I am always so inspired by the entrepreneurs I meet in my travels. Last time I visited Hawaii Island, I met a fit and fabulous businesswoman who has capitalized on her love for biking. I’ve chronicled her journey in Part III of my series, Working in Paradise.
WORKING IN PARADISE, PART III: CYCLING TO SUCCESS
The road that led Gwendolyn Hill to launch BikeVolcano.com was a curvy one indeed. Here’s how she turned her passion for pedaling into a dream-come-true business on Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island).
The journey: The Oahu native graduated with a business degree from University of Redlands, California in 1990. She was managing an art gallery on Maui and volunteering as a Humpback Whale Interpreter on the weekends, when she became interested in wild dolphin communication research. She’d heard about several pods that regularly visited beaches on Hawaii Island, and decided to move over in 1992. “There was not much work or industry on the Big Island, so that forced me to become creative and start my own business,” she says. Her first was an adventure tour company, specializing in hiking, biking, camping and shore fishing, co- founded with her then-boyfriend in 1994. He financed the enterprise and Gwendolyn provided the business know-how, but after 2 years he decided to pursue other things. “I did not have the finances or the confidence to buy him out, so I closed the business down begrudgingly,” Gwendolyn says.
Exploring new directions: Instead, she researched and wrote a grant, and started a Hawaiian Koa Farm, planting 30,000 native Acacia Koa trees on her family’s land along the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii Island. It was a long-term project, and the trees took several years to plant and manage. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn also studied and taught African Dance, another passion of hers. She traveled to Africa to learn native dances and created a jewelry line inspired by African artwork. “Once my trees were up and running, and basically taking care of themselves, I found myself at a crossroads,” Gwendolyn says. “I wanted to run one successful business, instead of several somewhat successful businesses. I always believed that my adventure tours company was a great idea and could be profitable, especially with the Internet allowing worldwide access,” she says. So, in 2006, she mustered up the courage to reopen the tour business, this time specializing in her favorite activity, biking. Since Volcanoes National Park is the top attraction on Hawaii Island, and was one of her most popular tours the first time around, Gwendolyn decided to focus on bike tours through the park. She’d name her enterprise BikeVolcano.com.
Fueling up for the ride: It took Gwendolyn about 9 months to write a business plan and obtain a $50,000 loan to purchase bikes, a van and trailer, and cover other costs. “I needed every type of insurance and license that you can think of,” she says. “The red tape for operating a bicycle tour business is quite intensive. You have to be willing to jump through several hoops.” Her loan got rejected at first, but Gwendolyn was not discouraged. “I went in with a determined attitude that I was going to get a loan and do whatever it took to obtain it.” She got some advice from her local Small Business Development Center, resubmitted her application with additional information, and was awarded the loan.
Putting the wheels in motion: She incorporated, and BikeVolcano.com officially opened for business in 2007. A friend helped design and build the website, and Gwen methodically implemented the marketing goals she’d set for herself in her business plan. The word spread, and customers came. At first it was just Gwen working as a guide, with her new (and current) boyfriend driving the van. As the business began to build, she hired an additional driver. She now has 7 employees. “I am having to hire even more staff to keep up with the demand,” she says.
Handling roadblocks: As Gwendolyn’s business became established, one of the biggest challenges was finding time to take a vacation herself. But “now that I have been in business for 3 1/2 years, I have been able to figure out the slower seasons and have timed my vacations accordingly,” she says. “I also give myself a break every day where I can go to the beach and swim, bike ride, take a yoga class, read, or even nap for a couple of hours. This time adds up to a huge vacation, and helps me achieve a more balanced lifestyle.” Gwen is also learning to delegate more of her responsibilities.
On a roll: As BikeVolcano.com continues to grow, Gwendolyn has stayed true to her original mission. “My formula is essentially the same, to provide a quality tour with professional guides and good customer service,” she says. BikeVolcano.com now offers three tour courses: Summit Tour Special (a half day tour, 10am to 1pm); Bike Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with an optional Wine Tasting Session (full day tour, 10am to 3pm); and Bike to Pele – Kilauea’s East Rift Zone & Active Lava Flow Bike Adventure (1pm to 8pm). Business has grown so much that Gwendolyn is considering expanding even further.
