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Her Business Went From Garage to Thriving Art Franchise

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Maya Ratcliff is in her Dallas studio listening to a “Beach Vibes” playlist when she picks up the phone. She’s in a contagiously good mood as she mixes paints to prepare for the day ahead. But if you told Ratcliff three years ago that this is what she’d be doing at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday, she’d probably laugh in your face.


Courtesy of Maya Ratcliff

Maya Ratcliff

Ratcliff, who moved to the Hawaiian Islands in 2012, spent most of her adult life working as a corporate banker and then in the mortgage industry. Although she’s always been an innately curious person, the pandemic ignited a longing for something more. Ultimately, she was bored. Like, really bored.

“I was just tired of the grind of my daily [job] — I call it a j-o-b — I won’t even say the word out loud,” Ratcliff jokes.

After working in the same industry for 15 years — and now dealing with the new norm of lockdown — Ratcliff sought a way to stay busy while also relaxing, something she says she’s “distinctly not good at.”

“My husband is a woodworker, and I was sitting in his woodshop trying to whittle wood, and I was cursing the entire time. He goes, ‘Honey, hobbies are not supposed to make you miserable,'” Ratcliff laughs. “I realized right then I had to find something that I enjoy.”

Related: Need Inspiration? Here Are 9 Ways to Find It.

She tried everything: oil painting, watercolors, acrylics. “I was so bad at all of it,” Ratcliff says. But when she least expected it, she found her perfect medium.

“It’s going to take effort and it’s going to take energy, but it’s going to be worth it.”

As Ratcliff was in the middle of yet another attempt at acrylic painting, she struggled to get color out of the bottle. In an effort to loosen the paint, she added water to the bottle, shook it up and poured it on a plate. Ratcliff didn’t know it at the time, but pouring that paint out was changing her life.

“I tilted it around, and the next day it was dry and I loved it,” Ratcliff says. “So I ordered a bunch of canvases, and I never looked back.”

Once she started, she couldn’t stop. Her new method of painting was “fluid,” both in texture and style. But above all, it was mesmerizing, soothing and exactly what she had been looking for. Over the next two months, Ratcliff began posting her artwork on Facebook for fun — but then people started buying it. Then, they wanted lessons.

“I was like, ‘I’m not an art instructor, but I’ll show you what I do,'” she says. “I am a huge believer that if you want to do something, you can do it. It’s going to take effort and it’s going to take energy, but it’s going to be worth it.”

Ratcliff didn’t have an art studio, so she made do with her garage and transformed it into a space for artistic expression.

Related: ‘It Was Like a Drug’: How Dave’s Hot Chicken Grew a Cult Following in an East Hollywood Parking Lot

To set the scene, though the walls of Ratcliff’s garage were painted white, they were filled with so much art that colors covered each wall. The garage was at the end of a courtyard, which served as a welcoming entrance for guests.

It was an instant hit. She taught nearly 1,000 people over six months. Clients came from all over the Big Island of Hawaii — some driving upwards of two-and-a-half hours each way to attend a class.

What made Ratcliff’s business a success was not only the method of creating, which she took to calling “fluid art,” but also the welcoming environment she so carefully built for her students.

“I realized that people wanted a feeling of comfort in their art studios,” Ratcliff says. “All the commercial art studios that are out there are just sterile, uncomfortable and cold.”

Related: This Founder Launched an Ecommerce Company After a Frustrating College Experience. Now, Its Shipping Times Rival Amazon Prime’s — and It’s Dominating This Key Area Jeff Bezos Never Did.

The studio was warm and welcoming and above all instilled a sense of healing in all those who come through the doors.

Hawaii Fluid Art studio in Dallas, Texas | Courtesy of Maya Ratcliff

Ratcliff knew her art could bring joy to others, regardless of any physical or mental obstacles they faced. Among Ratcliff’s first clients were people who were hard of hearing, suffered severe brain damage or struggled with other disabilities.

When Ratcliff first started teaching, she received a call from a man who wanted to know if she’d be willing to teach his wife. She’d suffered severe brain damage from a car accident. She had no long-term memory and very limited short-term memory. He wanted to give her something to do that she enjoyed so much in the moment that she might remember it.

The woman came to the studio every week for one-on-one lessons and, eventually, she remembered.

