Debbie Godowsky, Cookies Direct
Godowsky liked being a stay-at-home mom and substitute teacher in Yarmouth, Maine, but in 1991, when her children were in the fifth and eighth grades, she realized she'd have to start earning serious money so that she and her husband could afford to send their kids to college.
A sweet idea: "I was substitute-teaching a study hall for seniors at the high school, and I asked them if they had any ideas for a home business. They said, 'Why don't you do cookie care packages for kids in college?' It seemed like a good idea. I called our state's small business administration—every state has one—and they said for $4 they could send me a packet on how to start a business. I brought cookies to school and tested my recipes on the students. By summer I was taking orders, and in September we started shipping."
Word of mouth: "Right away I thought, How can we get the parents to buy more than one box of cookies? How about a cookie-of-the-month club? Before long, some of them said, 'I know you've been sending cookies to my child, but can you do client gifts?'"
Kitchen aid: "I couldn't make all the cookies in my own kitchen, and I didn't want to pay for an expensive industrial mixer, so I called a local restaurant that served only lunch and dinner and asked if I could use their mixer in the mornings. They said yes. After a year, I bought a mixer—used. I'm a firm believer in saving money where you can. Now we ship about 250 dozen cookies a week."
Sugar, spice and the bottom line: "A lot of people try to turn something they love to do into a business—let's say, baking pies or dog walking. But I went at it from the opposite end: I thought, What I'd love is to run a business—what will make it work? I didn't love baking cookies—I loved being able to send my kids to college."