Julie Busha – Co-Creator of Slawsa

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Julie Busha is both the Founder and CEO of benchmarketing, LLC and President of Nicole Foods, a food manufacturing company she co-owns which consumes the bulk of her time and efforts. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Busha spent her entire professional career in the world of sports marketing, starting with International Management Group and most recently as Director of Marketing for an agency owned by professional NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte—a company she was recruited to build in 2007 where she continued to work with her client of nearly a decade, General Mills. Since venturing out on her own, helping companies reach their potential and growing brands through strategic marketing is, without a doubt, the most fulfilling job Busha could ask for.

Having graduated with three departmental honors as Academic All-American and Order of Omega from Winthrop University in 2000, Busha often goes back to lecture in undergraduate marketing classes and work with MBA program students. In 2009, she was published in Sports Business Journal. She also donates time to the Tarheel Weimaraner Rescue when she can. Busha resides with her husband and two weimaraners, Liesl and Ella, in Cramerton, North Carolina and still finds time to run and hone her skills in the culinary arts.

What are you working on right now?

Slawsa—the condiment that may just change your life! [Laughs.] Seriously though, Slawsa is a whole new style of “topper” on the market, and—just as the name implies—it is a cross between “slaw” (coleslaw) and “salsa.” A little sweet, a little heat, Slawsa is addictive atop hotdogs (which we affectionately refer to as “Slawsa Dogs”), brats, burgers, pulled pork, fish, as a sandwich spread or even as a dip for tortilla chips. Slawsa is also a healthier alternative: fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and far less sodium as compared to traditional condiments, yet it still has an insane amount of taste.

We launched on grocery shelves one year ago this month and are now in over 3,500 grocery stores nationally. Gone are the days when serving “boring” condiments will impress anyone, so I urge everyone to go right now to the store to see what all the fuss over Slawsa is about. There is simply nothing more fulfilling than knowing that what you are doing day in and day out is making such an impact on growing a brand. No better feeling in the world.

Where did the idea for Slawsa come from?

The recipe for Slawsa was derived from a concoction that my partner’s late mother developed decades ago. In the late ’90s, he tweaked it a bit to make it feasible for larger production runs yet still keep that homemade taste. But like most great ideas, they don’t shine without execution and marketing—and that’s where I came in. After more than a decade of just being a dream, Slawsa is now a reality, and hopefully we’ll make people change their opinions as to what a “relish” is or could be.

What does your typical day look like?

I usually hop on the computer before 7:00 a.m. and ultimately shut it down around 10:00 p.m. or later. And, yes, work continues on the weekends. The way I figure it, if I’m willing to work 60-80 hours a week for years helping someone else build their company, why would I not work the same (or more) as my own boss?

The great thing about marketing is that no two days are alike, and with building the Slawsa brand, I wear many hats—from managing production and freight, building promotions, corresponding with our retail partners, pitching media, managing the website and social media, accounting and everything in between. Having a full plate is a very comfortable feeling for me, and the more I have on my shoulders, the more I thrive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think there are ultimately two reasons why anyone’s ideas come to life: hard work and making wise decisions. Without one, you get nowhere fast. While I have always been creative, I’ve also had a knack for juggling 20 different projects at once, staying organized and proactive. I can’t explain how it happens; I guess it’s just the way my brain is wired. There are many nights I can’t sleep or wake up at 2:00 in the morning because of a thought I can’t get out of my head. I figure, heck, while I’m up writing down that thought, I might as well get some work done.

I’m also a person who is willing to take calculated risks knowing that I have confidence in my ability to achieve goals and get things done. I’m not a gambler by nature, but when the odds are in my favor because I have influence over the results, I’m not afraid to take risks. It’s how Slawsa got off the ground.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m very interested in seeing the evolution of crowdfunding and certainly hope it is not a trend. We’re in an era where entrepreneurship and small business is celebrated and on the rise. In my opinion, there’s no better country to embrace crowdfunding and supporting small business dreams than here in the USA.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I really haven’t had any “bad” jobs. In college, though, to earn extra money, I was an anatomy lab assistant for several semesters, helping students dissect and locate various organs or musculature in their pigs and cats, respectively. (Yes, I embrace my inner nerd.) The hardest part involved grading the lab exams, as not only did students have to name the items that I pinned, but they also had to spell them correctly to get full credit for each question. Imagine how many students couldn’t spell a muscle like a “coracobrachialis”!

I originally felt bad having to mark half off because the student may have known what it was but couldn’t spell it. The fact was, Dr. Johnston was one of the best professors I ever had because he was thorough in his teachings and nothing on the test was a surprise. The opportunity for perfection was there. Those few students who put in that extra time to get full credit for those questions rose to the top, while many of those who didn’t suffered a low grade or had to drop the class altogether. I think I’m cut from the same cloth in terms of high expectations and keeping people on my team who desire and work hard to rise to the top. I loathe excuses.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There was a time in the past when I had been a little too trusting of someone that I looked up to professionally, and as a result, my generosity and good nature was taken advantage of. Obviously, everything is a learning experience, so you take a lesson and move on, realizing that you wouldn’t be where you are today without those experiences. While it is disappointing that some people are willing to look past ethics for greed, without a doubt I am proud of what I stood for and have become far more guarded in terms of protecting my interests. In the words of Zapata, “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Find a quote and live by it every day of your life. I’ve kept a quote by Benjamin Franklin at the bottom of my email signature for years now and take it very seriously: “Well done is better than well said.” All too often, I have come across people in business or in life that talk a great game, but when it comes down to brass tacks, they can’t or don’t get the job done. I’ve always been the person eager to prove myself and have no issues rolling up my sleeves to do just that.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Isn’t failure the “F” word? I am a believer that these perceived failures are instead learning experiences as I don’t know that I’ve “failed” at anything I have set my mind to.

