Aly Caverson, ’09, went from working as a legal assistant in Chicago to making granola from scratch in a storefront in Owosso, Mich. Now, her Happy Girl Granola products—from lavender chocolate chip and maple walnut to an array of fruity flavors—are available in stores and restaurants throughout the state. She recently shared what she has learned as an entrepreneur and small-business owner.
If there’s something you’re really good at, there’s probably something to that. I worked as a legal assistant in Chicago right after college. My U-M degree was in English, but I hadn’t settled on what to do next. With a push from my friends, I realized that I’ve been baking my whole life, from standing with my mom as a toddler to making granola and homemade meals while living in the city. I got a job as a pastry chef’s assistant at a big restaurant in the Old Town district and learned a lot. I moved back to my hometown in 2013 and then established Happy Girl.
Start small. Launching a business may seem intimidating, but you don’t have to think big from the launch. I started with $200 and the thought of “How do I start this without a ton of start-up money?” For me, that meant getting my product out to farmers markets, and that began the cycle of customers recognizing and recommending my food.
Don’t worry about not knowing everything at the beginning. When people say “There’s no substitute for experience,” they mean it. I learned about the business of cooking while in Chicago—first how to make food efficiently for a mass of customers, then the business of selling. I felt knowledgeable when I came back to Michigan, but that learning process continued. I learned about the Michigan Cottage Foods Law, which allows you to sell certain homemade foods at nonretail, direct markets—such as farmers markets. Any baked good that can be packaged is viable, including granola. And I knew all about that!
Time management is key. Everything I planned for took more time than I thought it would. For example, I thought setting up my storefront would take a couple of weeks, but it ended up taking almost an entire month.
Not all advice is the right advice. People can have the best intentions when they recommend a course of action. But if I listened to everyone, I wouldn’t be doing what I love with Happy Girl. Be polite, say “Thank you,” but continue to follow your plan and believe in your vision.