People often ask me how I came up with my brainchild, College Creamery. To be honest, it was really quite spontaneous. As a freshman in college, I had no idea where I was going. I did know, however, that I had one crazy idea and that I wouldn’t give up on it until I saw it through. I started ‘google-ing’ like crazy, headed to Amazon and found a number of books on starting a small business. I talked about the idea until my friends’ ears fell off. I didn’t give up on it.
When I called my parents with the idea, to open an ice cream truck business at the ripe old age of 18, I tentatively spit it out and held my breath as I waited for a response. To my great surprise, they listened, the processed, and they said, “Linds, if you figure out a plan, we will support you.” So I headed to my good friend whilst in college, the library, and wrote up a business plan. I wrote down everything from the potential initial investment costs, taxation costs, product costs (gas and vanilla were on their way up), and in all honesty, personal and social costs.
You see, friends, I knew this would be time consuming but I didn’t just want this to work, I needed it to.
The Steps & Logistics
Step 1: I am young, I am a college student living on modest means, and I am a woman…so the odds are against me, right? Well, somewhat, but just because our circumstances can pose unique challenges doesn’t mean we aren’t able to overcome the roadblocks and succeed. This is why ‘step 1’ on my journey was simply to dream big. And that’s exactly what I did. I envisioned myself driving an ice cream truck, painted in bright, cheery colors, with a big logo that I came up with myself. That was all it took. I wanted to branch out and do something beyond the internship/entry level job path. So I did my research, wrote a business plan, got a loan and found the new baby of my dreams on EBay (yes, I found my truck on EBay). It was living in York, PA at the time.
Step 2: Pitch, plan, purchase, organize, execute. Okay, so a few steps rolled into one but completing each successive step gets the next one rolling. So, as I said, I pitched the idea, I made a business plan, I got a loan and I purchased a vintage (fancy word for old) 1977 Chevy step van on the grand old interweb. My love for the thing was and is beyond words. Anyways, next thing I know, it’s being shipped to my house. So what do I do? I go home with a couple of friends and we spend the weekend getting our hands dirty. What’s the lowest budget paint job out there? A self (and wonderful best friends’)-executed spray paint job. And here it is, the finished product. Paint job, chalkboard, Velcro menu and all.
Step 3: Next I went to the town hall and determined the permits I would need, giving us a basic idea of what our startup costs would be. It wasn’t an inexpensive endeavor, but if it is any consolation, the startup was no more than buying a low-to-mid-priced car (keep in mind this is a business).
Next we engaged in boatloads of small-scale marketing attempts to get the business out there (i.e. tear-off flyers, social media blasts, news outlet contacting, business card making). I found a wonderful and cost-friendly branding agent (these people do exist with a bit of digging) and drew up a logo.
Step 4 (more of a tip): Founding a business requires a lot of trial and error. You will mess up, ice cream will melt, kids will cry, clients will be unhappy, but, hey, this is how you learn. You will learn that your prices are too low when you’re not making sufficient revenue, you will learn that your freezers are not adequately hooked up when you blow a fuse or the ice cream melts, and so on. But you will get there. In retrospect, it is amazing to think about how far we’ve come. The first few weeks of operation, we felt immeasurably overwhelmed. Jump 5 years and we are able to balance 5 orders on one hand, store 5 more orders in our heads, ring some angsty customers out, play our jingle, and still laugh all at the same time. Muscle memory develops, routines form, and you figure it out. Just don’t forget why you are there: the passion.
Step (Tip) 5: Any business, big or small, depends on the passion, organization, and skills that operate behind it. Everyone involved in College Creamery was passionate from the start. Check. We were highly organized from the start as well, doing our accounting work on the program Quickbooks, keeping a meticulously-monitored google calendar, and so on. Check. The skills you develop as you run a small business are invaluable and can only really be obtained through the hands-on experience itself. I learned to market the business, run it efficiently, network, and communicate effectively with our clients. Check. We blew up.
Why is it worth it?
1) Exponential Growth Nothing feels as good as watching something you love and nurture as it grows and develops. There is no other way to put it: our business grew exponentially. We had many repeat clients but we also found that our growing success was contingent upon the positive reputation we developed and the tendency for our clients to spread the word.
2) Small town (& National!!!) Fame…
Before we knew it, our small town business was receiving major media coverage. We couldn’t believe it but we loved going along for the ride. Our biggest claim to fame?
Fox Small Business discovered us and wrote and article, piquing the interest of Fox & Friends Morning Show! Say what? 1.3 million viewers watching…us? Oh boy. I don’t like cameras. Feel free to watch us on Fox and Friends – HERE (warning: we are awkward)
3) Those business skills I was talking about…they matter. Future employers recognize and value those tremendously. As I’ve moved on from the business and applied to jobs in the “real world,” not a day goes by that an employer isn’t fascinated by the business.
I will be the first to admit that I am fortunate for how everything fell into place. I had the support and the resources to see my crazy idea through. But I hope that in reading this, you recognize that someone out there will also support your crazy ideas, big or small. The harder you believe in your dreams, the more others will support them and celebrate them. Starting a small business has opened up many doors for me and most importantly, given me the confidence to accomplish new dreams and follow passions I may never have been brave enough to tackle.