As is the case with many entrepreneurs, Kelli Swick’s big idea started with something small.
When one of her daughters developed an allergy to wheat products, Swick wanted to make she still got whole grains in her diet. She decided oats were the best alternative. But oats can fall somewhere close to liver and Brussels sprouts for many kids.
Swick’s solution was whole oat recipes containing only whole food sweeteners like ground dates, unprocessed honey and handmade fruit pastes. Not only did Swick’s daughter tolerate the creations, she craved them.
Swick of Cornelius decided she was on to something. If her oat protein bars and healthy breakfast cookies went over that well at home, why stop there?
“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve been making this stuff for years. I’m going to see if people will buy it,’” she said.
Swick started selling Queen of Oats products at the Davidson Farmers Market in April of 2013. Although she did well, she knew that growing her business would be a challenge.
“Once I really got into it, I knew I would need help,” she said.
Swick, who has a college degree in nutrition and worked in the food research field for several years, had the kitchen part of the business down.
“I needed help with business planning, bookkeeping, marketing, keeping me on track with all that stuff,” she said.
She found help at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Small Business Center, which offered her guidance and matched her with a mentor who already was a successful small-business owner, all at no charge. The monthly meetings with Swick’s mentor made a difference, she said.
“I was on a shoestring budget (and) I still am,” she said. “You can pay a lot of money on a business coach.”
But those shoestrings are getting longer. Queen of Oats was a finalist in the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made contest, which focuses on handmade crafts, designs, food and style. Swick’s products are now available at Whole Foods in Huntersville, 7th Street Market in Charlotte and online at queenofoats.com.
That kind of success comes as no surprise to Barbara Hall, director of the RCCC’s Small Business Center.
“Whether starting a small business or growing an existing business, the Small Business Center can aid in developing a plan of action for lasting success,” Hall said. “Our goal is simple – to provide high quality small business education and relevant, comprehensive assistance.”
John Deem is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
The Small Business Center will offer several free seminars this fall for local small business owners. Here are the free offerings at RCCC’s Cabarrus Business & Technology Center Campus in Concord. All sessions are 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Leadership Levels for Small Business Owners: Sept. 15
The Artist Entrepreneur: How to Earn More: Sept. 17
Marketing Your Business: Oct. 1
How to Write a Business Plan: Oct. 8
Grant Writing 101: Elements of a Winning Proposal: Oct. 20
Design Your Business Website with WordPress: Two-Part Series: Oct. 27 and Nov. 3
Financing Your Business: Nov. 10
How to Start a Business: Nov. 12
Information on the seminars, including course descriptions, classroom locations and how to register is at rccc.edu/sbc/.