Our Dream Big series introduces you to savvy entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from an idea to an innovation. We’re chatting with them about how they started their businesses, their steps to make them grow, and essential advice to future business owners.
Did you know that more Americans than ever are embracing their entrepreneurial spirit? Start-ups are surging, according to the latest census data. This trend is driven by a variety of factors, from people seeking financial independence to evolving work philosophies.
But, for aspiring entrepreneurs, lack of experience can be a barrier to entry.
Seven years ago, Amanda Nelson was at the same crossroads. But she decided to leave her job in banking to open a wedding and event venue with her husband. Today, Amanda’s vision has blossomed into Blue Haven Barn and Gardens, home to three stunning event buildings. It’s one of Sioux Falls’ most sought-after wedding destinations.
What does establishing and growing a career in a new industry take? Here, Amanda shares her five secrets to pivoting careers and building a thriving dream business.
1. Get excited about changing careers.
Amanda grew up with a family with side hustles and businesses, inspiring her to start her own enterprise someday. She studied Business Administration at the University of South Dakota. Later, while working full-time in banking, she earned her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Sioux Falls.
But as she rose through the ranks of the finance world, Amanda still had her mind set on finding a niche to start a business.
She advises future entrepreneurs to keep their eye on the ball but take lessons from working in other industries. You may have a colleague with an outstanding management style, or you may follow a company with a specialized market. Take note of successes around you for your future entrepreneurial endeavors.
2. Keep your eyes open for opportunity.
A decade ago, when Amanda and her husband got married, they realized there was a scarcity of wedding venues in Sioux Falls. After traveling the country for her friends’ weddings, she was awe-struck by beautiful, stand-alone venues dedicated to hosting dreamy wedding destinations.
The idea of a rustic barn venue just outside Sioux Falls began taking shape. Amanda pictured a venue that was so beautiful that couples had to say yes – high ceilings, a tall balcony, and green pastures. She started crunching numbers and sketched out a business plan. “We thought we could do it on the side, and that didn’t happen,” Amanda remembers. “It didn’t take long for me to quit my full-time job, and then we just kept expanding and doing the things we love.”
Business ideas are abundant if you keep your mind open. Amanda says she never expected to be in this industry, but her instinct guided intelligent business decisions.
3. Take stock of the skills you already have.
Before Blue Haven Barn, Amanda says she hadn’t worked in the wedding industry. But she says three skills propelled her success in the new business. First, Amanda’s work in banking gave her plenty of experience with numbers. Second, as a bank manager, she had outstanding interpersonal communication skills. Finally, Amanda and her husband were willing to jump in and help wherever needed, from filling in for dishwashers to training staff one-on-one.
“Josh and I are extremely hard workers,” Amanda says. “We’re not afraid to get dirty and bus dishes and do things like that. I think it helps a lot that we put our own sweat into the business.”
Everybody has skills that can boost success in another industry. As you develop your new business, assess what strengths and expertise you can bring to your new business. That will also help you learn where to bring in new partners.
4. The key to team management.
Blue Haven Barn has five full-time staff members and over thirty part-time banquet staff. In a fast-paced industry that changes daily, Amanda is committed to engaging and supporting every crew member.
How? She frequently sends surveys, hosts employee appreciation and bonding parties, and keeps everyone connected through newsletters and text groups. Amanda also has a special weekly award called “You Got Caught.” When employees get caught going above and beyond their work during events, they give out gift cards to thank them for their work.
“I have such a great staff,” Amanda says. “They’re trained well, I trust them very much, and I get awesome feedback from our clients.”
Amanda encourages business owners to find unique ways to build up their teams. When owners express gratitude and recognize their staff’s efforts, it boosts job satisfaction, increases productivity, and builds an enjoyable work environment.
5. Dream big, expand wisely.
Blue Haven Barn and Gardens started as one venue in 2016, but as the business grew, Amanda and her husband expanded their property. The Atrium at Blue Haven, a 500-person venue with an award-winning, in-house chef, opened in 2020. And this year, they transformed a photography studio on their property and opened a third venue called The Retreat. This building hosts micro-weddings and events for less than 100 people.
Amanda has partnered with Bank Midwest at every step of her business expansion. The Sioux Falls team is proud to support and finance Amanda’s booming business. And there’s no end in sight for Blue Haven Barn’s growth.
“There’s so many different things that we could do out here,” Amanda energetically says. “And every day, there are ideas that pop into my head.”
Looking for more advice for growing your dream business? Want to hear more about Emerald Hills’ rising success? Listen to Dream, Plan, Live: the Bank Midwest podcast for more tips from the business experts in your community and at Bank Midwest.