May 19, 2008


Most women consider starting a business at some time or other. When my husband opted for early retirement from teaching to become a pastor, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. He became a student instead of the professor, and I seriously considered starting a business.

Owning a business requires certain personal characteristics, prime among these is self-discipline. There is no boss directing you. However, you should realize that being a homemaker requires this same self-starting mechanism.

You will need to have the ability to multitask. Again, being a homemaker prepares you for this. If you are a mother, think how much multitasking you already do.

A certain amount of boldness helps. You have to be brave enough to try out your ideas. You also need to fearlessly market your product wherever and whenever you can.

Self-confidence is a must. Try it—you can do it! You have to believe in yourself while being aware and willing to accept that some of your ideas will fail—but you will never know if you don’t try. Be selective in what you try. If you stand to lose all your investment trying one idea, it might be better to wait until later to try it when you have more money to risk.

You need to be able to listen to others and evaluate their ideas, gleaning the good advice, discarding the rest.

A major advantage of a home business is that it allows families to work together on a common project. There is something for everyone to do that matches their time and ability. Kids are needed, and that’s a definite change from their being in the way.

My friend Shirl and I decided to start a business. She’d moved to Atlanta several years previously. As a newcomer I wanted to do something that would get me out to meet people, but I didn’t have the money to socialize. Having a small business offered a way to know the Atlanta that would be impossible if I just went to an office every day.

We decided to market herbs and spices. Not everyone needs many, but everyone uses at least one of the products we’d carry. And everyone wants a bargain. We could offer our customers a bargain while fulfilling our goal of succeeding in business. From working in food co-ops for eight years in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, I knew that herbs and spices are one of the highest marked-up items in the grocery store. The food co-op experience also provided me some knowledge of resources, how to order, what to order, how to package, etc. It would also take only a small investment to get started.

We decided to distribute our products on a private basis rather than commercially. This was an opportunity to provide the homemaker with a bargain.

I knew that by working with small amounts and having a large turnover we could offer an attractive feature other than price: freshness. We could also offer the buyer the sizes they needed. How many spices sit on a shelf, wasted, because they were purchased to use a half a teaspoon and not needed again? Convenient, competitive sizes would be a selling point.

There are down sides to starting a business. Government regulations seem to constrain rather than support small businesses with their paper work and requirements.
Another disadvantage was that was that herbs and spices were small price items. We’d have to sell a lot to make any kind of money.

Now for a question: What was the most expensive spice we sold?

This business offered interesting experiences.

First, we confirmed that an item’s packaging often costs more than the item itself. Using glass or plastic containers increased the price of a twenty-five cent item to forty cents or more. We couldn’t use baby food jars, a logical resource, due to some law that required new packaging for items.
We began packaging in plastic sandwich bags. However, to look decent, they had to be filled a certain amount. Anyone for a baggie full of ground cloves at today’s prices?
We tried waxed paper bags. It looks nice, but gets ragged looking soon. However, it offers the attraction of being able to label directly on the packaging.

We scouted around and located a nice variety of very small plastic bags that were attractive and held the required amounts. We recommended our customers place their purchase in an airtight container for storage, and found most customers were glad to have the lower prices and use their own containers at home.

There were some challenges to the business. Publicity was one. A disgusting problem was the few lewd calls because our phone number was distributed for business purposes.

Marketing was the biggest problem. Not wanting to add the overhead of a store, we distribute from our homes. During the December holiday season we set up in a booth at a mall.
The testing reaction of customers was interesting. People don’t readily accept new business without “the test.” This means that the customer purchased one or two items, more notably the lower priced ones. They wanted to know what the catch was, suspicious of the low prices. But soon the customer returned, often with a friend, and made a much bigger purchase. They learned that we were for real!

Our spice table elicited numerous reactions from people. The most common was “I’m not into herbs and spices.” When possible, I’d very gently ask them if they ever used onion, garlic or parsley. “Well, of course,” they’d respond.

“Well, you’re into it, then,” I’d return.

There was the “health food nut” response. If you sell this stuff you must be a health food pusher. One of those odd people.

Well, I admit to being odd, but not as a health food nut! I admit our family avoids food additives, where possible. We purchase pure herbs and spices. However, the blends do have some additives, usually to prevent caking.

Another response is the “gourmet cook” accusation pointed at us. Anyone who knows our family knows that we would starve if we waited for gourmet cooking. With one no-sugar child, one minimal cheese/dairy product child and one vegetarian spouse, cooking is my last pleasure and delight.

Last, but not final, is the drug response. “Oh, are you allowed to sell ‘grass’ in the mall?”


A neighbor who sells for a well-known company told me he wouldn’t want his wife known as the “spice lady” although it would be OK to be known as a lady who makes money for other people. Well I’ve been known as many things, and being called the “spice lady” certainly sounds attractive in comparison to some of the others!

Answer to the question: What was the most expensive spice we sold?
SAFFRON, which we priced at $2500.00 a pound at the local grocery stores!

For additional reading, click on DEFINING GOD

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  1. Thank you for good information~~*

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    I’m sorry , If you think this is spam. but may i thank you again.


    Comment by Mint — May 21, 2008 @ 11:34 am | Reply

  2. Hey Carolyn,

    Thank you for posting such an insightful blog entry! You’re absolutely right: the first step in starting a home based business is having the confidence in yourself that you’ll be able to carry out the tasks at hand and succeed. With a serious drive, the odds of success increase a hundredfold. I’m so glad you highlighted these important points within the blog entry, as we’ve seen more women entrepreneurs than ever before!

    I’m an official Microsoft ambassador and right now we’re really trying to scale up our connections with influential bloggers like yourself. I’d love to share with you some of the stuff we’ve been doing in the last couple months to help women entrepreneurs; we’re really committed to providing all the necessary resources to help women start, grow and expand their business.

    We just wrapped up a women’s entrepreneurial tour across the US; the response and turn-out was great!

    I’d really love your take on these offerings we have right now; I would have contacted you via email but I didn’t know which was the best way to reach you.

    Thank you so much, I hope I didn’t overstep my bounds by directly contacting you. Definitely get back to me if I’ve piqued your interest– I’d love to share more info with you.


    Comment by Kimberly Rosenberg — May 23, 2008 @ 12:40 am | Reply

  3. I have found your post very helpful since I am new to the work from home business. You are right about selling the herbs in small quantities, I have wasted much when only using a small amount for a particular recipe.
    Every good wish.

    Comment by Jo — May 27, 2008 @ 6:19 am | Reply

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