Profiles of Uncommon Women: Dian VerColen & Amy Bissonett

4 10 2009

Dian VerColen of Cameo Chocolates and Amy Bissonett of Discovery Design are October’s featured Uncommon Women. Both are small business owners and have inspiring stories to share about the birth of their businesses and the journey along the way.  Catch their passion, get inspired, and be encouraged by these two Uncommon Women!

Uncommon Women:  How did the dream of your small business begin?  Share with us how your vision came about.

Amy: When I made the decision to get my degree in Graphic Design I hoped to one day work for myself. What was even more important to me at that time was having not just a degree, but a skill. After graduating from college I had several amazing job opportunities that taught me a lot about the industry and how to apply all of the skills that I had learned. There were years of juggling schedules in efforts to balance work and family. Many of you are familiar with that routine and that was where the dream began… out of desperation!

Dian: I worked for Thornton’s Chocolates in the US while in high school.  There were only 7 stores in the US, and our location was in a mall right across from Godiva.  Our flavor and quality was far superior, and I was proud to be working for the underdog.  As an adult, I made truffles for a few Christmas gifts before we moved to Texas, but without a tempering machine, they had to be rolled in cocoa, nuts, etc.  I always gave baked goods and a few candies to our neighbors and family as gifts, which were well received.  One year I decided to take the plunge and invest about $200 in a tempering machine. The chocolates were a huge success that year, and no one could believe that they were homemade.  From then, it became more chocolate and fewer cookies/cakes every year until I decided to make it a business.  I still make Cameo Christmas Cakes every year, and last year sold them at the cupcake shop and online.  They’re so delicious!

UW:  How did you develop the confidence to step out into small business and what were your first steps?

Amy:  One day I found out a local association was bidding out their conference brochure and I made a leap, bid on it and got the job! The success of this one job made me realize all of the possibilities that were right in front of me. This was exactly what I had been looking for. I went ahead and went through the steps of setting up my company as a Sole Proprietorship, set up a way to track my hours and billing and built a simple website to establish myself locally. After that first conference brochure the association had me do all of their design work and then they told a few people and so on and so on. I now do all sorts of design work from any all printed work to web design  for many associations and companies. My business at this point averages out to more of a part time schedule, but that is what I need now in order to keep that work-life balance, but I know I can grow more when and if I need to.

Dian: After enough people said they would be willing to pay for my chocolates, I thought it might be wise to investigate further.  Registering as a business and getting a food handler’s permit were not difficult.  When you’re starting out, don’t get caught up on whether you should incorporate, be an LLC, or sole proprietorship.  Start small (and cheap) and see if your business can be profitable before going further.  Get some basic insurance to protect you and your investment, and get to work!  I received some fantastic advice from an accountant who told me to keep my day job.  She loves my chocolates but knows that a good product doesn’t necessarily equate to a good business.  She suggested going to farmers markets to get public feedback before going any further.  Before I could even do that, I had to find a certified commercial kitchen, which proved to be very difficult.  After a lengthy search, I found a couple that owned a party venue and used their kitchen mostly for weekend events.  I rented it a few times and then began to rent monthly.  Within a year, I heard Cherie’s story and knew that I wanted to rent from her.  We met, hit it off.  She has been such a great mentor to me ever since.

UW:  Share with us a key encouragement and also a key set back and what it’s taught you.

Amy: I don’t know that I have had any set backs, but a challenge that I continually face is being able to independently keep up with technology. This is a really fast paced ever changing industry. The minute I learn a new software program the next version is out. The majority of my work is in print design and with the ever growing web presence I have had to learn web design too. If I worked on-site with a team of designers more than likely there would be scheduled training as well as the resource of your fellow co-worker to rely on. Working with a team helps you double time that learning curve where inversely it just takes more time to learn on your own. I’ve learned to stay focused on the items that I need to learn that really apply to me and my business and not to get overwhelmed with the big picture.

What encourages me is knowing that I have a good thing going on. I feel extremely blessed to have an extremely supportive husband and family as well as loyal clients that make it possible for me to be doing what I absolutely love!

Dian: One of the key setbacks for Cameo is related to storage space.  Storage will always remain an issue as long as I rent a kitchen, instead of having my own.  During a busy holiday season when the Galaxy kitchen was rented several evenings a week, I was renting two different kitchens.  One night, I was at the kitchen with no storage space, and had to transport the finished goods back to Galaxy.  It was about 1:30 am and I had finished a long, but productive night.  As I as rolling the cart of supplies and finished goods to my car, the vibration from rolling on the pavement caused one of the bins to fall to the ground and open, spilling the contents on the sidewalk.  I lost nearly $200 of finished goods, not to mention a whole night my time.

It is always encouraging to see the reaction that people have when they taste my chocolate for the first time – especially if I’m asking them to take a chance on something exotic of if they’re a self-proclaimed chocolate snob (like me).  I love being at an event and having someone buy only one or two pieces, and then immediately come back to buy some gift boxes.  I love when my children (and nephew) try to create new flavor combinations, or when my husband encourages me and supports a business change or idea.  I love when Kacy does an event with me and says things about Cameo Chocolates that I’m too modest to say myself.  These are all so encouraging to me.

The MOST ENCOURAGING thing is when a person or a business buys my chocolates to give as gifts, because it’s an endorsement.  It shows that they enjoy Cameo Chocolates enough to give it to someone they care about.

Uncommon Women: Thank you, Dian and Amy, for sharing your stories!  Both women will be guest speakers at October’s Event, “Small Business & Balancing Priorities,” Oct. 16th 7-9:30pm. Please join us for an open forum discussion on small business tips, our wonderful guest speakers, and a fireside chat on how to balance priorities so we can truly live in peace and fulfillment!

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