Women in Business: Megan Phelan Serves up Big Acai Bowls in Okoboji
This is Part 1 of our series featuring successful women business owners throughout Iowa.
In 2018, Megan Phelan realized she wanted to spread her wings and start a new career path. She reached out to Big Açaí Bowls of West Des Moines about the possibility of franchising a new location. By June 2019, the Big Açaí Bowls-Okoboji Mobile Café was open for business in Spencer, Iowa under her leadership. Six days a week, the food truck serves frozen sorbet bowls, smoothies, power balls and juices in the Okoboji area.
We recently caught up with Megan to ask her about her journey to opening her own business, and what advice she has for other women business owners.
Q: Who, or what, inspired you to start your own business?
Megan Phelan: I’ve always wanted to do something bigger than working in an office or work for somebody else. I wanted to create a bigger opportunity for myself. My parents are entrepreneurs, so I think my drive came from them. They farm and own a commercial greenhouse in addition to working other jobs. They have always had this strong work ethic. That’s what I was raised around and inspired me to get started.
Q: In addition to your parents, are there any other people who helped you out as you started your business?
Phelan: Yes! I had so much help and support from my family and friends. They have helped out in a pinch if I’m short on employees for a big event. Some have even taken time off work to help staff the food truck, and my parents are always on speed dial and help me a lot by picking up supplies. The new people I’ve met in the community have been helpful as well. I have built so many relationships even just since opening my business. Local business owners have supported me by letting me park the truck in their parking lot during our business hours.
Q: What financial resources or tools have helped you the most as you were launching your business?
Phelan: I’m not very organized when it comes to the financial side of the business, so this is where I heavily relied on Paul Daniels at Northwest Bank. I went to him with my idea, he helped me put some costs together and walked me through the financing options. He set me up with a revolving loan and helped me get a lower interest rate for being a new business owner. He is a great resource to me, and he has a lot of positive influence on the small business community. The Small Business Development Center in Spencer was also helpful as I wrote my business plan.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of business ownership so far?
Phelan: The most rewarding part is that I have met the greatest people who have given me great feedback. We close down in the winter, and by the time we open back up in April, I can’t wait to see our customers again and catch up and hear their stories. These are people I may not have met if I didn’t have this truck.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you?
Phelan: The biggest challenge I face is managing the financial side of the business. I prefer to be out serving our customers from the truck rather than spending time at a desk crunching the numbers. Since I don’t have a passion for accounting, it gets put on the back burner at times.
Q: What have you learned about leadership since starting your business?
Phelan: I have learned that I need to be accommodating. I’ve learned that I’m a lot more successful when I adapt to everything, like taking 15 minutes to drive Acai bowls to a customer. I’m trying to pass this onto high school kids that work for me. If we can be out of the box and be accommodating to our customer base, we’re going to build a strong network and hopefully a strong work ethic within our team.
Q: How do you achieve work-life balance?
Phelan: To be honest, I don’t. I sacrifice vacations and a lot of time with family and friends to run the business, but that’s only because I love what I do so much. In the future, I will be able to enjoy some of those activities again, but right now we work every weekend and I enjoy it a lot.
Q: Who has been a mentor for you through this journey?
Phelan: The corporate owners of Big Acai have been very helpful and encouraging along the way. Before I opened, we talked about “should I franchise, or try to do something different?” Since I made the decision to franchise, they have shared with me the lessons they learned when opening their business and I’ve been able to apply those lessons to my business.
Q: What advice do you have for women who are thinking about starting their own business?
Phelan: If you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head and it just keeps coming back, I would say go for it. Once you get that approval on your business plan, it can be hard to leave what you have behind, but you have to just pull the trigger. You don’t know until you try.
Follow Your Passion, Connect with Northwest Bank
If you’ve got that business idea stuck in your head, or you want the tools to take your business to the next level, connect with a commercial banker at Northwest Bank to learn more.
This has been Part 1 of our series featuring successful Iowa women business owners. Check back for Part 2.
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