Success Story: Small Business Advice

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 1 Minute

My name is Mark Rolfes, and at 22 years old, I started a music business in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now I am the owner of Rolfes Music Group and a co-owner of Rolfes Custom Design, an artisanal custom home decor company. Throughout my 11 years as a small business owner, I have learned there are a few steps that are linchpins to starting a successful small business. Always remember this key small business advice:

  • Learn from your previous jobs
  • Build the right team
  • Be passionate about what you are working on
  • Dress the part

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Longer Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Where it all began

I started my music lessons business at home as a spinoff of a job I worked in early college. The first company I worked with insisted upon following strict lesson guidelines and extremely professional relationships with all students. After working for that company for three years, I had enough experience to see that their antiquated approach was costing them (and me, by association) long term students.

Learn from your previous jobs

I revamped their approach to keep lessons fun, spontaneous, and structured to the individual. Without ever spending a penny on advertising…

I had the largest student base of any in-home instructor in Cincinnati within two years with a 98% annual customer retention rate. 

I’ve sustained that retention rate and my student base for the past 11 years, of which the past 9 years it has been my sole/main occupation. 

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As if one business was not enough…

In the summer/fall of 2017, I started a second business expanding upon my long-time interest in woodworking and design. I began by watching hundreds of hours of YouTube videos and looking through countless Houzz/Instagram/Pinterest pages trying to figure out what would be the most interesting things to build and what I would need to build them. For almost a year, I shopped Craigslist and online bidding websites to amass all of the tools I would need to get started without breaking the bank. I paid for everything out of my own pocket.

I believe that startup loans are poisonous and I have avoided them like the plague.

My shop went from a corner in my basement to completely taking over my two-car garage. 

Building a team

I partnered with my sister, who was extremely adept at building online sales platforms and creating a social media presence. Rapidly, we started selling dozens of products online to individuals, breweries, and even a distillery. After approximately 18 months we had to scale back and take a hiatus due to several major life events, but we kept up our social media pages and will be scaling back up production in summer/fall of 2019.

Actionable Steps


The best small business advice: Pick something you are PASSIONATE about

The most important small business advice is to be passionate about what you are working on. Your project should be something that absolutely fascinates you. Everyone wants to make a lot of money. While money is a good (great) motivator, its not enough to get you through the trying times that come with starting a business.  


Work in the market first

Another key piece of small business advice is to work in the market or profession you’re interested in for several years before you start your own business/company. Build your business model based upon the strengths and weaknesses you see working day to day. 


Keep another job while you get your project off the ground

There is an enormous amount of work and stress in starting a business; whether or not you/your family will starve based on your success doesn’t need to be one of them.


Dress/look/act the part

Go to J. Crew or Brooks Brothers and have a professional dress you in several suits and business casual outfits. As a business owner, you are marketing the success/competence/professionalism of both yourself and your company every time you walk into a room. Your appearance and attitude make a greater impression than advertising ever will.


Reach out to the small business community in your city

Even if no one else has quite the same business as you, they will still be able to recommend good accountants, realtors, banks, advertising strategies, etc. that are ideal for small businesses. Also, reach out to friends that work in departments or areas of expertise that you will need. Talk to them about what you will need as you get started. Like I said before: there will be PLENTY of other work for you to do without having to reinvent the wheel.

About the Author

Mark Rolfes

Mark Rolfes

Small Business Owner

Mark is the owner of Rolfes Music Group and the co-owner of Rolfes Custom Design. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and their two children.
Facebook | Rolfes Custom Design

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