We talked while Tara was working in a shop with customers and Marshall was in his new space he’d just moved into! Lori was a hero giving a ride to someone who didn’t have another way to get to a medical appointment, so she chimed in later! 

Thanks for chatting! First, what does your business offer and what are you most known for?

Marshall: We provide IT services or computer support services for local businesses and individuals around the county. Troubleshooting computer issues and customer support is what we’re known for.

Tara: Bluecloud Botanicals provides organic herbal products and customized wellness programs. We specialize in women’s health and love to provide alternative solutions for ailments that doctors and other professionals have given up on.

Lori: Happy Rides Inc. provides medical transportation for mobility impaired individuals. That means a ride to a medical or surgical facility, or a ride home from a long term care or rehab hospital. We provide rides in Mendocino County and beyond. 

Now that you’ve had a variety of trainings over the last five months, what’s one of the trainings that was particularly inspiring or helpful to you and your business?

Marshall: I would definitely say the organizational chart where there’s more structuring how you deal with day to day stuff.

Tara: Yeah, I have to agree with Marshall. The systems that we were taught as far as organizing business and how important it is to have systems in place in order to track progress or troubleshoot in your business is super helpful.

Lori: I learned so much about who I am. I had a hard time explaining my business and being precise. Through group feedback with other participants, I found my wording and am able to speak publicly about my business now.

And what was a specific top takeaway from those trainings?

Marshall: Having a day to day tasks list with due dates so it’s not one giant list.

Tara: I really appreciated being shown how important it is to make that time to plan ahead for quarterly goals and annual goals. And just breaking it down into different timeframes. So as Marshall mentioned, the day-to-day. I usually take time to mke my daily to-do list, but I’m also implementing quarterly goals and annual goals, and then I can check back in at those points to see if I’m actually hitting them. 

Lori: That I can make my business successful by using systems and tools.  

What’s been your single biggest challenge in building your business over the past couple of months during the program?

Tara: My biggest challenge has been just making time for (my business) because I am a single mother. I was completing three other programs simultaneously and I am now working two part-time jobs. So just forcing myself to get up two hours earlier was key. Or, you know, stay up an hour later, to fit in the attention that the business needs. And that’s aside from building the client base back up, because I was in business for 10 years at a brick-and-mortar location but now it’s mostly  online. It’s a challenge to learn how to navigate that new way of interacting with clients.

I’m now getting up at 5am instead of 7am so I can fit in what I need to around the part time work schedules. Carving that time out has been the biggest help — putting it on my calendar. That was something else that we were taught in the program: blocking out chunks of time. Very early on, our instructor Rachel suggested spending at least one hour a day on the business and that’s something that stuck with me. I block an hour out in my Google calendar every single day of the week at different times. But I made sure that I am getting at least that one hour.

Marshall: My challenge is definitely getting my name out there and figuring out how to do that in a smaller rural community. We’ve seen a little bit of uptick in traffic on our website and we’re going on radio to see where that goes.

Lori: My biggest challenge is finding and maintaining employees. It has been very difficult finding qualified applicants. I seek people that have backgrounds like CNA’s and people who have worked in the medical profession as drivers, and who pass background checks and random drug and alcohol tests. 

What are each of your goals for a year from now? Imagine it’s a year out …

Marshall: My current goal for a year out is to double our revenue. Hopefully I’ll be working with the Chamber of Commerce and participating in networking meetings. Over the upcoming year, I’ll bring in more managed clients. 

Tara: Yes, increased revenue is a huge goal. I would like to have my business sustaining or exceeding my financial needs in less than a year so that I can spend more time with my family and work less hours. A year from now, I’d like to have my online courses built out and selling so that I’m not doing as much one-on-one consultation or in-person workshops. Ideally, I would still hold a quarterly workshop live, see clients face-to face, but the rest of the time my courses and products will be selling online.

Lori: My goal over the next year is to build Happy Rides Inc. in the Ukiah Valley. It is the first hub of many to come. I seek to have five employees by next year in Ukiah and one employee on the coast, allowing me to build my vision of hubs extending into other areas such as Lake County and beyond.

For each of you, what’s a personal characteristic or skill or talent that you bring to this that really helps you, that you can lean into in your business?

Tara: I would say my most beneficial characteristics in growing my business would be my intuition. That makes it really easy to relate to people and help them — the service itself is very effortless. But also my adaptability. For example, I have no problem shifting gears or going in a different direction. When I see that that’s necessary, I let go of any kind of structure that’s not serving me and move on to what will be most efficient. 

Marshall: I run the technical side of our business along with customer support. So my partner does most of the sales and marketing of how we approach clients. 

Lori: I am very driven to make my business grow and I am very compassionate and professional. I bring a medical background and the way I model my business values is through caring for others in the way I would want to be treated. It is all about giving back and helping others.

What’s something that we wouldn’t otherwise know about you if we weren’t asking you right now? How has that helped you in your business?

