Paula Deen's "Rags To Riches" Business And Branding Success Story

Since late 2007 millions of people have been affected by a job loss or reduction in pay. That fact has led more people to consider self-employment. There has always been lots of discussion about the challenges and rewards of going out on your own and creating a living out of your skills. The fact that 50% of all small business fail within 5 years is a sobering fact for wide eyed and enthusiastic rookie entrepreneurs. However, there are lots of success stories as well. Can a new entrepreneur increase his or her chances of making it by studying others’ successes? Certainly, if there is one success story that is loaded with simple and down to earth advice it is Paula Deen’s story.

Paula Deen on Suze Orman Show
In 2010, Paula Deen was on The Suze Orman Show and an interesting fact about her business came up. Years ago, before Paul Deen became the successful entrepreneur that she is today, she was nearly destitute. Suze brought up the fact that Paula had started out with only $200.00, which immediately leads people interested in small business success stories to go learn more. Prior to that interview, the only thing I knew about Paul Deen was that she was the friendly looking lady whose picture was on cookware sold at Wal-Mart.

Paula Deen's biography, "It Ain't All About Cookin'", was a great place to start in order to learn more. For those with an entrepreneur's heart, you won't be able to put her book down. Paula gives readers an honest and insightful look at her life, from childhood to the incredible business success she is today.

Facing very tough obstacles
If you’re dissatisfied with your job or need some inspiration while working on your own small business venture, Paula's story can be very motivating. Before Paula Deen was a business owner she held jobs such as a bank teller; a place where she was robbed at gun point. One job she was not proud of at all was her job at a Kroger grocery store where she wasn’t qualified to be a cashier, and was instead hired to clean the store at a lower pay rate. However, at that point in her life she didn't have a choice, and took whatever job she could get. More than once her family was faced with foreclosure and terrible financial crises.

Starting with $200.00.
Paula had a tremendous skill: cooking. Like many small business owners that skill was something that was marketable, even if she didn't fully recognize it at the time. Even though she didn't have experience in running a business she had many other things that formed the foundation of her success: excellence at her craft, deathly determination, a strong work ethic, personality, and really no other choice but to succeed. Paula used all the money she had, $200.00, and bought enough food and supplies to make about 40 tuna sandwiches and sell them in an office building during lunch time. She sold them all and her business, The Bag Lady, was born. She went on to open a small catering business, open the Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah, buy real estate, publish many recipe books, sell products on QVC, start a television show on the Food Network, star as a guest on Oprah, and even work with former President Jimmy Carter!

Listed below you will find many of the key points and examples that were instrumental in Paula Deen's business success.

1) You have to work harder. Harder than what anyone else defines as "hard work". Paula even starts the book out mentioning that success only comes with hard work. You will never stop working. While luck can sometimes play a small part in success, Paula makes a great point: luck sure seems to happen a lot more often when you are working extremely hard. Hard work builds positive forward momentum by creating an environment where tomorrow's greater accomplishments are made possible because of today's work.

2) Keep your costs low, especially during the fragile start up time. Paula had two excellent examples in “It Ain't All About Cookin'". When she starting out making lunches in her kitchen she, and those helping her, used (clean) underwear as hair nets, thus saving that cost! Additionally, she kept her living expenses very low, keeping the focus on business needs rather than personal desires.

3) Nothing else can be more important than your business. Everything else is just background noise. Paula even mentioned that when major news stories were being reported she barely noticed. Her focus on building her business kept her from following stories like the O.J. Simpson trial, the Unibomber, or even the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. If you're business is going to succeed, it must be the focus of all your effort and energy.

4) Be mindful of quality and your customer's experience. Being the best in your niche and providing a quality product brings customers to your door. Paula had no money for advertising, but her welcoming personality and the notable quality of her meals led customers to tell others. Customers felt good about Paula; she has an inclusive personality that draws others in. Additionally, the quality of her cooking stood out and separated her from others. That word of mouth advertising was invaluable in getting Paula's catering and restaurant businesses off the ground.

5) Be willing to take risks. If you are the kind of person that desires security and knowing where your next paycheck is coming from then small business is not for you. The only thing you can count on when getting started is that you will be challenged regularly to solve problems that have no easy answer. You have to have the fortitude to face problems that have the potential to cripple your business, without blinking or flinching.

6) Accept that you will make mistakes. One of Paula's strengths is that she kept getting back up every time she was knocked down. In one example, her catering business became homeless when her landlord immediately evicted her after she told him she would be leaving in the future. In retrospect she should have waited longer before giving the notice, but that didn't stop her from immediately working on other options.

What you may find interesting about Paula's story is that like so many other entrepreneurs, getting started was anything but glamorous or easy. The stories that typically make the headlines are rare overnight successes, but the overwhelming number of real successes take years and a lot of hard lessons. Paula survived the let downs and extreme challenges because she got back up and got to work every time the proverbial door was slammed in her face.

If you looked at Paul Deen years ago before her success you may not have seen the assets she had, but they were there. She possessed a marketable skill, an entrepreneur's attitude, an incredible work ethic, and a passion to do better for herself and family. That is why she is the current face of cooking quality. YOU are your most valuable asset. Think about what it is you want to accomplish. Ask yourself what things about you will be assets in your work to achieve those goals.

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