Words of wisdom: What advice does Gwendolyn have for other businesswomen? “Believe in yourself,” she says. “See your dream in your mind and hold on to the vision. If you receive a ‘No’ keep asking until you find a ‘Yes’. The details will work themselves out and your dream will manifest, as long as you believe in it and know there is infinite abundance.”
Sounds like smokin’ hot advice to us!
This past Friday night, Ellen and I had the pleasure to meet one of our longtime MompreneursOnline.com community members, Gwen Austin. Gwen was in NYC for the annual Toy Fair, and we got together on Friday night to have a glass of wine and some appetizers near her hotel. We had never before met Gwen in person, but as the founder of RC Art Toys and the inventor of some really cool, educational toys, she had been active in our Mompreneurs Online forums for several years, so we were really good “virtual” friends. Geting to meet Gwen in person was such a bonus!
This is not the first time we have had a “live” get together with the inspiring, exciting women we have met on Mompreneurs Online. A couple of years ago, one of our most active members, Janene Jarosek, arranged a mini-reunion in Chicago for about a dozen Mompreneurs from our online community. We were already bonded through the exchange of ideas and experiences in our online community, but this gathering so strengthened our bonds as we shared personal and professional challenges over two days….and had so much fun in the process. We’ve also coordinated a luncheon in NYC for moms in the metropolitan NY area and another of our members, Danielle Zeitlin Hughes, arranged a memorable evening get-together at a restaurant.
What this all says is that you can form really valuable friendships through shared interests and nurturing support in an online community, and we are so grateful to all the women we’ve met over the years at Mompreneurs Online. You have made our community so vibrant and inspirational. We hope to meet each and every one of you in the near future so we can further cement these bonds of friendship and shared experiences.
Our brain often attempts to negotiate something different from what we want to do. Procrastination sets in. Dr. Timothy Pychyl defines procrastination as “the voluntary delay of an intended action despite knowing this delay will most likely undermine task performance and/or create psychological stress.” There is rarely or no benefit to procrastinating. Putting things off because you don’t want to do them is different than putting things off because you don’t know if you want to do the task.
20% of the population are chronic procrastinators. If you “voluntary delay” you have excellent self-deception skills according to Dr. Pychyl. I see it in my work as well. My clients didn’t get to their organizing tasks because they were too busy; there were other things more important. Aren’t we all busy?
What’s to be done about it? I think you have to fess up to the fact you have a problem and not treat it lightly. Don’t put things off when you know you need or want to get them done. Don’t have low priority items on your To Do List when you aren’t getting your priority items done. Be realistic about your energy level and commitment to the task. Get moving and get it done.
Yes, Christina messed up the words. Jeez – give her a flippin’ break. Take it from someone who has sung plenty of National Anthems in front of crowds up to 80,000 + people – singing the National Anthem, at the Super Bowl no less, and trying to time it with a fly-by ain’t easy.
What is going through our heads? “Smile. Get the right words. Oh man, the wind just blew dirt in my throat, don’t choke! My heels are digging into the ground, and I’m sinking! Note to self: Next year no heels. Which verse am I on? Emotion, Cher – help them feel the words, and relive the story. Wow. This is a lot of people. Smile. Whew – I’m on the right ver – Crap! My shirt just blew off my shoulder – hope my bra strap isn’t showing. Pronounced “per-i-lous” Not “per-o-lis”. Do I have the right hand on the right side over my heart? Or left hand. No. Heart is on the left side. Smile. Smile! My Spanx aren’t on right. Timing. Don’t speed up. Smile. You’re not smiling. Where are those jets? Did they forget? Where is Mom sitting? Make eye contact with the crowds. Ok – we’re over the hump, and still no jets. Stretch that out, s-t-r-e-t-c-h on “freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, and the hoooooooooooooooooooome” – big pregnant pause, hope Gene is with me here, still no jets… “of the” Gene , really big pause, hold on – Jets? Jets? Where are the j – yaaaay here come the jets! “Braaaaaaaaaaaavvvvvvve.” Smile, wave, keep smiling, cameras are still on, rolling, rolling, and cut.
