I work for an organization called NetWork Kansas. Their mission is to connect entrepreneurs with resources and sometimes I get to meet some of these very entrepreneurs. I was on hand to represent NetWork Kansas at the launch of Butler Community College’s Entrepreneurial Institute on March 2 and had the opportunity to listen to Beth Tully of Cocoa Dolce.
Beth is a local (Wichita, KS) entrepreneur who shares the story of following a dream. Like many of us, she longed for a life that was truer and more satisfying than the corporate gig she had pursued (very successfully) for years and finally listened to the call to live authentically. For Beth this meant becoming a master chocolatier. Beth’s passion is creating sweet confections but when it came to running a business, she realized there was a lot to learn. Striking the right balance between passion and preparation can be one of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship. Beth spent a lot of time planning, although her husband actually urged her to move faster than they’d initially discussed, citing failure as the “worst that could happen”.
As Beth spoke, I was struck by the way that her words resonated with the audience. Following a dream is a powerful image in today’s society, probably because so many of us spend most of our time doing things that aren’t consistent with what’s in our heart. When we align our skills with our passions, it seems like so often a path is opened before us that seemed impossible. When you remove “getting rich” as the motive, business will be more satisfying and often more successful. Of course, you have to earn a living, but that cannot be the only reason you decide to be an entrepreneur.
Beth shared the story of the first Cocoa Dolce location opening in November 2005. She was surprised at the community support and the massive crowd that thronged their grand opening. The business has grown in many ways since that first day when the cash register didn’t even work (Beth recalls that although they gave all the chocolate away for free, they made a lot of friends that day.), but many things have stayed the same, including the first employee, Angie, who is still a loyal member of the company. Early experiences hooked Beth on being an entrepreneur. She says each morning she feels the sense of control over her destiny, a feeling many aspiring entrepreneurs crave. It comes with responsibility, though, because she is the one who makes or breaks her day.
Fortunately, Beth opened a business that filled a niche in the community. Cocoa Dolce’s sales quickly outpaced the existing space and now they operate a new retail location at an upscale shopping area as well as a large manufacturing facility. Beth tells this story proudly, these successes highlighting the many hours of hard work it took to get there. From a small operation with only three employees Cocoa Dolce has grown to support a payroll of 39 employees.
Although Beth pursued her passion, she urges entrepreneurs not to ignore the other elements of operating a business. “Identify what you do well and then find people in your resource network who can handle the things you don’t do well,” Beth says. By allowing others to handle the elements of your business in which you are not skilled, you not only lay groundwork for success, you allow yourself to stay immersed in your passion. “Get in touch with what feeds your soul,” she says.
Beth concluded by reminding the audience to work hard, ask for help, and to “Dream big. You can always back off, you can always downscale, [so] dream big.”
These philosophies have helped Beth build a strong business that is recognized not only in the community, but across the country. Passion and people are the driving forces of Cocoa Dolce’s success. Beth reiterated how important it is for Cocoa Dolce to be a part of the community that sustains it. “Our success is predicated by our community’s acceptance of us,” she said, thankful for the support of a welcoming community and supportive family and friends. Businesses and communities feed each other.
The one thing that differentiated Beth from other entrepreneurs I’ve encountered is her awareness of the importance of “authenticity” in life and her view of business as an extension of life, and not its opposite. I spoke with her after the presentation concluded about the topic of measuring success. Although Cocoa Dolce is a business success (and a delicious one, at that), it has not made her rich – yet. Many entrepreneurs don’t realize that you are the last one to experience a windfall even if your business does hit it big. This is why you can’t be in it for the money. In time, the money will come, but until then you are sustained by doing what you love. It’s not easy, it’s not usually lucrative, but owning your own business can be immensely satisfying.
By the way, Cocoa Dolce’s products are amazing. If you live in Wichita, I encourage you to check out their store at Bradley Fair, but everyone can enjoy shopping for mouthwatering chocolate delights online. Cocoadolce.com