Live and learn

Written by Jennifer O’Connor

Cindy Eeson has some simple advice for women entrepreneurs seeking to grow their companies: plan ahead. “I had no idea when I started out what the challenges and the risks would be to growing a company,” says the president of Toronto-based Divine Diva Days. “Never underestimate how much preparation you need to do something well. It doesn’t mean that you can prepare for every eventuality, but always be aware that you can pull back or pull out at any time.” Eeson learned that lesson the hard way, growing her former manufacturing company, Kids Only Clothing Club Inc., into a $14-million operation with 130 employees before closing the business in 2002.

The windup of Kids Only was a result of the changing markets, says Eeson. Boomers’ kids were growing up, there was increased competition from established clothing lines and more and more people preferred discount shopping. Eeson’s personal circumstances also changed when she separated from her husband and business partner.

Today, Eeson has found her entrepreneurial feet again. Last March, she launched Divine Diva Days, which offers busy women two- or three-day luxury getaways, a chance to connect and to enjoy a little “me” time. “I’m a very creative person,” says Eeson. “I’m still very intrigued by what’s missing in our marketplace. I’m a consumer and I’m always asking, ‘Why can’t I get this? Why isn’t this available?’ I think once you’re bitten by the business bug, it’s really difficult to put it away.”

Xchange asked Eeson to share other first-time lessons she learned in the trenches:

  • Determine your risk tolerance. “One of the things I said to myself is, ‘If you’re going to do another business there have to be new guidelines’,” says Eeson. “I don’t want to be tied down to a location, to inventory, to a payroll — I don’t want those huge financial and resource responsibilities.” Unlike Kids Only Clothing, Divine Diva Days is a virtual company, and is co-owned with a partner and other stakeholders. “I’m not afraid to bring in partners to spread the risk,” she says. “I don’t need to own the whole thing.”
  • Determine your strengths and weaknesses. “If you don’t have the experience yourself, get it from other people,” says Eeson. There’s also a wealth of business information available to help you do your job better. Eeson says many women charge full steam ahead with a project, without sufficient knowledge.
  • Do your homework. Prepare a solid business plan, including a market assessment and financial projections. At Kids Only, Eeson relied too heavily on her instincts and experience, rather than conducting thorough market research.
  • Expect cash crunches. Your business can’t survive without cash flow, so be careful not to overextend your company.
  • Stay energized. “The most important thing I’ve learned is that to be successful in business you can’t underestimate the energy and commitment it takes to drive even the simplest idea forward into the marketplace,” says Eeson. “I have a profound respect for time and information and financial resources. There’s no way that I could have appreciated it in my mid-30s, starting a company for the first time.”

© 2004 Jennifer O’Connor

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