Do you remember the feeling you had when you first started your business? Do you remember your first product launch? The first time a customer told you how great your company was, how much they loved a product? The joy you experienced by doing the work? I was reminded of all of that this past week. I sat on a panel of judges for a business competition which specifically targeted young female entrepreneurs. It was sponsored by the Michigan Women’s Foundation. The participants’ businesses were all in different phases from concept to those who were actually delivering products and services. The enthusiasm and creativity of the group was boundless. The ideas for their businesses were creative. But in the end what helped me make my decision on ranking the contestants was something that goes back to Business 101.

What need does this business meet for its customers?

The winner of the Lifestyle segment of the competition was Sweet Encounter, a boutique style gourmet bakery/café specializing in “scrumptious, made from scratch gluten free and vegan desserts, such as cakes, cupcakes, pies, dessert bars and cookies.” The need that owner Nikki Thompson Frazier was solving was very personal. She has two young children with severe food allergies. This entrepreneur knows first-hand how difficult it is for her family to dine out. She spoke about her quest to develop the recipes in an effort to feed her family delicious food. As she found more and more families struggling with the same problem the idea for the business was hatched. That that led to the business plan.

Make no mistake. This is not a sweet nostalgic story about a “mom and pop” operation. This business owner recognized the need and then did her homework. Thompson Frazier did in-depth analysis of the local and national market, what it would take to open a retail operation, how she might expand the business with special events and corporate sales. Like all good entrepreneurs she has a big goal. She wants Sweet Encounter to become the first gluten-free, vegan bakery/café franchise in the country. I think she can do it!

Of course it will take lots of hard work and there will be some bumps in the road but it will be fun to watch the progress of this and other entrepreneurs who excelled at this competition. Judging this event brought back a flood of memories about what it takes to be in business. (I also got to taste some great desserts from the winner and the second place winner, Free Love Bakery. Coincidently it was also focused on the gluten-free market.) My “sweet encounter” with these entrepreneurs reminded me that business owners must constantly go back and review the strength of our value propositions. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions.

What is problem being solved by the company and its products at start-up?

Is it still relevant?

Are we solving the problem in a unique way?

Does our proposition add value for customer?

Should we be looking for ways to expand or franchise?

And perhaps the most important question of all “Do we still have that passion and excitement for the business?” Hopefully the answers to these questions will help even established businesses refocus on what is important.


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