Joann Woolley learned sign language as a baby to communicate with her mother, who is deaf. Now she is the instructor and owner of a business helping today's little ones learn the same. Sign4Baby recently celebrated its fifth anniversary—a milestone which at one point didn't seem like it would come.
But now Woolley, who was named one of Mommy Perks' Women to Watch in 2012, has found a sweet spot in her industry and is sharing what she's learned in this week's Behind the Biz.
Patch: When did you open your business and why did you choose this community?
Woolley: I founded Sign4Baby in August of 2007. It made sense to bring my service to strong family communities. There is a parallel between parents who value connecting with their babies through baby communication and their choice to live in areas that foster community.
What are some of the challenges you've faced? What have you learned from them?
In December 2009 I had posted to our Facebook page that the journey of Sign4Baby had come to an end. The economy was really tough and I had recently had my third baby. In a matter of three months I was teaching classes again because some loyal clients who had taken my classes many times over had their second babies and wanted to do the classes again and essentially revived my business. What I learned is that when you have a passion for something and that something makes an impact on people's lives, it doesn't matter what the economic situation is, your business can grow.
What distinguishes your business from others in the same industry?
There's service after the sale. A simple line I learned from a professor in college. Being that I'm accessible both in person via the playgroup we have and online through our Facebook page, this gives clients an opportunity to reach out and be part of a community. I've been told it is my connection to people that attracts them to enroll in my classes. Part of that connection must also be that my expression in signing is authentic since ASL is my first language. My mom is deaf, so I signed as a baby, and that provides something very unique to the families I serve.
What's the best business advice you've been given, and what's your favorite advice to share?
Connect with other likeminded BOMs (Business Owner Moms). We need to support one another because the juggle of raising children and building a business is HARD. My favorite piece of advice to share is to hire a business coach. Learning the things that are in your blind spot and working on the muscles of discipline and strategy will bring not only your business better results, but also bring the clients you serve better results.
What changes, if any, would you like to see in the local business community?
I'd like to see businesses in this community connect with one another both online and offline to bring greater value to clients through partnerships. I've been fortunate to find a few gems where we work together for a common goal, connecting and educating families and it is very rewarding.
Bonus: Is there anything else you'd like to share about owning your own business?
In the first couple of years when I adopted the title of WAHM or "momprenuer" my mindset was that I was a mom who had a business. At the time that was very appropriate for me because I still had babies to look after. That meant a majority of my time was spent being a mom. As my children have left the "baby stage" my mindset has shifted to I am a business owner who is a mom. If that shift had not occurred I would not have been able to sustain my business. This shift was a natural fit as my youngest is now in preschool.
Each time I've faced obstacles in my business it has made me question if I'm cut out for this entrepenuership thing. Those obstacles are there to test your commitment to your passion because anything worth doing is not going to come easy. So I try to remember that every challenge, both personal and professional, can be looked at in one of two ways: an excuse to throw in the towel or an opportunity for growth.