Exhale and exit.
Rewind to the year 2007, the year Stardust was released, the year hubby’s freelance work started to dry up, and life for me in Omaha was turning a little…well, wacky…
Hi. It’s me, Cher – back to the present, and back in full swing, after a couple of rocky, odd years.
I really believe that we all have a purpose for being on this planet. And without getting all metaphysical on you, let’s just say that I believe we all have an “inner voice” that speaks to us, and if we allow ourselves to listen, we can choose to follow it or choose to ignore it. My inner voice has been screaming at me for as far back as I can remember, leading and guiding me, but after high school I didn’t know how to appease it. I didn’t know where to go, musically. Music is such a wide – and tough – arena, but creating music is my one true passion. As a teen in the Midwest, nobody in my circles seemed to know where to go with a musical kid. My high school counselor advised me to “teach music” or “go into social work.” My Mom told me that a degree in music would get me nowhere, and that I should study Engineering (the civil, electrical, petroleum kind of engineering), so I “would have something to fall back on.” Or go into Nursing.
My brother, Gene, and I sang at over 600 weddings. We sang in clubs. We wrote songs. I went out on the road and sang with a band for a year. Gene went to college and joined the swing choir. I studied Engineering. Gene studied Business. We sang in more clubs. We wrote more songs. I got engaged to a really wonderful guy, and tried to just “fit in” and “be normal.” But I was always restless. And after putting down a non-refundable deposit at the reception hall, that inner voice just reached out, grabbed me by the throat and slapped me upside the head, letting me know me I’m not following the path I am meant to follow.
I never became an engineer.
After selling all my belongings, and at the suggestion of a friend who played in a country band, I moved to Tennessee. Gene followed suit, and we began making our living in music “wearing many hats” as singer/songwriters, publishers, composers, roving artists, performing artists, arrangers, “marketeers”, choir directors, all the while honing our songwriting skills…all because there is nothing else we could ever be happy doing. We were dirt poor, but we were happy. We lived in Nashville, on the road, out of vans and in hotels, then finally, after I married hubby Ben, we all settled in L.A. Ben and I had our boy, Benjamin. Being on the road with a baby in tow, however, wasn’t what we wanted our new family life to be about, so when the opportunity for Ben to “work from home” presented itself, we returned to Omaha where our son would have a sense of roots. The day we moved out of L.A., I felt a small part of me die, but I buried it. For the good of my family.
Back in Omaha, we recorded, released and marketed Stardust, we wrote and arranged a lot of new music, wrote and sang jingles, performed for several high-profile events that didn’t pay a dime, sang at house concerts, and recorded more music. To make ends meet, Gene and I took on two extra jobs, directing music at a church and at a high school, and although we loved the people we were getting to know in the choirs, it wasn’t filling my spirit. Ben’s freelance work had all but disappeared (a sign of what was to come in the economy), so Ben started commuting from LA to Omaha on a weekly basis, switching from The Simpsons to Family Guy and then back to The Simpsons. I was essentially a single parent, and our lives had become utter chaos.
One night, I was soaking in the bathtub reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I suddenly and uncontrollably burst into tears. I realized that the inner voice that, in the past, had guided me in pursuit of my purpose had all but gone silent. In my pursuit of making a comfortable, “normal” home for my family in Omaha, I had lost my way. I had become “comfortably numb.” (Thank you Pink Floyd.) I cried all night.
