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Women discuss entrepreneurship efforts, challenges

Local entrepreneurs talk about their business experiences on Thursday at a “Women in Entrepreneurship” event at Barrel + Beam. From left are Michele Dupras, owner of Revisions Design Studio and Revival; Beth Millner, owner of Beth Millner Jewelry; Sarah Ruuska, owner of Lutey’s Flower Shop; and Carrie Pearson, children’s book author and consultant. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Starting your own business is challenging no matter what your gender.

Several local women, who are entrepreneurs, shared their experiences at a “Women in Entrepreneurship” event on Thursday at Barrel + Beam in Marquette Township.

The event, sponsored by Innovate Marquette SmartZone, featured Beth Millner, owner of Beth Millner Jewelry; Sarah Ruuska, owner of Lutey’s Flower Shop; Carrie Pearson, children’s book author and consultant; and Michele Dupras, owner of Revisions Design Studio and Revival. Ruth Solinski, manager of human resources at RTI Surgical, was the moderator.

Starting out in early education at the University of Michigan, Pearson has made several career transitions to get where she is now.

“This part of my path seems to have combined all the things that I have done in the past — working with people, working on my own, sales, marketing, promotion, creativity,” Pearson said. “So, I’m really happy to be back in front of children.”

As with many fledgling business owners, Dupras acknowledged having challenges.

“The biggest challenge is just having the guts to get started,” said Dupras, who branched out on her own with only $500 in the bank.

Millner said dealing with challenges can help a person along the way.

“Rather than thinking of them as a struggle or a thing that you don’t like, it’s sort of looking at those challenges and sort of guiding into them instead of shying away from them,” Millner said.

A business changing in itself requires change on the part of the owner, she noted. She performs a lot of the design work, but lately has been involved in systems work.

“Something that for me has been a lesson lately is that I’m not just a jeweler,” Millner said.

In high school, while working at her cousin’s coffee shop, she learned the importance of customer service, giving them the best possible experience they can have and treating customers as if they’re guests in the business owner’s home.

“I try to help them feel comfortable and at ease with their experience,” Millner said.

Moving a business, of course, might be necessary; Ruuska’s shop is in its third location, all on the same block.

It also can be a solo operation.

For example, Pearson doesn’t have any employees except herself. She does, however, manage a team of 15 volunteers.

“I think one of the challenges for me is figuring out how to keep people motivated,” Pearson said, pointing out that’s without anything extrinsic except for that internal motivation.

And building a team, she stressed, is the same as when people are being paid.

Finances, of course, have to be watched, and Dupras had wondered how she could make a living with art.

After helping her father with QuickBooks as a teen, she saw how money deposits could make someone thrilled, but that would be tempered with the expenses coming in.

The lesson?

“All that money that comes through your hands is not necessarily yours to keep,” Dupras said.

Entrepreneurs can work alone, or have a large or small staff.

Ruuska has a small staff.

“The three of us all do everything together,” she said.

Women entrepreneurs also face at least one of the same issues as men: dealing with employees who aren’t working out.

Ruuska said one of her employees told her, “I just wasn’t raised to be nice to people.”

That definitely was a red flag.

Millner had a few words of advice on the issue: Approach it with tact, and don’t gossip with other staff before a person is fired.

Then there’s the ongoing creative process.

“You’re not just going onto the site where the research is,” Pearson said. “You’re going to be all over the place if you’re not careful. So, many days I try not to even go there. I’ll turn on the computer because I have some writing on the computer. I’ll turn it on and won’t even open up the internet. Black hole. I’ll just be creative for ‘x’ amount of time that morning, and that heats my soul, because we all have to be creative.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.