Becoming an entrepreneur is a leap of faith: With drive, passion, connections and a touch of luck, your business could thrive.
The trio of Entrepreneur finalists for the 2020 West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards are amazing women who took a chance and now lead driven teams. Learn how they began and what advice they have.
Mary Reagan Shapton
Reagan Marketing + Design, LLC
In 1991, Mary Reagan Shapton decided to take a year "off" from her job at Steelcase and seek new opportunities. "Around that time, I was getting tapped for marketing and communications advice from a firm. The same thing happened with a local radio station that was seeking marketing and events advice. When I decided to leave Steelcase, I had my first two projects lined up."
Partners and resources played a key part, including her spouse and Mika Meyers, PLC—providing valuable economic, legal, and labor counsel for Reagan Marketing.
She had no idea how much her freelance business would grow. Shapton embraced the unknown, diving headfirst into new challenges. There was initial hesitation, as she missed her collaborative Steelcase work; when her projects started getting bigger, she was able to collaborate with others. "Eventually, I started hiring and building a team of talent. Some of those early hires are still on my team."
Now, Shapton gets to enjoy her work with her team. "I love a new challenge and that's what I get every day—whether it's mentoring team members, learning a new account, or diving into a new industry."
Sanchez Income Tax
Zoraida Sanchez's life work has been helping the Michigan Hispanic community, ever since moving to Grand Rapids in 1976. She noticed decades ago that people in her community weren't taking advantage of tax credits and other government assistance because they didn't speak much English. She began taking courses and working with the IRS to learn how to help people file their taxes.
This turned into a home practice, all done by hand, serving just 26 clients in the first year. The business grew from there into a small office, then a building with two offices, and now a space with seven offices and a large lobby. With her team, Sanchez serves more than 1,000 clients yearly. All this happened despite setbacks, such as a 2001 surgery that led to speech problems and the use of a wheelchair for some time.
Sanchez says she couldn't have done it all without support from her husband and children—and she's not sure when she'll retire, because she loves the community so much. If you're looking to start your own business, she suggests, get educated and seek support.
Inspire Me! Home Decor
Farah Merhi has seen explosive success with her home décor company, thanks to passion, flexibility and social media. She once planned to attend law school but wasn't feeling happy with her career choice. As a side project, she launched an Instagram account to chronicle her home remodel. As the account grew, she started posting inspiration and tips. Once she had millions of followers, she began her own furniture and home décor line, sold on QVC, Wayfair, and elsewhere.
Inspire Me! is now a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and more than 6 million followers.
"I listened. I engaged and spoke directly to my customer base to see what they wanted from me and from my brand."
While it's hardly been easy, Merhi is doing what she loves and inspiring millions along the way. She acknowledges that starting a business is risky yet can be well worth it.
"Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. If you have chosen that path for yourself, be patient; expect roadblocks and stumbles along the way. It means pouring your heart and your soul into a business. Success will happen with hard work and drive. Sacrifices will have to be made. Believe me when I say the rewards are so gratifying."
Josh Veal is the managing editor of Revue and a former nonprofit reporter. He keeps in the know on local restaurants, breweries and venues through ample firsthand experience. Josh enjoys cocktails on the porch, graphic novels, social justice and biking through nature.
This article originally appeared in the Dec 2020/Jan 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.