for a percentage of the profits. Her contributions are invaluable to me and would have cost me a great deal more had she not agreed to partner and take a risk with me.

What is the best advice you never got?

The best advice I never got is that being a work-at-home mom is hard to manage. I went into it thinking that I’d be able to make money while the kids played quietly or that we’d work together as a family to process orders. What I learned, however, is that the kids never play quietly when I need them to and doing anything as a family can lead to squabbles that usually end with someone crying—oftentimes me. But that doesn’t mean the endeavor isn’t worth it. In fact, it means I work harder to be a mom when I need to be and find moments of isolation to work to the best of my abilities. When I multi-task between both roles, I usually end up doing neither very well.

What is the one thing that you did right?

I learned from my experiences and had the gumption to try again. While working freelance, I made wonderful contacts and picked up valuable skills. I said “yes” to most everything offered me as long as I could do the work from home, with a house full of toddlers underfoot. What seemed like years of bouncing around doing odd jobs now looks like a solid background for doing what I’m doing now.

What was the biggest transition you had to make (i.e. new skill set, habits, abilities, focus)?

If you looked at my resume, you’d be surprised. I’m an Information Systems graduate of Brigham Young University and I worked for 11 years as a programmer and technical systems analyst. But inventing a product turned my thoughts to more creative endeavors. Some of my freelance gigs included ghostwriting, designing plush toys, graphic design, web design, etc. GiftCardGirlfriend.com is a perfect merge for me. The topic and focus is very creative. But I’m able to do some of the website changes and some of the design work on my own. I’m looking at developing a mobile app as well and because I have a programming background, I am considering learning the language and writing it myself. We’ll see.

What would make your business more “Successful”?

I originally planned to generate revenue strictly through private sponsors and advertising. But I am in the process of converting several ideas on the site to affiliate marketing so I can get a percentage of products I refer customers to. When I get people to my site, they are hooked. They don’t visit daily, but when a holiday or special event comes up, they come back to my site. What I need right now is a wider audience—more publicity. I am reticent to pay a publicist at this point because most are fairly expensive and I like that we’ve managed to do so much for so little. So I use www.HARO.com, Twitter, and Facebook to spread the word. Still, a good article in a national outlet would be extremely valuable.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

I can’t answer that question right now because I’m letting the business evolve—I’m enjoying the meander of trying something, seeing how customers react, and adapting to their response. I am also learning about myself—what parts of the business I enjoy and what parts I’d like to sub out as we grow. But ultimately my goal remains to be a work-at-home mom who helps pay the bills while the kids are at school, then heads to the ballpark, dance studio, and wherever else they need to be in order to become the people they are meant to be. I don’t want to be a mom who is there, but is talking on the phone or working on the computer the entire time. So I am open to whatever business opportunity helps me achieve that goal.

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