This interview is with Merri Jill Finstrom, creator of HUTdogs – an easy-to-use website builder that is affordable and comes with excellent customer service – to which I can personally attest!
Q: What is your name? Merri Jill Finstrom
Q: Company name and website? HUTdogs, a division of Emjay Creative
Q: We launched in: 2004
Q: What is your business or what do you sell?
HUTdogs offers 3 products right now, QuickSite a web builder, QuickSqueeze, a squeeze page maker and BYOL (bring your own laptop) workshops.
Q: Who or what was the inspiration behind your company?
HUTdogs stems from a graphic design business, Emjay Creative, that I started about 11 years ago. With Emjay Creative, we provide strategic design solutions for a variety of clients, marketing collateral, newsletters, annual reports, sophisticated web sites and direct mail. Over the years a lot of people have asked if we could create a web site or internet solution for under $500. So we came up with HUTdogs. Our main goal with HUTdogs is to provide affordable on-line tools and solutions that are easy for us to deliver (everything is in a system or group delivered) and provide the quality of service and tool that we use for our higher end web client but scaled down a bit to meet the demand for affordability (under $500).
Q: How did you get started?
I worked in the marketing department for the American Red Cross as their creative services manager for 10 years. During that time I did a bit of freelancing and got a taste for being my own boss. I then took a part time job and cut in pay for a hospital and asked if I could work from home 30 hours a week. They said yes! This allowed me the time and flexibility to take on a couple clients and build my business. Word of mouth spread fast and within 2 years, I went out on my own, keeping the hospital and the Red Cross as clients. They were valued networks as well and still give me referrals and work to this day!
Q: How long before your business was profitable, or when is it projected to become profitable? My income tripled once I took the risk to leave my job. I had enough clients lined up who like working with me so it was easy. I’ve never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I know that I have much more job security in my own business and can make more money than any job can offer.
Q: What significant obstacles (if any) have you faced & how did you overcome them? There are little obstacles everyday. But I know they come with the territory of having your own business and as you get seasoned you don’t take them personally, you just problem solve and move on.
Q: Do you ever feel like giving up at times? If so, what keeps you going? I never feel like giving up because I really love what I do. I’m blessed to be able to make money in a creative way. The thought of working in a 9-5 job with a boss and the office culture absolutely gives me a panic attack.
Q: What qualities (i.e., family support, discipline, time management) do you think are necessary for a women entrepreneur? Where do I begin? I talk to a lot of people who want to start a business. From my point of view, you either have what it takes or you don’t. Sounds brutal, but I meet so many people who sit on their ideas and never do them. You have to have a good attitude and think in a powerful positive way about everything. You have to be able to put yourself out there, keep talking about your ideas, and not get wrapped up in perfection… just do it and see what happens. Then adjust along the way. Keep trying new things. Take some advice but in the end be strong enough to trust your own instincts. Yes, time management is important but that’s secondary. The best entrepreneurs I know are people who make quick decisions and constantly move forward. This skill creates time management.
Q: What is the one thing (book, website, coach, mentor, tool, blog, service, etc) that you value and can say has contributed to your success? Other positive entrepreneurs. I love to talk to them, brainstorm with them and spin with ideas.
Q: What was the worst advice someone gave you? I can’t remember.
Q: What are your business or personal goals for the next year? I want everything in a solid automated system. We are building a club that I want to grow into something extraordinary. We find there is power in bringing people together to talk about modern concepts but in an old fashioned way.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in business or thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship? JUST DO IT! Trust your instincts, make sure it is something you really love doing then ask for what you need. When I started my business, I asked for a flexible work situation. I asked for customers. I keep asking for what I need. Be flexible. Know that things unfold in business that you may not have expected. Have an attitude of “experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want.”
Q: is there anything else you wish I had asked?
Yes, How has motherhood made you a better entrepreneur?
Being a mom has made me more organized and a master at time management. Having my own business and a small child to care for is a balancing act but it has forced me to learn the art of being present in the moment….when I’m working, I focus, make faster decisions and move forward so that when I’m with my daughter, I can really focus on her and “be present” in our time together. It also helps me stay creative in my work. Watching her discover new things that I’ve taken for granted gives me so much more perspective and this translates into everything I do in my business and creatively.
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