“Our business plan was developed as the primary tool for planning and managing our business. The process forced a rigor into both the breadth and depth of our thinking about the business... The education we got as a result feels like it would be an MBA.”Christine Crowley Peters, Peters Path
Most new businesses start out narrowly focused on the bottom line. With so much financial uncertainty in the market today, building philanthropy into a business plan can be a scary proposition. But that didn't deter Christine Crowley Peters, President and CEO of Peters Path. Her philosophy is, "Don't let fear hold you back."
Peters put that personal credo into action in 2008 when she left a career in cosmetology and started Peters Path Corporation, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The Peters Path website launched in March 2009, selling fashionable and hip clothing and providing customers with an opportunity to experience socially responsible shopping.
Peters Path is Christine's first venture into entrepreneurship, and she says she found just planning the business to be quite a learning experience. When she started using Business Plan Pro to write her business plan, it broadened her ideas about her company. "Our business plan was developed as the primary tool for planning and managing our business. The process forced a rigor into both the breadth and depth of our thinking about the business. In many ways it led us into areas we might have preferred to defer, as they were difficult, time-consuming, and stressful. The education we got as a result feels like it would be an MBA."
All that time spent was worth it. She says she and her partner, Vice President/CFO Ronda Balfe, work diligently to maintain the 'for-profit/philanthropy' business model they've adopted and have built into their business plan. "It was my focus and I made it fit. We do regular pro formas based on the data built in to our business plan. Further, the plan is a dynamic document which we flex with new information as it evolves." In fact, says Peters, she has gone back to the software to update her plan so many times that the CD with her saved plan file "has scratch marks through all parts of it!"
Peters Path donates a portion of the proceeds of every sale to nonprofit organizations that promote equality and empowerment, fight poverty, aid those less fortunate, and foster community service. Customers choose from a select list of charities when they purchase online, letting the shopper select where they want their money to go. "Peters Path was started as a way for me to combine my love of fashion with philanthropic endeavors, which have played an important role in my personal life, and my children's lives," Peters says. The company's products include comfortable, stylish clothing and unique, hip jewelry, from brands including Alternative Apparel, Johnny Was, Angel Court, Young Fabulous and Broke, DL1961 denim, and Acholi Beads, which are made from recycled materials in Uganda by women who fled the civil war. They also carry bamboo clothing, and Peters Path's own label of organic T-shirts.
In addition to the money donated from each purchase, the company also holds online fundraisers, where 100 percent of the profits from the sales of their t-shirts are donated to a specific cause. A recent sale raised funds for Helping Children Worldwide and the Child Rescue Centre. In additional to aiding these charities financially, the company seeks to help raise awareness of their causes. "I know that everyone has the power to make a difference. Whether it is by purchasing a product, becoming active in your own community, volunteering your time... there are so many ways to help. We want to help others ignite their own flame and let their passion make the world a brighter place."
To be able to donate as much money as they do, Peters Path has to keep a watchful eye on spending. "We are operating on one corporate debit card, and only one credit card account with a $2,500 limit that has to be paid in full monthly. It is very difficult to operate with limited funds like that. I could never do that part of our business," Peters say, praising Balfe for the skills she brings to the table. Peters is emphatic about the value of a good partnership that involves people with different skill sets working together. "She [Balfe] complements me perfectly, as we are very different, and she brings a perspective to the table that is vital and crucial to our existence — that of managing our finances and understanding our budget. She is the left brain and I am the right brain."
Peters advocates doing "stress tests" on your business plan -- she acknowledges that the term may have a negative association these days, but adds, "the concept is very important to every business. The factors to use to stress-test different business plans will obviously differ, but should be developed." She suggests creating worst-case scenarios that are actually far worse than you would expect, reducing your best-case scenario numbers by 20%, even dropping income forecasts a significant amount to see just how much your business will handle. When you do this, you provide yourself with an idea of what your business would look like in a whole range of situations. And by planning for that range, you'll be in a better situation should any one of those scenarios come to pass.
Being an entrepreneur is a new experience for Peters and, as she says, "I'm loving it." She says she actually enjoys the roller coaster ride that running a business can be -- knowing that for every good day, there's bound to be a bad one. "While hopefully there are many more victories than defeats, both are sure to transpire. The challenge, of course, is to be resilient after the knockdowns and keep increasing the ratio of victories."
Peters has found great value in learning from her experiences, and from the people she brings in to help run her business. "When you fail in an area, which you will -- I do regularly -- learn from it and really consider how you will do it differently next time. It's from my mistakes in my life that I have learned the most."
Peters is a big believer in figuring out what you want to do and making it happen. She says there are all kinds of resources out there for people starting up businesses. "I have attended many classes given by SCORE, and their advice and informational resources are incredible. I would recommend starting there to anyone considering starting a business. If you spend some time researching small businesses, you will be amazed at what is out there and available to you."
A final bit of advice from Peters is that it really doesn't matter what you've done before or what you think you don't know. "What matters is today and your desire to learn new things. You just have to learn how to combine [your fears] with perseverance, determination, and passion, and then let those emotions overpower fear and be your driving force."