Angela Hickmon of Twin Falls was a decade into her career as a loan officer when she spent a day manning a booth at the local fair. It was 2009, and she didnt realize she was about to make a life-changing decision.
Hickmons expertise was in credit the stuff that makes or breaks a persons homeownership dreams and she clipped a small sign onto her companys booth that said, We improve credit.
That sign was magnetic, she says. Nine out of 10 people who stopped by the booth wanted to chat about their credit score and credit troubles.
It started the wheels turning, that theres a real need for this, she says. I just started taking notes.
She got moving right away. One of her first calls was to the Idaho secretary of state, where she learned she needed a $15,000 bond in place that named the state as beneficiary.
She set up a limited liability company in September 2009. By January 2010, customers were trickling in.
NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU DONT KNOW
But in March 2010, we got a phone call from the Department of Finance that we were missing a major piece, she says.
Turns out Hickmon didnt have a required license to do credit repair in Idaho. She did have a business registration.
She faced a $1,000 fine, $500 of fees and eight months of stalled business while the state made sure everything with Magic Valley Credit Repair was kosher. She also agreed to refund the payments shed taken from customers at that point.
The awful irony was that, in the credit repair industry, there is no shortage of bad actors. The Department of Finance regularly fines and disciplines companies that are taking advantage of Idaho consumers.
Hickmon wanted to beat that stereotype and help overburdened people straighten out their credit scores, using methods such as deleting items from credit reports that shouldnt be there, negotiate settlement amounts on debts and educate her clients.
We thought we were doing the right thing, she says.
Now her new company had a black mark on its public record, lumping it in with out-of-state operations that dont even bother calling back state regulators.
Instead of ditching her startup, Hickmon worked for months with the department to get a license. Magic Valley Credit Repair finally got back in business Nov. 18, 2010. It was very frustrating, but [the department was] great to work with, she says.
The departments disciplinary action record says Hickmon was cooperative and responded quickly to the problem.
Since then, shes had more than 400 clients, charging a setup fee of $150 and $50 a month regardless of the size of the credit problem. As mortgage interest rates scrape below 4 percent, Hickmon has seen an uptick in demand for credit repair in the Magic Valley.
I probably should have walked away, she says, because her business made no income for eight months, but I felt my business was so needed that I stuck with it.
THE TAKEAWAY: TRACK DOWN YOUR SBDC
Get in touch with a local Small Business Development Center. The university-based Idaho SBDC program gives startups free, confidential advice and low-cost training. One of the areas in their bailiwick? Legal issues.
Hickmon got introduced to the SBDC at the College of Southern Idaho about six months ago. She wishes shed known about it when she launched Magic Valley Credit Repair.
I started talking to a lady there, and shes been an awesome mentor, Hickmon says. I have a friend starting his [own] business, and he probably wouldnt be able to do it without them.
TURNING A MONEY PIT INTO A POT OF GOLD
The house at 614 N. 5th St. in Downtown Boise is awash in color. The balcony is decked out with flowers. The walls inside are lima-bean green, rusty orange and the color of a slightly overcast Boise sky. Artwork is everywhere.
One room is dubbed the Animal Trophy Suite, with faux and stuffed-animal taxidermy adorning the walls.
It didnt always look so polished, though.
Eve-Marie Bergren and her family bought the house in 2007.
We wanted to buy a Downtown property and hang onto it, and let it grow [in value], but we didnt know what we wanted to do with it in the meantime, Bergren says. The house was a 3,000-square-foot beauty, split into apartments.
We started really quickly seeing the house needed drastic repairs, Bergren says. It was such a great location, but such a dump.
A year later, renovations were done. The Boise Guest House was born. Just in time for the recession.
We started renting furnished apartments month to month, she says. She hoped to fill a niche, as Downtown doesnt have many month-to-month rentals.
But that didnt fill the house. So Bergren tried weekly rentals.
Sometimes fortune would shine on the house and a traveling crew would rent the whole thing. An architecture program once took over the house for five weeks, running a building preservation school out of it, Bergren says.
Now were going ... to a more lucrative model, which is nightly, she says.
Advertising with Expedia, having guests review their stay on TripAdvisor and donating free stays to auctions pushed them over the hump to getting overall really great occupancy rates. Bergren also works her Twitter account, reaching out to people who say theyre coming to Boise.
She charges $89 to $159 a night for each suite $753 per night for the whole house and gives discounts for weekly rentals.
THE TAKEAWAY: CHANGE YOUR PLANS
Bergren says the decision to create a guest house came midstream during renovations. She and her mother switched gears several times afterward, hoping to seize on an idea that would stimulate cash flow.
They consulted the SBDC, which convinced them that investing in ads on national websites like Expedia would get them in front of more tourists eyes.
The Boise SBDC recommends flexibility in business plans and especially having an exit strategy. That doesnt mean mapping out what youll do when you fail, says Betti Newburn, the SBDCs regional director for Boise. It means being ready to put the business in higher gear, park it or sell it to another driver.
Doing an [initial public offering of stock] is an exit strategy, she says. Entrepreneurs just need to decide, At what point do I say, Is this working? or Can I grow this? or It can grow, but I dont want to be the one to do it, she says.
BAD LUCK BUSINESS
Nathan Nordby followed his passion by launching into a marketplace that virtually disappeared.
Nordby bet on real estate in 2007. His startup was almost dead on arrival.
Nordby had worked with his brother in a mortgage and property investment company. But his true love was technology.
So he built a company, NSN Solutions, named for its three founders, around an online marketing platform for independent home-loan officers.
He couldnt have picked a worse industry at a worse time, he says.
Some really, really hardcore regulations hit the industry. His customer pool dried up as loan officers either quit the industry or joined big companies that had no interest in his product, he says.
That was beyond our control, obviously, but it did require us to completely re-evaluate who was in our market ... and continue to do it for the [past] four years, he says. NSN changed its product to serve companies instead of individual home-loan officers. Today, Nordby and his nine NSN employees run Velma.com and SnapShotPostcard.com.
Velma.com was Nordbys main project. Its a marketing program that mortgage professionals use to create marketing campaigns, auto-send them, organize and track interactions with clients.
SnapShotPostcard.com sends user-made picture postcards to a friends snail-mail box for 80 cents to $1.99 each, or more if its a greeting card or sent outside the U.S.
THE TAKEAWAY: DIVERSIFY, OR PLAN TO
Entrepreneurs cant predict the weather, the economy or future laws and regulations.
Hindsight and 2.5 years in the TECenter tells Nordby he forced a big idea into a small space, like planting a lemon-tree seed in a flower pot.
The principles behind relationship marketing arent defined by the industry, he says.
He thinks his platform might work for insurance agents and others who spend time building one-on-one relationships.
Not having all the eggs in one basket would have been a smart business decision, Nordby says.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448