The next night, I allowed myself to listen. To be still, be quiet, and really listen for my inner voice. It was still there – and it was forcing me to remember what I had set out to do when I first left Omaha all those years before. It actually hurt to remember. But it became easier, as I began to imagine the possibility of moving back to L.A. I became restless again but I was really torn. I loved Omaha. My family, my house, my friends, my neighbors and my huge backyard – all in Omaha. I didn’t want to move to all the traffic, the pollution, the lousy L.A. school system. But I couldn’t stay. I hadn’t signed up for single parenting, my son was unhappy at his school, and there weren’t any animation studios opening up anytime soon in Omaha. And it was becoming clear that staying in Omaha directing choirs, or singing cover tunes in a church or a bar was a musical and spiritual compromise.
Thankfully, it all came to a screeching halt in November when we sold the house. There was no turning back. In December, Ben, Benjamin and I relocated to Los Angeles.
Fast forward to last night. I’m in a room with a dozen or more composers and songwriters for film and television, together for an evening of pizza, wine, face to face sharing, talking industry, talking shop and I realize we are all swimming together happily in the same aquarium. This is what I have been missing. The relationships, the camaraderie, the stories, the laughing, the interaction with like-minded people in the same field. Being in a city energized by creative people who make their living being who they were put on this earth to be. Being in a place where the value of music, and the composer, and songwriter is a given. Where it is understood that Music is a legitimate, serious business to serious musicians.
It is February 5, 2011. I am now back on track, moving steadily forward, on my journey as a singer/songwriter and composer for film and television. I’m a newbie to the field, and I will keep you posted on our progress. And for the first time in my life, I am not restless.
Regrets? Naaa. But I’ve learned a few life lessons.
What do I know for sure? Never Again will we sing for 80,000 people and “be fine” with not getting paid. And Never Again will I allow a high school principal to equate the value of what I do as a composer to that of a temp who sharpens pencils, without firmly decking her squarely across the jaw.
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.” Well put, Mr. O’Shaugnessy.
Ever dreamed of what it would be like to run a business on a tropical island? Here’s another inspirational woman who is doing just that, from my ongoing series about Working in Paradise.
In the 1990s, Jeanne Sunderland was a Spa Director at luxury hotels on Hawaii Island, where she founded the Spa Without Walls at the Ritz Carlton (now the Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii), and revolutionized treatments by offering them outdoors. Today, she and her husband, Robert Watkins (who is also a physician on the island), run Hawaii Island Retreat, an eco-friendly, boutique-style hotel and spa, specializing in health and wellness. It took nearly 10 years to complete, but Jeanne & Robert persevered, believing that it was their mission to create this peaceful sanctuary on Hawaii Island’s North Kohala coast.
Here’s how they took their idea from vision to reality.
Noticing a need in the market. During the 13 years she worked in spa management, clients would often ask Jeanne if she knew of a place they could go for health and wellness retreats. “Though there were some, most were operating without proper permits, and lacked the grace and comforts of upscale hotels. “I realized there was a need for elegant facilities that could accommodate 30 – 50 guests for spa getaways, honeymoons, small weddings, and group or corporate events,” says Jeanne. “The existing hotels were too large for such intimate gatherings, and B&B’s were too small.” Jeanne imagined a refined place that would specialize in Hawaiian healing treatments for mind, body and spirit, and be completely sustainable, too. Hawaiians have great respect and love for the land; they call it aina, and believe it has sacred power. “We wanted our lodge to be in total balance with the earth, and show that it is possible to be green, while providing high-end accommodations,” says Jeanne. Her retreat would have 5-star amenities, as well as eco amenities for the earth. Electricity would be provided through solar energy cells and windmills, sparkling pools would catch rain water for resort use, meals would come from their organic fruit and vegetable gardens and the cattle, chickens and sheep raised in lodge pastures. “Our goal was to be as self-sustaining as possible,” Jeanne says.
