This summer, we launched the Viably Grow Grant program to help North Carolina businesses access the funds they need to build their vision. We’re excited to introduce the second recipient of the grant, Togamay in Zebulon, NC.
Togamay is a “totally gourmet” gifting business that will leave a lasting impression. (We ate the samples and can testify.)
Owner Denise Nowell founded Togamay after her quest to create a healthy, gourmet cookie recipe took off. She sources local ingredients, bakes from scratch, and packages perfect gifts for corporate events, thank yous, weddings, holiday parties, and more.
Denise is a creative and passionate business owner with an infectious enthusiasm for her craft. She was President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce in Zebulon, North Carolina, where she helped local small business owners pursue their dreams. We recently asked her about her inspiration for Togamay, the challenges of getting a business off the ground, and where she sees opportunities for Togamay to grow.
What inspired you to start Togamay?
It really started because I wanted to create a healthy cookie that tastes great. I started experimenting with recipes, and fed my attempts to everyone I knew. I started to refine the process so I could duplicate it, and eventually settled on a recipe I was happy with.
At first I baked them on recommendations or referrals, and it got to the point where I started to consider whether this could be a real business. One of the biggest moments came when the director of the downtown revitalization project tried a cookie, and he invited me to participate in a pop-up vendor market. I agreed, and at that point I realized I needed a name for my product. I combined “totally gourmet” into one word, and it took off from there.
What’s the best part of starting a business?
There’s so much I didn’t know that I didn’t know. I learned so much, so quickly, because everything was my responsibility. Related to that, my favorite part is all of the relationships you get to build. I have used my network to refine my products and packaging. I’ve worked with a business coach to create a growth plan. So while everything is the responsibility of the small business owner, one great thing is that there are tons of people who can help if you know where to look.
What’s the biggest challenge in starting a business?
Doing it all is the most exciting part, but it’s a challenge as well. When I decided to commit to this, a friend congratulated me that I only work half days now—I just need to decide which 12 hours it will be.
And it’s true; solopreneurs work a lot. I’m the baker, the logistics person, the bookkeeper, the admin, and the marketer. It’s all you, and no matter what your professional background is, you will find yourself in areas outside of your expertise.
Clearly you have talent and passion for the products you deliver, but were there surprises on the business side?
Preparing your taxes is an important element that first time business owners need to take extra care for.
The other thing I’m focused on is building a funnel. Small businesses need to think about where they’ll find their next customer, how they get in front of more potential customers, and how to find the people that will be interested in your specific product. That’s a work in progress for Togamay, and I expect it is always a work in progress!
What are your immediate goals? How will the Viably Grow Grant help?
My immediate goal is to build a marketing plan to help us grow our customer base. Everything that I’m doing now depends on my ability to build a brand and get it in front of people.
Another goal is to establish ourselves as “the easy button” for businesses. So, when a business wants to take care of clients without using team members’ time to research and create packages, they call us because that’s our specialty. Of course, all of that branding and marketing work requires investment.
When I got the message that we had been selected to receive the Viably Grow Grant, I went into an appointment and then checked my email again to make sure it wasn’t a mistake! It will help me execute on my immediate marketing plans, and it will also help us grow our relationships in the community. We’re currently working with a local woodworker and a local potter to incorporate their specialties into Togamay packages. The rising tide lifts all boats.
What does a business like Togamay need from a bank?
Small businesses need banking that is simple and straightforward. I need everything accessible online, and I need it in one place. We have so much going on, and I don’t have a team to manage everything.
One of the things that attracted me to Viably is that I saw it as an opportunity to simplify my finances. I don’t have several hours to comb through different accounts and sources. It’s so valuable to have everything in one place so I can see where I am at all times.
What would you say to someone considering starting their own business?
Do your research and be thoughtful. Your “why” is critical.
“Why you started the business” will be a thought that you always return to, especially on the hardest days.
Enter to Win the Viably Grow Grant
Togamay is the second North Carolina business to receive a boost for their growth and operations. Every month, we’ll draw a new winner. If you’d like to enter your business, simply sign up for Viably. Activate the Viably cash or income app, and apply for a business bank account (it’s all free!).
If your small business is outside of North Carolina, you are not eligible for the grant, BUT you are invited to join us in simplifying small business finance and banking.