Marnie Swedberg is more than an entrepreneur, she’s a “multipreneur” running a number of diverse businesses, from a retail store to a takeout restaurant to an online mentorship program. Swedberg has also written a dozen published books and served as a speaker at and host to countless expos, conferences and boot camps. To top it all off, she also owns the largest directory of Christian women speakers in the world, www.womenspeakers.com.
No doubt, Swedberg has a plethora of interesting business experience, some of which she shared with us during a recent conversation.
How did you get started with your business?
I started my first business when I was 18 years old. It was called Forever Fit. It was an exercise business that brought exercise programs into major corporations. Ever since I was young, I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. I’ve always looked for the hole in the market. I watch for the niche and the place where nobody is doing a good job. Then I’ve said, “OK, that’s where I’m going to focus my attention.”
Who was your first customer?
My first customer would have been St. Martin’s Press out of New York, who published my first book. I went about that by pitching my book proposal to them.
Once I started my online business, a directory of Christian women speakers, my first customer was another speaker. She found my site and said, “I’ll join you.”
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
For the online business, we funded it with the first sales, the royalties and advance from the book. Since then, the businesses have been self-funding, unless we’ve done something like a major website redesign, in which case we funded it with our savings.
For our restaurant, we had two funding sources in addition to ourselves. One was just a regular bank loan. The other one was through a foundation, which had some serious benefits. The downside of going with the foundation was that we had to pay a little bit extra for percentage and points on the loan. The upside was that we got two consultants, who I believe are the reason we are still in business today, since we had never been in the restaurant industry before.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
My husband has been in business management most of his career with major corporations. I’d had businesses before. Honestly, we learned by trial and error.
Sometimes, if we tried something and made a costly mistake, we would just look at it like it was a college credit. Lots of people go to college to get a degree and they’ll happily pay thousands of dollars per credit. We would just say, “Well, that was a five-credit class!” when we lost money on something. That really helped reduce the stress of the losses.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
After we had our restaurant for a couple of months, my husband asked me how it was going, because I was not only managing our new restaurant, but I was homeschooling our children. I said, “The challenge is that we’re going to either have to make a change at the restaurant or just put them in school, because I just really can’t do justice to both things. It’s just too much. We’re limping along, but we’re not great.” He said, “We’re not going to put them back in school, and we’re not going to let the restaurant go, so we’ve got to come up with a different idea.”
When you hit a roadblock, instead of just throwing something out the window, look for a way to make it work together. Always stop and say, “How can we make this work?” My husband grilled me on it and kept asking, “Why is it such a problem? We have staff. Why are you having to work so much?” The thing was that if people couldn’t work their own shift, they would call me, and I’d drop everything and go work anywhere from 2 to 12 hours on a day that I wasn’t supposed to be there.
My husband implemented something called, “Defend Marnie Home Bonus.” That bonus is still in place. If they keep me from covering their hours by finding someone else to cover for them without including me in the transaction, they could earn up to 6 percent of their monthly pay in a bonus. All of a sudden, everybody was highly motivated to be a team instead of just relying on me to always pick up the slack. It was wonderful to me, because I got to keep doing the two things that were most important to me at that time, which were helping the kids and running the restaurant.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
With the restaurant, we bought a really rundown restaurant. The previous owners had really let it go. It was in bad shape when we bought it. The perception that people had about the business we bought was that it was filthy. The food was really good, but you couldn’t trust what was in it.
We really went way overboard. The only time I would recommend this is when you’re trying to overcome a perception. When we bought it, we got uniforms for everybody. We wore gloves to make everything. We never served anything unless it was pristine and really clean. We painted the building and did everything we could to make it look fresh and new. It really only took about 6 weeks to turn it around. That was the best thing we did.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The relationships. We have people around the world who call us friends because they have worked with us or for us or they have purchased things from us.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
Personnel. We have always had a wonderful staff that has become our best friends, but peoples’ lives change. People move or go to school or have babies. We are constantly training new people. That’s the part that gets a little tiring, because you’re constantly training people, and training takes a lot of effort.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
Michael Gerber, with the E-Myth. I think the way that he goes about training entrepreneurs to think about their business is very important. With both of our brick-and-mortars, that’s how we run them. Everything is documented to a point where it can be duplicated and somebody else can step in very easily.
For our online business, I’d say Tim Ferriss. It’s more of a model where I am the business.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Before you start it, make sure that the business side of it is covered. Most people start a business because whatever they’re trying to sell is their hobby. They don’t understand that it’s one aspect. That’s the product, but it’s not the business. If you don’t have the right business foundation or the people to handle the business side of the thing, you’ll really burn out on what you love, because you won’t get to do it very much. You’ll mostly be focusing on the business – the marketing, the financing, the daily grind type things.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
The simple answer is that I wish I’d known everything I’ve learned since I started the business, but that’s not how life is.
I work with lifelong learners. There’s so much to learn. I think the key is to keep learning and understand that you’re not going to know it all.
Define failure as feedback, because it gives us freedom to try things. If I had known that, I might have been a little bit more peaceful about learning things through trial and error.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.
This article was originally written on August 24, 2015 and updated on July 21, 2016.