Trusting her intuition. Though originally from Kansas, Jeanne found herself at home on Hawaii Island as a young adult, and fell in love with the Kohala Coast and settled there. She became interested in Hawaiian culture and therapies, and began studying with native healers. She recalls that over 30 years ago, her spiritual teacher, Uncle Tommy, brought her to the very land that Hawaii Island Retreat now sits on, but she didn’t know why. “He said he was told to bring me there,” remembers Jeanne. Years later, when she was searching for a tranquil setting to build the lodge on, a friend showed her that same piece of property, and she immediately recognized it. “I knew I was home,” she says. It was as if she was destined to start her venture there. Business owners are often surrounded by critics and naysayers, but “you have to trust your gut and listen to your inner voice,” Jeanne says. It turns out that the land has a very interesting and sacred history. It is believed that Hawaii’s famous King Kamehameha The First met with his advisors in the grassy outdoor ampitheater in the valley, and that the ancient boulders there have spiritual power. It was while meditating by the rocks that Jeanne heard the Hawaiian name for her retreat: Ahu Pohaku Ho’omaluhia, which means place of the Sacred Peace-Giving Stones.
Building blocks. Jeanne and Robert bought the land with money borrowed by mortgaging their home and other properties purchased through years of living in Kohala. They applied for a Special Use Permit, which they obtained in August of 2001. Robert and their grown son, Daemion, an engineer and general contractor, began building the lodge and surrounding structures themselves, and Robert worked to cultivate the fields. But it took 9 long years before they received their Certificate of Occupancy and welcomed their first guests. One setback was the earthquake of 2006, which delayed things nearly 12 months. Stucco and drywall had just been completed and needed to be extensively repaired; finish work and painting had to be redone; and although the structure was sound, the couple chose to add more reinforcement. The rules, regulations, permit process and business taxes also slowed things down, and made the cost of doing business extremely high. During that time, Jeanne continued working for local hotels, and Robert, who is a doctor, kept practicing as a primary care physician and Director of Emergency Services at Kohala Hospital (a position he still holds). “It would be hard to view this state and island as business-friendly,” she says. “You need a lot of patience!”
Persistence pays off. Hawaii Island Retreat opened it doors on April 1, 2009 and built a buzz in the first few months by hosting non-profit fundraising events for community organizations, like Kohala Hospital, and Friends of the Library. Word of mouth referrals, a beautiful (and peaceful) website, a You Tube channel, Facebook Fan page, and partnerships with the Big Island Visitors Bureau help Jeanne reach more potential guests and get covered in many newspaper and magazine articles.
Serenity now! Today, “the grounds and facilities are even more beautiful than we dreamed,” says Jeanne. The main house has an open-air dining room and courtyard, and 9 guest rooms (including a penthouse honeymoon suite), all decorated in classic Hawaiian style. The spa has 2 yoga studios (with floors made from eco-friendly wood imported from South America), outdoor massage cabanas, and a saltwater infinity pool that seamlessly blends into the surrounding landscape of ocean, cliffs and sky. Jeanne was savvy enough to notice that travelers were looking for a retreat like this, and truly believed that if they built it, guests would come. She says her greatest reward is seeing the transformation of her visitors. “They come with the stress of their lives showing on their faces, and leave at ease, peace-filled and happy.”
For more success stories, read Working in Paradise, Part I: Slow Down and Smell the Coffee
Do you find yourself getting lost and spending a ton of time trying to make sense of how to create a dynamic Facebook Page and attract people to it?
If so, you’ll want to grab a spot in my next info-rich class on Facebook Pages!
If you’re ready to get your own laser-focused Facebook strategy for your biz, you won’t want to miss my upcoming, 90-minute Facebook Page Intensive webinar. Why? Because you WILL walk away with AT LEAST the following 3 things:
–A simple, easy-to-implement content strategy that builds lots of buzz for you
–Specific, focused actions that can triple or even quadruple your number of fans (quickly!)
–A plan for list-building via Facebook so you can enjoy a flood of new subscribers…
…and much, much more–so don’t miss out!
The webinar will be interactive so you will be able to see my screen in real-time and follow along with everything I do.
Space is limited, so if you’re ready to master Facebook Pages, click the link below for all the details:
Hope to have you join us!