Some people out there are lucky enough to work for themselves. They had a great idea or product and have managed to turn it into a successful business. How did they do it?
Meet Waterford Lakes resident Chris Luczywo. He’s been a firefighter and paramedic for 10 years. In 2012, he was downsized and decided to take that opportunity to start his own safety training and equipment company called First 2 Aid. Luczywo knew he had a skill set and real-life experience that few people had and that he could offer that experience to businesses that required safety training. So what’s it like to be your own boss.
Step by Step to Success
Like many small business owners, Luczywo and his wife, Brandy, started their business with just an idea, which lead to more ideas for their business plan. He calls it the “snowball method.” After six months of planning, the husband-and-wife team hoped to have five or six clients a month when they started. To their delight, First 2 Aid quickly grew and has hundreds of clients. Luczywo says being accepted into the UCF Business Incubator Program (UCFBIP) was instrumental to his business being a success.
He was encouraged to apply for the program by the East Orlando Chamber of Commerce (EOCC). Now on the board for the EOCC and a new member of the Oviedo-Winter Springs Chamber of Commerce, Luczywo learned several valuable lessons on his way to opening his first business. “One of the most important things is that you have to be a part of the community you are doing business in. You can’t just expect to be successful without giving back,” Luczywo says.
First 2 Aid offers its services to charity 5Ks and other local non-profits. Luczywo says he made a point to work volunteering and charity efforts into his business plan. While it may not represent financial equity, it does garner community equity. “Besides feeling good, it’s just good business (to give back). Most of the successful businesses out there, from Disney to a family-owned hardware store, all have a volunteer piece to it,” he says.
The next thing step is to have a workable business plan. Luczywo says he got a lot of help from UCFBIP to fine-tune his plan. To even be accepted into the program he had to have a plan to pitch his business. He says the whole experience has some similarities to ABC’s entrepreneur show Shark Tank, where small business owners pitch their ideas to a panel of investors.
Help for Small and New Businesses
Florida — and specifically Central Florida — is extremely well known for being a small business Mecca. According to Jerry Ross, the executive director of the National Entrepreneur Center (NEC), which is headquartered in Orlando in the Fashion Square Mall, Central Florida is one of the best places for startups. “With Disney being here and UCF — the second largest university in the country — Darden, the research park, I could go on and on,” Ross says, “Florida is on the map for businesses big and small. We tend to forget that even Disney World started as just an idea. That’s what [NEC does], we help people get in touch with organizations that can grow their ideas into businesses.”
Some of the reasons the state of Florida is a friend to small business owners and first-time businesses include access to NEC. It is one of only two such programs in the country. NEC is a resource center that puts entrepreneurs in touch with other support organizations such as the awarding-winning Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, US Department of Commerce, and SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a peer-to-peer mentoring program.
Across the country, NEC is known to help small businesses develop into successful enterprises. “From the county to the state and even the country, NEC is recognized as the best resource for entrepreneurs,” Ross says. “I’ve been invited to the White House because NEC was started as an experiment and it worked. To date, the National Entrepreneur Center has helped over 100,000 businesses across the country.”
Jumping Over the Hurdles
Giving back to the community naturally gives your business visibility – a must for any startup. Luczywo also markets his business by making sure he is the go-to guy for all things safety related. “As a small business, you may not have a marketing budget, but you can start by showing up and networking. Join the chamber, join civic clubs, get involved in your industry’s associations,” he says.
Luczywo knew his networking was successful when people started immediately identifying him as the expert in his industry. “I have a difficult Polish last name with a lot of consonants in it, so people call me First Aid Chris. I love it. It’s marketing,” he says.
For many first-time businesses, startup money is a big problem. After the recession, fewer banks were lending to small or startup businesses. Ross says that while NEC does not facilitate financing for entrepreneurs, its partners can help new business owners find non-traditional sources of funding and/or guide them to working with traditional lenders.
The Luczywos used their savings and retirement funds as well as had family members invest in their business. Today, the couple’s business is branching out to include a mobile doctor’s office service, which will allow small businesses to give employees quick access to medical services such as annual physicals. Using a converted ambulance as the mobile doctor’s office, Luczywo says the idea to bring this service into his business plan came to him in a dream.
“I sleep with a note pad and pen next to my bed. I get these great business ideas while I’m sleeping. That’s another piece of advice I have for new business owners: Keep these two things by their bed. You won’t be sleeping much any way with all the work you’re doing.”