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Local entrepreneurs share advice on starting home-based businesses

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For many folks in Aroostook County a home-based business can be a great way to showcase their unique talents and offer handmade, specialty products that shoppers won’t find at large retail stores.

Twenty years ago, Ben Nason was the assistant manager at the now closed Ruby Tuesday’s at the Bangor Mall when a chef who worked at the restaurant introduced him to home-roasted coffee blends. Nason now owns and operates Storibord Coffee out of his home in Fort Fairfield, providing freshly blended coffee to local grocery stores and markets and to online customers.

Unlike store-bought coffee, Nason said, home-roasted coffee offers a wide variety of flavors and tastes for those who love fresh coffee. Some of his most popular blends have come from countries such as Guatemala and Ethiopia and he continually seeks out international flavors from various East Coast importers.

“The Guatemala flavors have a deeper, heavier taste and are known as very rich coffees. Ethiopian blends are more sharp on the tongue, but in a pleasant way,” Nason said. “I started off by experimenting with roasting at home and getting a feel for the process.”

Nason recommends that beginners to the coffee roasting business take advantage of online resources such as Sweet Maria’s Home Roasting Coffee or Mill City Roasters. The websites offer a glossary of international coffee blends, videos and podcasts on roasting and sell coffee brewers, espresso machines, coffee bean grinders and related products.

Although Nason originally thought that the home-roasted coffee market would be too large to break into, his wife Pamela suggested he still give it a try. Since then, Nason has increased his online presence with a website and Facebook page and learned how to distinguish his product from the rest of the pack. The name Storibord Coffee was inspired by the story of Walt Disney, particularly how his creative team drew storyboards to map out the plot lines of animated feature films.

“I liked the idea of creating something from nothing, which is what storyboards are all about,” Nason said. “I also learned that some people use storyboarding to map out their life. So I see home-roasted coffee as a way to be part of people’s lives.”

Like Nason, LaNiece Sirois never intended to become a home-based entrepreneur. When she and her husband Sonny got married in 2012, Sirois was not working at the time and had been searching for creative ways to make Christmas gifts. She took a soap-making class at Bread of Life, a bulk food and specialty store in Presque Isle, and immediately knew what she would create for gifts that year.

Sirois, who is now the executive director of the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, later began making soap regularly and added her products to MaineSimple, a home-based business that Sonny had previously started. The couple now sells all-natural bug repellent, lupine and columbine seeds, lip balm, body and liquid hand soap, face mist and hand care products. Last year Sirois began branding her beauty products under the label “LaNiece Beauty Skincare.”

“Don’t be afraid to start off small,” Sirois said, about her advice to beginning home-based business owners. “For me, there were a lot of learning curves with friends testing out the products and giving me feedback. I had to find just the right oils and keep tweaking the process until I knew I had a quality product.”

Typically Sirois hosts open houses for MaineSimple every fall at her home at 77 Presque Isle Street in Fort Fairfield and regularly prepares, ships and delivers specialty orders from the business’ website. She also has participated in craft fairs, gift basket drawings and special events such as the Potato Blossom Festival.

She also has used her position at the Chamber to create new membership benefits for home-based businesses, also known as “micro-businesses.” The Chamber defines mirco-businesses as ones that do not hire paid employees and are “lacking storefront visibility, usually showcasing in craft fairs and farmers markets.

“We probably have five to seven micro-businesses signed up so far but would love to get more because there’s so many out there,” Sirois said.

One of the challenges that both Nason and Sirois face as home entrepreneurs is balancing their full-time careers with the demands of producing and packaging products. Sirois has around 40 regular customers, most of whom are local, and spends much of her spare time tracking and preparing online orders. She tends to be busiest during the holiday season and during the early spring and summer months when she introduces special seasonal scented products.

For Nason, who works in the SAD 1 school district’s information technology department, learning to be efficient during his Storibord Coffee work took much time and patience. These days he tends to use around 10 hours per week roasting coffee, with each batch taking 15 minutes.

“When I started, I used to roast the coffee all the time and got burned out rather quickly,” Nason said. “I’ve learned to plan ahead more so that I could create more of a balance with work and family.”

Nason supplies bags of coffee beans to Bread of Life, Graves Shop & Save in Presque Isle, and Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield. He also sells at the farmers markets in Presque Isle and Fort Fairfield every summer. He noted that while websites and social media presence help broaden a home business’ customer base, local fairs, festivals and trade shows make for better personal interactions with community members.

Despite the challenges, Sirois thinks that owning a home-based business is a great opportunity for people to share their passion in a small but meaningful way.

“I enjoy being able to provide people with products that give them joy,” Sirois said.

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