#LoveTheBoss: Inspired Livelihood’s Terri Belford

Today my guest female business owner in the #LoveTheBoss series is Terri Belford. Just as you’d expect from a creative entrepreneur, Terri threw all my questions out of the window and wrote up her own in a delicious free-form story – and what a story, as you are about to read. Thanks, Terri. Here she is in her own words:

Terri Belford“Hi, I’m Terri Belford, guide at Inspired Livelihood and creative biz coach at Craft Biz Blog. I teach artists, crafts people and aspiring entrepreneurs how to turn their passions into profits and make a difference in the world.

I started my first business at 23 almost on a dare.  My dream was to start an early childhood art program so after University I taught art to 4-year-olds and helped my father with some advertising for his business.  I was purchasing national advertising when I realized how much commission an ad agency gets. I walked into my dad’s office and said, “If we start our own house agency, we can save (a figure equal to 15%) a year”.  Coincidently, the figure was more than double what I was making at both jobs combined.  My Dad looked at me and said, “Well, if you think you can do it, go for it.” He didn’t offer to help, didn’t offer to loan me any money and I didn’t ask. I’m convinced that’s why I’ve been successful. He gave me the gift of faith in my ability to be a creative problem solver.

That was also my first lesson in turning problems into possibilities and obstacles to opportunities. It was the basis of my conviction that having a lot of capital to invest in a business can hinder success. It gave me the confidence to start future businesses on very little investment and I never borrowed any money.

A few years later, my husband and I sold our house and bought a truckload of furniture with the teeny, tiny bit of equity, started a business out of a hotel banquet room and eventually grew it to 17 retail stores grossing 25 million a year-without ever borrowing a dime.  For the first two months, we were literally living out of hotel rooms and a Chevy van with a two-year-old in tow. It was a huge risk so we had no choice but to succeed. We had to be creative because there was nothing to fall back on.

As a fun side note, we did sometimes sleep in that van because we had to but, since then, I’ve owned many homes and, on two occasions, chosen to spend months at a time in my VW Camper Van because I want to.

Aspiring entrepreneurs are under the impression they need large lines of credit, and when they hit obstacles, they frequently keep pouring more money towards the same mistakes rather than having to find creative solutions. It’s my firm belief that this keeps them from ever developing their problem solving muscles.

I’ve had other successful businesses but the most fun was the contemporary craft gallery I started in 2000. I was able to combine everything I’d learned from past businesses while supporting artists in doing what they love and mentoring some of the newer artists.  Since selling the gallery in 2007, I’ve helped other creative people turn their hobbies into viable, substantial incomes and made it a mission to disprove the myth of the starving artist. Since I appreciate the benefits I enjoyed as a self employed mom, I love teaching young mothers to make a living selling their hand made crafts.

I also love helping corporate escapees and soon-to-be-retirees create their ideal livelihood. I’d like to expand my InspiredUNRetirement workshops now that so many people are taking retirement sooner than planned or finding their retirement funds are so much less than anticipated. I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t doing something you are enthusiastic about after retirement, you will begin to decline physically, intellectually, and emotionally. Regardless of someone’s career experience there are lots of options. A self employed UNRetirement gives us the flexibility to travel, spend time with the grandchildren, whatever dreams go along with escaping that corporate world.

In February 2014, I’ll turn sixty and someone asked me if I have plans to retire. When I stopped laughing, I said, “Oh, my goodness no! I can’t even take a vacation without planning a business.”  Actually, I can’t even take a shower without dreaming up a new business.

The entrepreneurial life has provided me with a sense of control over my own destiny. I know that if I want more or less, time, money, anything, it’s in my power to make it happen. I don’t have to wait around for someone else to decide if I am ready for more responsibility or when it’s time to delegate.

The benefits of self employment have taken on different meaning at each stage of my life. When my son was young, I was able to be there for those special moments.  I never had to call in sick or send a child to day care with a fever. Because my business enabled me to take him along, he saw all fifty states, learned to read roadmaps and navigate airports before kindergarten. Unlike many kids who know their parents’ job titles but don’t really understand what it is they do all day, he learned more business skills and ethics by first grade than many people do in business school. He’s probably an anomaly of his generation that he knows how to count back change.

Later, as my parents aged, I was able fly cross country and be there for them while my business continued to earn.

Recently I was asked what a typical day looks like in my business. The best thing about my entrepreneurial life is that there is no typical day.  The only constants are a daily walk on the beach or in the forest. Not always the same beach or the same forest.

I’ve never been comfortable with the same routine day after day. I enjoy the flexibility of teaching a group, mentoring an individual or working at home on the phone. I love to travel so there are times I work on my laptop in the redwoods or at the beach.  Sometimes my schedule frequently is determined by low tide.

There’s tremendous satisfaction in helping someone achieve independence and magic in seeing that spark when they realize that they really can make a living doing what they love.

I’ve been asked what I would do differently if I was starting out knowing what I know today.  In hindsight, I’d have had more faith in my perceptions, listened more closely to my intuition and stood more firmly in my convictions. Mostly, though, I’d do the same. Ask questions. Dive in and learn along the way. Not borrow money. Ask more questions.

If I knew now how much I didn’t know then, would I have done it anyway? Absolutely!  It’s like waking up from the most glorious night’s sleep in the Redwoods, hearing the waves crash and blue jays caw and being asked, “If I knew there were mountain lions here, would I have still camped in this spot?”  Absolutely. As my son so often tells me, “the thrill was worth the risk.” In business as in life, regret is scarier to me than risk.

When asked where to begin on the Inspired Livelihood journey, my Twitter size answer is: “Ask questions. Find a problem. If solving it excites you, there’s your business. Jump in.  Ask more questions. Dog paddle until you can swim.”

You can connect with me on Facebook at facebook.com/terbelford and on Twitter @craftbizcoach

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