Tara: I am super huge into soccer. I have played soccer since I was about seven years old. I coached soccer in Laytonville and Willits and I’m playing on a drop-in women’s team! I think there are a couple things from soccer that relate to business: perseverance and determination. 

One thing about soccer is you have to just keep going. You’ve got to keep pushing even when you’re tired, even when you want to quit you can’t. Being in a team sport helps to understand that everybody plays a part and you learn to work with and relate to different personalities, plus recognize the way that you fit into a bigger picture. It’s another thing that I’ve been able to carry through life from my soccer years. 

Marshall: For me I would say woodworking — it’s something I don’t find enough time for anymore but it’s something I really liked doing since high school. I was in Willits High School for my senior year and the rest of the time I was homeschooled. I’ve made chess boards and tables. Right now I’m in the middle of doing a desk for a computer build I’m doing right now.

Lori: I worked alongside a very prominent General, Plastic & Reconstructive Microsurgeon and his amazing wife. They taught me front-end medical office management with billing, coding, and charting, as well as the back end with patient care, setting up, instruments, and vitals. I burned out and became a senior lifeguard to play in water for a living — I trained lifeguards and taught thousands of children and adults how to swim. I lived in Hawaii at the time on a fully self-sufficient property for over 25 years. My home was off grid with very little phone or internet connectivity. Then I lost my husband to leukemia and I lost my property to a lava flow. That is why I am here. I am learning about electricity, cell phones, computers, and technology. This is something you would never know about me. 

What is a question I haven’t asked that I should?

Marshall: For me I would say woodworking — it’s something I don’t find enough time for anymore but it’s something I really liked doing since high school. I was in Willits High School for my senior year and the rest of the time I was homeschooled. I’ve made chess boards and tables. Right now I’m in the middle of doing a desk for a computer build I’m doing right now.

Tara: If I were interviewing somebody who just finished this program I might ask, “What was something that you didn’t expect to get out of it? Or what is a word of advice to the next class coming in?”

Lori: I’d like to add that the utmost credit and support needs to go to my advisors who kept me on course. I had no idea how hard starting a business and learning by trial and error would be. They gave me so much support, they helped me find funding and helped me to achieve money to purchase vehicles. They had so many tools and suggestions, and they believed in me when I did something wrong. They knew I would learn from it. So, to the whole team of people who have supported me and continue to champion my vision at West: It is such an honor to call you my advisors. Thank you!

Great … What is something that you didn’t expect to get out of the StartUp Mendocino program?

Marshall: I think about how many connections that we’ve made. Take Lori for example. She and I work together now. I’m helping her grow the technology side of her business. She knows her expertise area well but not how to grow her technology. So that’s where I fill the gap. More specifically, I’m helping her plan out future growth when she brings on new employees — what they’re going to need, like access to information and how they are going to get access to certain documents. And also how to be HIPAA compliant. 

Tara: What I didn’t expect … Oh, my goodness. I didn’t expect to be given so much support outside of the program and continuing past the program. Everybody from West Center has continued to support us and have said multiple times that they’re here for us, even after we’re done with the StartUp Mendocino program. So that feels really good. Besides the networking and resources from the cohort, we have the West staff who all say, “We’re here for you if you need us.” That kind of continued support was not something I expected. And I’m really grateful for it. They’re really good people. 

Lori: I did not expect that technology would change the vision of my business so much. After StartUp’s first meet up at the Brambles and my discussion with Marshall about HIPAA, and then the purchase of my Sprinter Van from a businessman in Sacramento, who ran his 12 offices throughout California digitally from his hub in Sacramento, I found true inspiration. It is technology. I have struggled with technology — I have not been around computers or cellphones. I lived off grid in Hawaii for 25 years with no connectivity. I never learned to type, as I had a very different upbringing.  I am learning and I am inspired by the younger generation who have grown up with computers and technology. I knew that having systems in my business would help — being able to Zoom, following HIPAA compliance, accessing documents anywhere, having a tablet for signatures, using electronic scheduling software that uploads to medical billing and coding, and running hubs from my laptop. I am learning it all and still have a long road to go. I did not realize the crucial role my fellow StartUp Mendocino graduate Marshall would have in my business. He has become an integral part of my team. I am inspired about what this will do for Happy Rides as we grow.

Your other suggestion was offering a word of advice to the next class. What’s your advice?

Tara: *Show up.*  Like, show up and implement everything just just eat it up. Be there. Take notes. Oh my gosh, I have an entire notebook full that I’m continuously going back to and referencing.

Marshall: Yes, I would definitely say take notes to keep it in mind.

Lori: Be completely open to learning how to change the ways you are accustomed to doing things. Learn new tools, meet new people who inspire you and dream big!

West Business Development Center is grateful for the support of the sponsors of the StartUp Mendocino 2022 program.

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Tara, Marshall and Lori: Three Local Entrepreneurs!