Small Business Interview: Chauniqua Major, Project Pop
This interview with the amazing Chauniqua Major is one of those interviews where you want to pay attention to everything. Chauniqua is the owner of Project Pop, an organic line of kettle corn. Her experience in publicity, branding and marketing for chefs and restaurants paired with her love for healthy snacking birthed her business, Project Pop. She's been recognized by Orlando's Tech Week and by Essence and this is just the beginning for her. In this interview, Chauniqua is sharing some serious gems. From 8 really important things every start up should know to managing your business finances to tips on pricing your product or service to balancing work and life - it's definitely a must read! Enjoy :)
"It brings me so much fulfillment to encourage and inspire people through doing what I do. Sometimes one of the best things you can do is live a life that can inspire people to go after their dreams. "
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business. What is it called and what products do you offer?
Well, hello! I’m Chauniqua Major, often known as “Major” and I’m the owner of Project Pop, an organic line of kettle corn. I’m also a publicist!
Can you share a bit about how you choose this line of business? What transition did you make to owning your own business?
For more than five years, I've managed the publicity, branding/marketing strategies and events for chefs and restaurants and consumer brands throughout the country. With this knowledge comes a great understanding of the industry and an affinity for food that goes beyond what dishes look like on Instagram. Starting Project Pop came as a result of me wanting to create an ingredient-conscious snack that I felt good about feeding my nieces. The vision today is helping people rethink how and why they eat the foods they consume.
Do you have any special training?
I'm a publicist and I have worked with top chefs all around the country. I've been blessed with a skill set that enables me to manage the business and marketing, as well as maneuver my way around the kitchen!
What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
I believe my biggest accomplishment is not giving up. There are accolades, speaking engagements, and deals that I could share, but I honestly view continuing the brand through every contradiction the best thing I could ever do. It brings me so much fulfillment to encourage and inspire people through doing what I do. Sometimes one of the best things you can do is live a life that can inspire people to go after their dreams.
If I had to share two cool recent highlights, they would be the following: I was honored with an opportunity to speak about entrepreneurship at Orlando Tech Week, and I was included in Essence's "10 Black Millennial Women Killing The Culinary Game" feature. That was pretty legit!
How soon after you started did you start seeing profits? Or when do you project to begin earning a profit?
I saw profits within six months, but that's because I started small. I kept my startup costs very low and didn't rush to grow. The goal, if possible, is to grow the brand at a rate the benefits your pockets. Get an extra job, freelance, crowdfund or do whatever you can to create capital for your brand. It will really help you stay committed to the brand when your results are consistent and manageable. The ability to scale can be challenging, so don't rush it. No one said that you needed to be an overnight success. Keep your day job, stay humble and hungry, and grow your business steadily. You'll want to maintain life stability when launching a business.
This summer, I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for a large, commercial popcorn machine that will enable me to fulfill large orders to retailers. I am beyond excited about it.
How did you decide how to price your services? How did you determine what your services were worth?
Before putting a price on my product, I did market research. I ordered popcorn from brands located all over the globe, and purchased more bags from the store than I could possibly eat! R&D (research and development) is key for any industry. It's very important to be a customer before you are a seller. Create a budget and start buying products or services already on the market. This will really help you assess what other companies are doing and what customers are willing to pay for it.
Additionally, you cannot be afraid to cost more than other brands in your arena. I use premium ingredients: organic, non-GMO kernels, organic virgin coconut oil, Himalayan pink salt and organic unrefined cane sugar. These ingredients are not cheap, but they are amazing. I only sell what I will actually consume.
If you use high-quality ingredients or methods, you are entitled to charge more, within reason. You'll want to make sure that the experience and product match up to what you’re charging. It’s important to make a profit, but it’s also important to create a meaningful connection with consumers. Know your product's worth, and charge accordingly.
What mistakes, if any, have you made with your business? What have some of your biggest challenges been? What did you learn from the experience and how did you bounce back?
A few mistakes would be: not requiring deposits for large orders, not asking for help when I needed it and, most importantly, not tracking my expenses. In the winter of 2015, I finished a 100-bag order of my normal-sized bags to find out that the customer actually wanted 100 mini bags. Talk about a stressful mess that I had created. It was really disheartening, but it taught me to be meticulous, regardless of how busy life can be, and it made me learn how to shift in the high gear to move product quickly.