A constant struggle for me is attempting to keep life and work more balanced. I think the last official vacation I took was in 2006, and while I always say I’ll do better at taking more time for myself, another year goes by. Tell you what: I’ll put out a press release when I do take that vacation.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Partnerships are key. We have reduced so many costs (manufacturing, freight, etc.) by partnering with other food manufacturers. High freight costs are often problematic for small businesses, but know that there are large companies with their own fleets that are returning home with empty trailers. Many of these companies have back-haul service programs where you can pay a very low rate (we pay fuel only) for use of these trucks. It’s good for us, and it saves a few bucks for the other manufacturer as well.

Likewise, find a way to connect to other entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, tips, insights. I have been blessed to have been part of a closed Facebook group that has some of the brightest entrepreneurs in the US—no VCs (venture capitalists) allowed! We’re all there to help each other, and partnerships are a key to success.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

This sounds like the a question that would be answered in the famous Steve Martin “Christmas Wish” bit from SNL. Seriously, though, I think a big issue we face is society’s inability to take responsibility for its financial livelihood. We should all be preparing to never have to rely on government support. I understand there are exceptions, but there are far too many people living with huge credit card debt, living beyond their means paycheck to paycheck, foreclosing on homes that they never could afford to begin with, etc.

With the Suzy Ormans, Clark Howards and Dave Ramseys of the world, as well as a plethora of self-help books, I just don’t get how people continue to make these bad choices and blame others for their situations. With the housing crisis, sure, the lenders were to blame for “no money down” loans, but at the same time, did these people make a budget to see that they could only afford a $250,000 house at best, versus the $450,000 house they were approved to buy? Knowledge is power, and I think parents need to sit down with their young children now to start teaching fiscal responsibility—preferably by example. I can’t get people to change; they have to want to change themselves.

Tell us a secret.

If you’re one of the 200+ people on our Christmas card list, this is no secret. For over 10 years now, instead of the holiday letters you’re accustomed to seeing from family members bragging about children, jobs and vacations, the annual Busha letter that accompanies the Wegman-like card (we put our dogs in the most unusual poses) is about as self-deprecating as it gets. We have many people who collect them, and the creative writing is something I’m very proud to put out there: embarrassing, embellished and the occasional flat-out lie. The more you know my husband and I, the funnier they are and the harder it is to distinguish reality from fiction.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?

1.  Facebook – You know, I was rarely on Facebook (maybe once a quarter) before I became my own boss, because it just wasn’t a priority. But, as I referenced before, I have been invited to a closed entrepreneur group that has been a great place to share experiences, tips and resources with each other. We’re all there to help each other, and how awesome is that?

2.  Analytics – I do find it very helpful to look at analytics of who is visiting our company website, and it certainly aids in strategy for growth.

3.  Small business publications – There are so very many out there, and I do try when I can to absorb what I can from these great online resources for entrepreneurs.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s Called Work for a Reason!: Your Success is Your Own Damn Fault by Larry Winget. I realize this has been out a few years, but I appreciate the straightforward approach to all of Winget’s books. If you take offense and aren’t laughing hysterically, I request you read it again and learn from it.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

1.  @EntMagazine – K=Just because it gives me a jump on reading stories that pertain to growing knowledge.

2.  @BNDarticles – Same as above.

3.  @YFSmagazine – Same as above. (You get the picture.)

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I usually find something to laugh about daily, but my most recent burst out loud was last night when my husband and I were watching Shark Tank. Sometimes you’re laughing at the fact that Kevin O’Leary has his filter turned off (or doesn’t have one to begin with), and sometimes it occurs when the sharks are bickering amongst each other. Isn’t editing great?

Who is your hero?

I hesitate saying anyone famous because I’ve found that many assume that people who have great reputations also have great character. Not always the case. I’ll have to name my high school coach, Jason Means. Anyone in the coaching/teaching profession has my respect, but finding the balance to push your athletes to their potential while keeping the training fun is not easily achievable. The boys’ and girls’ programs were never segregated, and his allowing me to run with the boys or do a few extra intervals helped my conditioning and confidence. He knew just how much to push us individually or as a team to inspire us. To top it off, he’s a stellar person I am honored to know.

Working in professional sports is pretty glamorous, right?

I can honestly say I have been so blessed to have traveled the path I did. My job out of college with IMG, one of the largest sports marketing agencies in the world, was one that I was offered in March before I graduated in May, so it was nice not to have to look for a job. I worked across many platforms, worked with some inspiring people, and you can’t ask more than to have a Fortune 500 company as a client for so long.

But, like with any job, there are sacrifices, and as you go up the ranks, sometimes you find that the glamor has worn off. I saw too many people who stuck it out in the industry only to find themselves old and with regrets. To continue to grow professionally and not get stuck in a rut, you have to find a way to continually challenge yourself, and I’m lucky to be able to do that.

Do you have any traits that you work on improving?

I think we all have things we work on to improve ourselves, and I’m no different. I am a highly competitive person. I don’t care if I’m participating in a sport or just playing Jeopardy! with my husband on the couch; I absolutely hate losing, especially against myself. I think many people who excel in individual sports are the same way because it’s up to you and only you whether you succeed or fail. Not that being competitive is bad, but I think I get myself frustrated when others around me don’t share that same drive. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I just have to remind myself that some people are perfectly happy settling for mediocrity and not let that take the wind out of my sails.

Connect:

Julie Busha on LinkedIn:  Julie Busha
Slawsa on Twitter:  http://www.twitter.com/slawsa
Slawsa on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/slawsa
Slawsa’s Website:  http://www.slawsa.com

Published on October 24, 2012 .
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