Before import businesswoman Yi Ping Lai connected with SCORE, her giftware and decorative accessories business specializing in silk butterflies, bees, dragonflies and flowers was marginally successful. But after attending one of San Diego SCORE’s regular workshops on Internet marketing and being taken under the wing of SCORE Mentor Marty Weiss, it was as if the silk butterfly business suddenly underwent a stunning metamorphosis, sprouted wings and literally took off.
“I was a bit discouraged, lacking confidence in myself and having fears about expanding my business,” Lai says about the early days of her business, Heart to Heart Gifts, Inc. “When you feel that way, you tend to think small, settle for less and stay in your comfort zone where you feel safe.”
Lai used her beloved butterflies to launch Heart To Heart Gifts’ Web site in October 2004. Since then, she’s gradually added other product lines such as costumes, accessories for parties and weddings, nylon flowers, and themed room items.
“Sales had been relatively flat,” she says, “but after working with the SCORE team of counselors, things seemed to change literally overnight. Sales steadily increased week after week, and within five months of working with SCORE, they had jumped an incredible 1,900 percent. We’ve grown four times in less than four years, and we are projected to top $1 million in sales in 2008.”
Her uniquely-designed products have since been featured on ABC-TV’s Extreme Home Makeovers program, Discovery Channel’s Party Show, and MTV’s Spring Break at Disney World. They are in demand by some of Hollywood’s hottest set and costume designers. Business is on the rise so much that she projected a 100 percent increase in sales for 2005.
“Having my own business gives me the freedom to choose who I want to work with or for,” she says. “My business is a also a channel for me to express creativity in a very positive way. I am the artist of my business, starting with a blank canvas and my own vision. These are all the good things of having your own business.”
Following her first SCORE workshop, Lai met personally with SCORE Mentor Marty Weiss, who asked her questions about her business and helped formulate an action plan. He followed up with encouraging phone calls and emails and set up regular appointments to meet again to check on her progress. He assured her the journey she was embarking upon wasn’t easy, but it was doable with some help. Those were the words she needed to hear.
“Marty’s experience in online marketing and business in general is incredible,” Lai says. “He taught me how to take things in stages to conserve my budget, rather than doing everything at once. Marty also helped me understand the importance of disciplined financial management and analysis, something that I hadn’t been doing up until then.
With the help of Weiss, Lai refined her business plan, took additional business skills workshops in sales and marketing, and sent employees for software and bookkeeping training.
With help from additional SCORE mentors, she started looking at her business in a bigger and different way–building her brand and pursuing licensing contracts with artists and designers–which she feels was the key to taking her to that next level. “I can’t say enough thanks to Ron Woodland, Jerry Greenspan, Ken Abraham, and Arnold Jaffe,” Lai says. “All of them are wonderful.”
“Suddenly I was feeling more empowered and had more faith in myself and my abilities,” she says. “I not only got valuable knowledge and business skills from SCORE, but also emotional support and someone to stand by me as well, even if I made a mistake. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel so alone in my business. SCORE coached me and cheered me on.”
“There’s no question that SCORE changed my life and direction,” Lai said. “They are a source of inspiration, empowerment and wisdom, and are great role models. It is intellectually stimulating and energizing being with them. They have changed my world for the better.”
Lai considers SCORE a valuable business partner that motivated her to work hard and stay focused and disciplined on her tasks. The reward for her efforts as a small business owner is independence, complete control of her direction, and the opportunity to be creative.
Looking back now, Lai says the rapid success she has already achieved under the tutelage of SCORE and its mentors would have otherwise taken her many more years had she done it by herself.
“I would highly recommend SCORE to anyone thinking about launching or expanding a business,” she says. “People don’t get the whole SCORE concept until they go through it. They helped me keep an open mind, have the patience to stay with it, and believe in myself. Finding SCORE was the turning point for me and my business.”