What do you consider the most important elements of running a successful business?
You must understand your finances and what value you offer to consumers. A friend of mine recently asked me what value I offer concerning another project I am working on, and it really made me lean back in my seat. You must understand that you aren’t your customer. You have to create a product or service that someone else wants to buy. Once you understand the value you offer, it will help justify why you do what you do.
Lastly, build a squad! You need friends, accountability partners and supporters to keep you afloat. There’s nothing better than collaborating with other entrepreneurs for advice and supporting them, too. Remember to give. Giving is a sure way to always have more than enough because when you give with a cheerful heart, it will be returned in a greater measure.
Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
- Envision who you want to be and write it down. This exercise may not result in a business plan or idea, but it will tell you who you aspire to be, where you want to live and who you want to impact.
- Find a connection between what makes you happy and what makes money. This seems obvious, but unless you’re seeking the “struggle”-- take the time to find a way to make money from the start.
- Capitalize on your city’s entrepreneur community. There are people who have jobs that are created to solely help you open a business. Check out your local entrepreneur center and sign up for a few courses!
- Read and Listen. When I first got started, I read every issue of Fast Company and listened to NPR every day. I was addicted, and I still listen to NPR daily. I didn’t just want to read about food and recipes, I wanted to read about people who started businesses and people who were winning. It was essential for my faith. Download Texture on your iPad. The app gives you access to more than hundreds of digital magazines issues. Currently, I’m re-reading Mental Toughness for Success by Bishop I.V. Hilliard, and I’m wrapping up Organize It: Your Faith Approach To Success This Yearby Pastor Johnathan Briggs.
- Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. My pastor always says, “There is no such thing as failure in life. There is only feedback.” This helped take the pressure off. I realized that the mission will always try, learn and grow.
- Acknowledge what you don’t know. Ask for help! There are people along the way who are skilled in things you don’t know—maybe that’s how to build a website, or apply for a business license. Remember, you're not in this alone!
- Mark your calendar. Set a hard deadline to get your ideas going. You don’t have to have it all figured out, but have some goals and find a good accountability partner. This is someone who will aid in your growth and keep you accountable for the things that you said you would do.
- Help others. Once you attain knowledge through experiences, be sure to pass it along!
Do you have any advice on managing your small business finances?
Budget, track, evaluate and adjust. These actionable items are key because it's very hard to see and obtain growth without knowing exactly what money is coming in and going out. I recommend using the Envelope System by Dave Ramsey, which is founded on using cash whenever possible and allocating dollars to particular bills and projects. Once the money from that "envelope" is gone, you have to wait until the next month or quarter to spend money on that particular thing. This will help when someone wants you to donate your service or when you get the urge to upgrade your laptop. You'll soon see that every dollar has a name on it, and in order to see sustainable growth, you cannot spend money however you'd like. Once you get in control of your money, it gives you power, peace and enhances your earning potential.
How do you balance work and life owning a small business?
It’s really fun and challenging. Every day is different, so planning what you do know will happen is key. My prayer life and relationship with God are what keeps me balanced. I also love to workout during my lunch break or at night and pop popcorn at night and on the weekend.
You must learn to put everything in your calendar and learn to stick to your schedule. I cannot stress how important is to guard your schedule as if your life depended on it. If you have Saturdays at 9 a.m. blocked off for budgeting, do not let anyone, any call or any opportunity impact that. Your meetings with yourself are just as important as your meetings with others.
Don’t forget to have fun. Travel, go on dates and be creative. I recently started contributing to sites and blogs as a writer, and I love it!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In the next five years, I see myself more entrenched in Orlando's community as a wife and mother, and thriving employer through Project Pop and other businesses that I launch. I cannot wait to create scholarships for students to assist with their college careers! Traveling to food deserts (impoverished and malnourished neighborhoods) across America to advocate for change will also be part of my mission. Life as I know it will be different, but I’ll continue doing my part so that others are encouraged to do theirs. It’s also important to note that I will be enjoying my life! I have an expectation that life will be great and better an ever. This is my confession because when I’m my best, I can do so much for everyone around me.
Please share a fun fact about yourself:
I practice calligraphy and have a really legit collection of unlined notebooks. I’m planning to turn a room in my new house into a workshop!