A Slow Spiral Toward Success

KIDiddles, a children's music store, began as a loving tribute to Terry's father and has grown into a thriving business. Terry shares her journey and the lessons she has learned along with way.

In January of 1997, my Dad passed away. I came home from the funeral with a different perspective on life: I walked away from my cushy government job, ended my marriage, and put much of my focus on what had, until then, been a part-time venture -- an itty-bitty Web design business called "Stairway to Webbin'."

Largely through participation in I-Helpdesk, I connected with a number of people who became clients and/or great virtual friends. (Alas, I've yet to meet one in person!) I garnered a wealth of information from my colleagues on the list, and as my knowledge base grew, so did my business.

In June 1998, I launched a second Web site -- a tribute to my father and his love of music -- called KIDiddles.com. It's a children's music site that initially provided the lyrics to about 1000 children's songs and had a small store with about 15 products. I obtained my first merchant account (a nightmare story), and went through trial runs on a number of shopping carts. Sales that first year averaged about $200 a month.

Okay, so it wasn't much, but I knew I was headed in the right direction, and I kept on plugging along.

Through all this, particularly during the rough times when she had to bail me out, my Mom would just say: "Terry, why don't you get a REAL job??" (You would think, by then, she'd have figured out that I'd inherited my Dad's incredibly stubborn streak!)

Fast forward a couple of years...

Stairway was doing well. I was signing contracts for 5-digit design jobs.

KIDiddles, too, was continuing to grow in popularity. The site was serving about half a million page views a month, and the store catalog had increased to about 300 products. Sales were averaging about $800 a month. Though still not enough to support my daughter and me independently, it was coming! And combined with my income from Stairway, we were doing okay.

My Mom, however, was still skeptical -- that is, until the day I was offered a 6-figure sum to sell KIDiddles. It was a good offer, and certainly would have made my family's life a whole lot easier--but after much deliberation, I knew I just couldn't do it. KIDiddles was where my heart was, and I couldn't imagine giving it up.

When Mom and I had our final conversation before I turned them down, I commented that I might be making a mistake. I said to her: "I can just see myself... 90 years old... broke... sitting in my rocking chair in a government-funded nursing home... saying 'I shoulda sold!'"

When she told me I was doing the right thing, I realized that my 'labors of love' had finally gained credibility in her eyes. And though maybe it shouldn't have mattered, it did. Having her in my corner -- finally -- just fueled my desire to see KIDiddles succeed.

REALLY succeed.

At that point, I began to lose my 'heart' for Web design. I started directing my clients to others and put more focus on KIDiddles.

Last year, KIDiddles received unsolicited press from a couple of great magazines (BabyTalk and Child among them), and when the issues hit the stands, traffic to the site soared and sales started to climb. The store now boasted some 600 children's music products in its catalog, and by the end of the year, gross income was in the low 6-figure range. (Can you imagine?! I sure couldn't!)

And that brings me to the present...

On December 31, 2001, with only a little trepidation, I retired from my Web design business completely, to put my entire focus on KIDiddles.

Given that January is typically a slow month for sales, I was a bit nervous about the timing of my decision. But then I received what I can only believe was a sign from God that I was doing the right thing:

KIDiddles received another unsolicited review in the Feb/02 issue of Parenting magazine. Traffic to the site has been incredible, and sales have so far surpassed my two biggest pre-Christmas months last year. What an incredible blessing!

Trust me, this 'rags-to-quasi-riches' story hasn't been without its fair share of heartache and anxiety.

I've had to sacrifice relationships and social life because of the workload in juggling two businesses, a home, and life as a single mom. At an early point, I almost lost my home to foreclosure because I couldn't make the mortgage payments. (Literally days before the foreclosure papers were to be filed, I was blessed to receive a substantial web design contract that allowed me to pay off the arrears and keep the house. I've never been in arrears since.) Heck, I even managed to buy myself a new car a couple of months ago.

Woohoo!

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to know that if *I* can do it, *YOU* can do it, too! And maybe you can learn from some of the lessons I took in the school of hard knocks:

1. If you have a dream -- a realistic one -- work to make it a reality!

Set out to find out as much as you can about what it will take to make it happen, and get to work! Research, research, research, and follow that dream!

2. Give naysayers the 'flying thumb.'

Don't let ANYBODY tell you that you can't do it! Often, we are limited only by the lack of credibility we -- or those around us -- give to our ideas. If you do your homework right; don't let the 'little things' get you down; and continue to believe in yourself and what you're doing, you CAN make it happen. Find your niche and go for it!

3. Allow yourself to fall once in awhile. Just remember to pick yourself back up!

Okay, so maybe you haven't gone about it the 'right' way the first time round. But if you've learned even one teeny-tiny lesson from your detour, then that's a GOOD thing! Now that you know what DOESN'T work, set out again to figure out what WILL!

4. Brainstorm.

Some of my most successful ideas with KIDiddles came about -- either directly or indirectly -- as a result of brainstorming sessions with friends and family. It's amazing, too, how talking about something completely unrelated can all of a sudden send a bolt of "Why didn't I think of that before?!" lightning through your head.

5. If you've already got a business that isn't doing what you'd hoped it would, ask your customers for feedback, then listen to -- and ACT.

On KIDiddles, I have an online survey that I ask visitors to complete, as well as other means for them to communicate with me. As a result of their feedback, I have added features to the site that they'd asked for, as well as store products that were often requested.

6. Find your allies.

I was blessed to finally find a bank manager who believed in me and my vision... She agreed to set up my merchant account (and waived all the application fees!) after I'd been told everywhere that I'd never qualify for one of my own. Until that point, obtaining a merchant account had been one of my biggest stumbling blocks.

What are yours? Identify them, and start looking for connections to help make your dream a reality.

7. Most importantly, get on with it!

Refuse to live your life in 'shoulda, woulda, coulda' mode. The strides you make now will assure that, when you look back on life years later, you'll have no regrets. So get going!

It's too soon to tell whether giving up one of my two income-generating businesses was a good move or not, but I can only hope that it was. Stay tuned.

Terry Kluytmans owns the children's music site, http://www.KIDiddles.com


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