Three months after starting her business, Ohio Full Court Press President Paula Inniss sat quietly in her downtown warehouse.
She had just sent her production employee home for the day. She had never expected instant success in her first venture as an entrepreneur, but business was disappointingly slow.
Then, drawing upon her family history, she gave herself a pep talk: “You can give up now, 90 days into it, or you can do what you’ve always seen your family do and you can pick up your briefcase and do what you do best, and that’s market it.”
Five years later, the SBA’s 2000 state and district Small Business Person of the Year is reaping the benefits. The $3.5 million digital print company, now on Columbus’ West Side, employs 33. Inniss, herself, is taking a stand in the business community, having been recently appointed to the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
She’s been honored with such accolades as the 1998 Excellence in Enterprise award from the Ohio Department of Development, the 1997 Small Startup Business of the Year by Entrepreneur magazine and the Columbus chamber’s 1999 Small Business Person of the Year. She’s considering the possibility of branching out into providing facilities management for major corporations.
She and the other state SBA award winners from the Columbus district have advanced to the national competition. Winners will be announced in Washington, D.C., during National Small Business Week May 21-27.
Michael Bowers, executive director of the Columbus chamber’s Small Business Council, says in his nomination letter for Inniss’ SBA award that she has been recognized for her innovative and progressive management style, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit.
“In a time when many new printing ventures struggle to compete in a volume-driven industry, her company has utilized cutting edge technology to successfully serve unmet needs in the Central Ohio region,” Bowers writes. “Ms. Inniss has also displayed a tireless commitment to the community through her volunteer efforts.”
Looking back, Inniss knows she learned much about business from her entrepreneurial family. Her father, Norris Thompson, was a manager with an insurance agency, while her mother, Duann, was with Avon. Together, the couple also ran four coin-operated laundries, and, when Inniss was 4 years old, they purchased a carryout.
“I used to watch my mother talking and dealing with the vendors and negotiating prices. My father did a lot of the repairs on the washers and dryers,” she says, adding that she also took note of the various ways her mother used to motivate employees.
Her mother, Inniss says, taught her and her two sisters values and the importance of standing behind your word.
“My mother never allowed us to quit anything,” Inniss remembers.
If her mother allowed her to start clarinet, dance or baton lessons, she knew she’d be expected to stick with it.
Inniss says her father’s uncle, Loxley Thompson, really made a difference in her life.
In West Palm Beach, Fla., he came up with a patent on conch fritters. He had a restaurant and a manufacturing plant.
“He used to tell me, ‘I’ve made a million and I’ve lost money, but I’ll make a million later,” Inniss says. “He was a millionaire more than one time. He used to tell me that if you have a strong work ethic, you can come up with a plan to make it work.”
In fact, Inniss says one of the smartest moves she’s ever made in her business is to think out of the box.
“I never looked at anything as impossible,” she says.
She hired a lot of systems employees, bringing in those with more experience even if she had to pay them more to fill the need.
Inniss, who frequently is asked to speak to youth and business organizations, gives the following advice to entrepreneurs:
- “First of all, put together a business plan and really understand what it is you’re getting into,” she says.
- “No. 2, hire good people and let those people know you truly care about them not just the business, but you care about them and their personal lives as well.
- “No. 3, hire a good accountant and attorney from the very beginning.
- “No. 4, try to get with a bank that supports small business, and build a relationship with your personal banker right up front,” she says, “so when you do want to grow, you have the support to grow financially.
- “And No. 5, which should be No. 1, I have a lot of faith in God and I pray a lot about decisions that need to be made,” she says. “A lot of times we don’t have the answers we need ourselves. I just call on God for directions.”
Inniss credits business mentors and her family, including husband, Malcolm Inniss, and grown children, Cory, Cortney and Gordon Johnson, with giving her the support she needs to run her business.
“I truly believe in my heart of hearts that we can do anything we put our minds to,” she says. “And I believe that I have truly been a product of my environment. I had a very good upbringing.
“My family has been very supportive in anything I’ve ever wanted to do. That keeps me very motivated.”
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.