Taking the Plunge and Starting a Small Business

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I have to preface this post by saying that I love my job… I’ve been with the same company for over 15 years and I imagine I will retire from there. I have worked from home for the past 12 years, so the new (to others) pandemic remote-work lifestyle was not new to me. I mastered the “Zoom mullet” (pajama pants on the bottom/professional blouse on top) long before most people had even heard of Zoom. I am professionally fulfilled and challenged and consider myself pretty lucky that I stumbled into this company right out of college. But I have always wondered- could I start my own small business?

With that said, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I have a “take charge” attitude and have been told more than once that I am the glue that holds things together. I am a natural born cruise director – everyone has their place and their roles and I’m happy to be in charge of reminding everyone what theirs is (in a firm yet friendly way of course).

When I’m passionate about something, no challenge is too big, and my brain won’t stop until it’s resolved and better than before. And while my work gives me a lot of opportunities to use those qualities, I’ve always craved something that’s all my own. I also lack the opportunity to be creative in my day-to-day life. I can make a slick PowerPoint deck and my Visio skills are top-notch, but I need a little more to keep the right side of my brain happy. And, while I thrive working from home, I am an extrovert and need real live interaction with actual people other than through a computer screen.

Over the years, me and my entrepreneurial spirit have come up with a number of business ideas that I’ve pitched to my husband. I have spent late nights and weekends building business plans for creative businesses to start on the side. The start up costs have always been exorbitant and I’ve never felt quite passionate enough about any of the ideas to put my life savings plus a huge amount of borrowed money into anything I’ve dreamed up. Plus, none of the ideas were things I could do while sustaining my full-time job. And then one day, I saw a mobile cotton candy cart on Instagram and everything changed.

Starting a business
Photo taken by Shutterhead Studios

That’s right – a cotton candy cart. I quickly realized it checks all the boxes:

  • A chance to be creative – I get to design the cart, logo, social media, website, plus customize and decorate the cart and accessories for each event. And I get to dream up and make creative flavors and fun options to offer. CHECK.
  • Human interaction – My cart is a service, so I come with it- I spin cotton candy live at events and get to interact with the customers and guests. CHECK.
  • IT’S ALL MINE (mwahahahaha). Self-explanatory. CHECK.
  • Low start up cost/risk – Compared to all of my other ideas, the start up costs for this were fairly low, making it pretty low-risk if it’s a giant failure. And if it fails, I’ll forever make cotton candy at every party I host, which can’t be a bad thing. CHECK.
  • It’s a true side job and completely flexible – I book events on weekends and the occasional weeknight after work. I can choose if I want to do an event or not. CHECK.
An early creation – Lemonade flavored cotton candy with shimmery pastel sprinkles

So I went for it. I didn’t just do it in one day, though. Part of my entrepreneurial spirit is that I’m methodical and intentional in the things I do, and consider as many angles as I can. I researched and researched and researched. I surveyed people on if they’d use this service and what they’d spend. I met with the Health Department to see what food cart requirements are. I stalked carts in other cities on Instagram. I have an over 40 page document with all of my brainstorming, screenshots, drawings, and ideas, and I also wrote a formal business plan. I truly assessed the cost and how much money I’d lose if it bombed. I took about five to six months to really think it through and research, but while doing my thinking, I committed to a business name, purchased the domain name and started a low-key Instagram account. I bought graphic design software and created a logo. Together, my husband and I drew up design plans for the cart. I did small things like this over time to get to a place where I felt comfortable telling a handful of friends and family what my plans were, and everyone was so supportive!

My supportive and handy husband giving up his weekends to build my cart

Once I knew that this was really going to happen, I made my first big investment, and purchased a commercial cotton candy machine. I started practicing spinning and testing flavor recipes. Then I started doing small, free events with family and friends sans cart, just setting up my machine on a table.

In the meantime, we worked on building the cart over the course of a couple of weekends. One day, it all came together and I was ready to launch and start booking. By this time, I’d built up a small Instagram following with teaser posts about what was coming. The day I launched, my following doubled in size and I started booking events that day for as soon as the following weekend!

Spinning some sugar for my son’s 4th birthday

We are living in the time of small businesses. There are so many wonderful small businesses starting, a silver lining of the pandemic. When people lost their jobs or felt isolated, they continued or started creating and found ways to make it profitable.

I’m by no means an expert at owning a small business – it’s only been a few weeks since I launched- but I’d love to look back at this post some day when I’m the Cotton Candy Queen of Columbus and reflect on my humble beginnings. And if you’re feeling inspired lately, I hope my story helps make it feel more achievable and you go for it! Unless it’s cotton candy; just leave that to me (and you can come work for me when I reach that Cotton Candy Queen status).

My finished cart for Cotton Sugar Co.

If you’re interested in learning more about my small business or my services and booking an event, please visit my Instagram: @cottonsugarco, or you can email me at [email protected] My website is under construction but coming soon!

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Stephanie is a Columbus native, having grown up in Dublin. She attended Ohio University where she met her husband over a friendly game of flip cup. She has been working for the same talent acquisition outsourcing and consulting company since graduating college, going on 14 years and is currently the Director of Implementation. After a three-year stint in Tampa, she and her husband decided to settle back in Ohio in 2008, and Stephanie won the Columbus vs. Cleveland debate (her husband says she's not tough enough for Cleveland anyway.) After almost eight years of marriage and three years of fertility struggles, they had their son, Dexter, in April 2017 thanks to IVF. They currently live in Grandview Heights after living in the Short North for almost 10 years. They love exploring the city as a family and are frequent COTA bus riders. Stephanie is determined to stay hip to all the new restaurants and places around town even after becoming a mom. Their family goes out to eat way too much, but she still loves cooking, especially recipes that use cauliflower as a substitute (is there anything it can't become!?) She is obsessed with bargain hunting but still manages to spend way too much money. You can follow along on their family's adventures on Instagram at @thecbuskid. Stephanie also has a dog, Athena, but she doesn't have her own Instagram because all she does is sleep and steal food right out of their hands.