Three small business owners explain how to make it 5, 10 and 15 years
Insights from small business owners on reaching 5, 10, 15-year milestones
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Running a business requires stamina and smarts.
We spoke with three entrepreneurs who made it to the 15, 10 and five-year marks. Each one described how Verizon Small Business Digital Ready's valuable and free resources — including lessons, encouragement, and community — played a pivotal role in supporting and sustaining their business journey.
5 Years in Business: Kenyatta Forbes’s Trading Races
Kenyatta Forbes runs her business, Trading Races, out of her home in Oakland, Calif., with support from her Jack Russell Terrier, Lola. Photo credit: Jason Henry.
Kenyatta Forbes didn’t plan to start a business. While teaching middle school in Chicago, Forbes realized the traditional Black History curriculum focused on only a handful of figures — and missed a lot of the discussion about the cultural and historical impact.
To add insights to the lessons, she created a deck of index cards that mixed historical figures with people students might recognize, like modern-day rappers and reality TV stars. Each player is dealt five cards. To win a round, a player has to convince everyone else that the person on his or her card is the “blackest.” Forbes tested her new game, Trading Races, with friends, who encouraged her to create a business. A subsequent crowd-funding campaign raised $5,500 — and Forbes’s new venture was born.
For a few years, Forbes did okay by selling the game at Black culture festivals. Then the pandemic halted all in-person events. “I wondered: How do I get the word out — or is this the end?” says Forbes, who works on her business out of her Oakland, Calif., home.
Forbes didn’t have professional marketing experience and as a solopreneur, she couldn’t lean on co-founders to help her develop ideas. So when she heard about Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, she signed up for live 1:1 reviews to discuss social media marketing and strategy.
“The one-on-one sessions were phenomenal because we could drill down on my business,” she says, explaining that the discussion focused on actionable goals. “We could get into the nitty-gritty.”
The expert advice helped refine her promo ideas into a marketing calendar with a coherent social media strategy, tailored to her target audience. “Having a firm understanding of what I need to do, creating that content, and scheduling it out has been super helpful,” says Forbes. Today, Trading Races has several thousand followers on social media and partnerships with influencers. Sales have surged.
Kenyatta Forbes created the Trading Races card game as a way to teach Black history to middle school students in Chicago. Photo credit: Jason Henry.
Where does Forbes want to be in five years with her business?
“I just hope I continue to sustain and learn from this game,” she says. “I know that the percentage of Black women business owners is super small. Many Black businesses do not make it. My hope is that 10 years in, I’ll still be doing it and having the love for it I had in year one.”
10 Years in Business: Kami Watson Huyse’s Zoetica Media
Kami Watson Huyse has taken several courses on Verizon Small Business Digital Ready to help analyze the financial side of her business, Zoetica Media. Photo credit: Michael Starghill.
Kami Watson Huyse always knew she wanted to run her own business. Her grandfather had his own construction company and she inherited his entrepreneurial spirit. After several years working for a trade association in Washington, D.C., Huyse relocated to Texas and started over as an independent consultant. Soon, she gained a reputation for understanding digital marketing at a time when many users were still using dial-up modems.
In 2010, Huyse teamed up with two business partners to launch Zoetica Media, creating campaigns for companies that wanted to be socially impactful. She and her partners built digital marketing campaigns for companies that hadn’t used them before.
Two years later, Huyse’s partners decided to move on. “I was devastated,” says Huyse. She understood her partners’ reasons, but the change hurt. Huyse had questions she needed to answer: Would Zoetica still have the same focus and clients?
She quickly realized what she didn’t know. “What I'm really great at is communications, strategy and brand building,” says Huyse. “But what I'm not great at is the financial side of the company.” Tasks like organizing bank accounts and tracking capital spending were challenging. She found it difficult to look at the company’s long-term budget.
Zoetica Media’s Kami Watson Huyse speaks with Landi Spearman at Houston’s Social Media Breakfast meeting. Photo credit: Michael Starghill.
Recently she turned to the self-paced courses in Verizon Business Digital Ready. “You can’t get this kind of education anywhere,” says Huyse, marveling at the quality of the lessons. After taking the “Getting Certified” course, Huyse started the application process for Zoetica to be recognized as a Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (W/MBE) by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. The “Digital Defense” course opened her eyes to current cybersecurity issues.
Huyse is able to view Digital Ready courses right on her phone, at her own pace. She’s since taken numerous lessons that target ways to run a more profitable business, from “Operating Efficiency Essentials” to “Getting Beyond Breakeven.”
For the first time, she’s been able to forecast next year’s financial outlook and plan accordingly. The lessons have enabled her to study the details and see the big picture. “I love to download and fill out the lessons’ accompanying workbooks,” Huyse explained. The financial questionnaires helped her analyze Zoetica’s expenses and requirements.
What would she like to be doing in five years?
“I want to make sure the business can run itself,” says Huyse, “where I’m not the only driving factor of the business anymore.” To do that, she has to build the team and get more full-time employees. “That probably needs to happen in the next year or two to get there by that five-year mark.”
15 Years in Business: Frederick Reitz’s SAFESky
Frederick Reitz (center) discusses new ways of building clientele with SAFESky employees Robinson Avila Espanol (left) and Kercilys Adames (right). Photo credit: Octavio Jones.
Frederick Reitz has a good sense for a great opportunity. After 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) required airline employees to be fingerprinted several times a year. At the time, Frederick was working in security for an airline. An outside company fingerprinted the airline employees for $200 per person.
As a former police officer, Reitz had fingerprinting experience. He also knew he could offer the service at a much lower cost. As a side gig, he set up himself as an official fingerprint collector with the TSA. Outside of his day job, he started getting calls from other airlines.
When SAFESky grew into a full-time venture, Reitz dealt with the headaches a lot of business owners face, things like unexpected reminders to pay a fee or tax he didn’t know he owed. In the past few years, Reitz started taking Verizon Small Business Digital Ready courses to learn new ideas. “The classes open my eyes to things I didn’t think of,” says Reitz.
Courses on website design and search engine optimization had a measurable impact on his bottom line. From those courses, Reitz shared advice with his developer about the importance of focused website copy that answers client questions. The result? A 15 percent increase in business, says Reitz.
Before taking Verizon’s course on proposals, SAFESky was relying on in-person meetings to secure clients. Afterwards, Reitz had a newfound respect for polished presentations, using them regularly for new business opportunities. “Proposals helped us get bigger contracts because we looked more professional,” says Reitz, referencing three specific deals where they helped secure the business.
Frederick Reitz started SAFESky as a part-time fingerprinting business when he was still working in aviation. The company now has offices in Orlando, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Photo credit: Octavio Jones.
Where would he like to be in five years?
“I’d like to retire and have already talked to two of the staff people about buying the company,” says Reitz. “I would be a consultant. I love to travel, and would like to do more of that.”
Verizon Small Business Digital Ready is a free online curriculum designed to help small businesses succeed in today’s digital world—moving the world forward for all. To sign up, visit verizon.com/smallbusinessdigitalready
With Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, an individual user's experience may vary and results are not guaranteed.