Diva Spotlight: Celebrate Milestones

Diva: Toni Lawrence
Business Name: Celebrate Milestones

 Website Address: http://www.celebrate-milestones.com
Year Business Was Founded: 2009

Tell us about your business:
I have an online shop that features gifts, formal wear, favors and decorations for all occasions. I carry over 7,000 items on the site, and items are dropped shipped directly from the manufacturer. We usually have a short turn around time, and our prices are competitive, with many items sold in quantities at lower prices.

What inspired you to start your business?
I lost my full-time job and was having trouble getting another, so while on unemployment I decided to venture into an online business that would be uplifting. I have owned other businesses, and worked in retail for many years, so felt a shop that catered to all types of events was the perfect fit.

What has been the biggest challenge in your business and how have you dealt with it?
Online marketing is a challenge, and with no budget to work with I have had to do a lot of research on how to generate traffic and target markets with buying customers. Because I do this all myself the time to set up and run the site as well as do other marketing – while finding ways to supplement my income until the shop became self-sustaining was the biggest challenge.

I have dealt with it by getting free consultations from as many people as possible who would give me ideas on what I needed and how to go about getting it. I put my site in every free advertising link as possible, ask for link exchanges to relevant businesses, and keep working with keyword content. I also started a blog, connecting items on the site to the content in the blog. It’s still a work in progress, but at least I have been able to bring in enough to pay utilities and all expenses for the site so it is self-sustaining.

What would you say has contributed to your business success?
Perseverance! It was a slow start, and I put in a great deal of hoursto get it up and running while those around me said I should stop wasting my time. I don’t give up, and if I find something I am doing wrong I make adjustments.  I offer excellent customer service, and often go out of my way to help people even though I know I won’t get a sale out of it – this time. People remember good customer service and will come back or recommendothers when they feel comfortable working with someone – and are willing to pay a little more for that extra effort.

What advice would you like to offer to other women/moms who are thinking about starting a business?
I believe everyone should have a business plan, not just a good idea. They need to sit down and put their plan on paper – including all the negatives as well as the positives. An entrepreneur also must be willing to work many hours, often with no results at the beginning. With small children underfoot it is difficult to do it alone, so have others willing to help and share the burden. If you really want something badly enough you will keep at it and not be discouraged by setbacks. There are always going to be discouragements, but you learn to adapt and overcome obstacles in order to become successful. Don’t let others smash your dreams. If you want something, and have looked at all the pros and cons needed to make it possible, don’t let others around you steer you away. Focus on your goals and you will attain them.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The flexibility to do things my own way has been the most rewarding aspect of being an entrepreneur. I don’t have to adapt my integrity, or my vision, to that of someone else.

What is your favorite tool/resources you use for your business and why?
I like the idea of a blog to be an extension of the business – bringing in people to view the store through click-back links in the blog. It has proven a very valuable tool.

Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
Whenever I start a business with no resources at the beginning it was always a challenge. I started a local newspaper with little money and learned as I went on what to do. I also started (and continue to have) a consulting business (Shadow Wings Consulting). I would have liked to have had other resources to rely on while starting to build this one up so there wasn’t so much pressure just to pay the bills. I have learned to become more organized so I can run this business from my home as well as do freelance writing to pay the bills.  I believe I went into this business with enough knowledge to get by, but not enough experience to market it as well as it should be. I would have taken a couple courses in online marketing before I began, instead of having to learn it by the seat of my pants.

How can we connect with you?

My twitter profile is: http://twitter.com/#!/celebrate51

My facebook profile is: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000015205995

My LinkdedIn profile is: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/toni-lawrence/23/a69/84b

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