10 Business Startup Tips From 'Shop Local' Maven
A passion for the buy local movement led this woman to start a small business that is expanding across the Tampa Bay region.
Ester Venouziou describes herself as an accidental business owner. The viral popularity of her "buy local" Facebook page led Venouziou to launch Local Shops1.
In five years, LocalShops1 has evolved into the leading membership-driven small business advocacy collective in the Tampa Bay region. Not bad for someone with no business background.
Her collective began in South Pinellas but now serves local businesses and their loyal "buy local" customers throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Janet Blydenburgh (firstname.lastname@example.org), based in New Port Richey, reaches out to Pasco communities that include her hometown and Land o’Lakes.
"It all grew organically," Venouziou notes. "I just thought what I was doing was cool. For a long time, I never thought of this as a business."
That view has changed. Now Venouziou has her own small business story to share. With 300 small business members and 25,000 shopper members, Local Shops1 is growing, fueled by the "buy local" movement and Venouziou's marketing skills.
Ever the small business advocate, Venouziou is quick to share lessons learned in starting and running a successful startup. Here is her list:
1.) Develop a business plan. A business plan, or business blueprint, is priority one. At the same time, she said flexibility is key to growth. "Don’t get so stuck on business plan that you stop being innovative."
2.) Make an appointment with an accountant or attorney prior to launching your business. The expert advice is a small investment in a young company's future.
3.) Look for training opportunities. Reach out to your local or regional chamber of commerce, such as the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
4.) Consider sharing the burden. Merchants dedicate most of their waking hours to their business. For Venouziou, bringing on her brother as vice president made all the difference in this growth stage of her business. Mo Venouziou holds a PhD in mathematics from Syracuse University. "Mo is another 24/7 person like myself," Venouziou said.
5.) Seek out local suport. Venouziou turned to the Small Business Assistance Center in St. Petersburg, which offers free one-on-one counseling. "The counselor helped me to clarify what I was doing." Consider contacting the Pasco County Economic Development Council.
6.) Create quality marketing materials. Don't sacrifice quality for quantity. Hire a professional, if needed.
7.) Do online research. Venouziou discovered other incubator organizations like her own around the country. Now she is a member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. The industry group helps to support "buy local" alliances like her own.
8.) Make strategic partnerships. Look for other businesses that complement your own. The informal partnering can help a local merchant share expenses or grow revenues.
9.) Tap the energy of your most committed customers. Word of mouth means everything. Venouziou turned to her most committed members as she expanded, building key alliances in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, where new LocalShops1 satellite groups have sprung up.
10.) Follow customer demand. For Venouziou that has meant starting a print division and partnering with local chambers.
How to Join LocalShops1.com
There are different level memberships for businesses, nonprofits, artists, and shoppers. Shoppers get a membership discount card.
Here are resources that help small businesses in Pasco County.
1.) Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations at 850-488-9000 or on the web at (www.sunbiz.org)
2.) Enterprise Florida at 407-316-4600 or on the web at (www.eflorida.com)
3.) Pasco Economic Development Council (PEDC) at 888-607-2726 or on the web at (www.pascoedc.com)
4.) West Pasco Chamber of Commerce at 727-842-7651 or on the web at
5.) Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) at 727-842-4638 or on the web at (www.score439.org)
6.) Pasco County Tax Collector at 727-847-8165 or on the web at