“The husband told me that she would ask every day, ‘Can I go to art class today? Is today the day I go to art class?’ It was the first thing that she remembered consistently since her accident,” Ratcliff says.

During the six months of teaching in her garage, Ratcliff witnessed countless instances where her art served as therapy and a source of joy for others, so she knew she needed to take the next step. She opened her first brick-and-mortar studio in Waikoloa, Hawaii in 2020 — but her expansion didn’t stop there.

“When we are in a place that we don’t feel whole, or we don’t feel 100%, we have to look inside of ourselves to figure out what’s missing”

Her new studio was thriving, and Ratcliff also taught classes for families at a housing development on another part of the island. After a particularly illuminating class, one of the parents approached her.

“He said, ‘Maya, you need to franchise this. Everybody deserves to experience Hawaii Fluid Art,'” Ratcliff says. “At that moment I was like, really? I started thinking about it hard and then looking into what it would take to franchise. I took a leap of faith and spent every penny that I had to pay for the franchise entity.”

Ratcliff poured her energy, faith and $50,000 into the hopes of making Hawaii Fluid Art a success, and she finally got her FDD in August 2021. Still, Ratcliff wanted to ensure that her business model was perfect before sharing her art experience with the world.

So, from August 2021 to April 2022, Ratcliff worked on fine-tuning the infrastructure of her business from the inside out, with a focus on creating a positive experience for future clients and franchisees alike — and her efforts paid off. Many of Ratcliff’s franchisees were once fans of her lessons, or otherwise inspired by her story, and now extend that same energy forward by bringing Hawaii Fluid Art to their communities.

Related: What Makes These 9 Emerging and Thriving Franchises Unique?

Now, Hawaii Fluid Art has five locations across four states, with six more in the works. Ratcliff plans to open 350 locations nationwide over the next five years, and she moved to Dallas in 2022 to focus on expanding the business.

As Ratcliff continues to grow her business, she recalls what led her to the art in the first place: a longing to experience something she needed but couldn’t find.

“When we are in a place that we don’t feel whole, or we don’t feel 100%, we have to look inside of ourselves to figure out what’s missing, and then find those missing puzzle pieces and start adding them into our life,” Ratcliff says.

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Entrepreneurship

Your Company’s Responsible Guide to Staying Profitable in a Recession

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The recent trend of easy money and exorbitant valuations has skidded to a halt amid recent economic volatility. Understandably, many companies rode that wave as long as they could, but in doing so many prioritized growth over sustainability and sound leadership. Layoffs continue to ripple through the tech ecosystem, so employees both in this sector and elsewhere are feeling the consequences.

Having to let go of staff members is all but unavoidable in a company’s lifecycle, but there is always more that can be done to keep businesses afloat while preserving morale. Strategies can include responsible budgetary decision-making, thoughtful and prudent responses to external pressures and transparent dialogue with employees, to name a few. Such actions can help companies remain healthy, productive and profitable, even as they navigate challenging waters.

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This is What You Need in Your 5-Year Marketing Plan

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We’ve all heard the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Marketers routinely take that question and apply it to their marketing strategies. They figure out what they want to achieve and then develop actionable steps to get there. Keep in mind, these plans aren’t designed to be all-encompassing. They serve as a guidebook for different scenarios while getting the team thinking about what they’d like to accomplish long-term.

Your five-year plan is a way to build an overarching metric for how you’re doing — or how you plan to do over the next half-decade. There are many things to consider when building your plan — here are a few to look at carefully:

The 3 key buckets

A successful five-year marketing plan should fixate on three main questions:

  1. What assumptions can you make about the next five years within your company?
  2. What goals do you want to achieve?
  3. What are the metrics you’ll use to measure those goals?

Assumptions are what you think won’t change in the business over the next five years. For example, you might assume that you will continue using particular vendors or that packaging costs will remain stable. From there, you can determine your goals — like boosting sales by 50% or converting 10,000 new customers. The metrics that measure your progress might be units sold or your company’s market share. It’s essential to include both readily-accessible metrics — such as website views — and brand metrics that might be a bit harder to come by, such as the associations your customers have made with your products or company.

Importantly, there’s no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to answering these questions. Every business has its own vision, resources and position, which all influence its marketing strategy. The aim is to develop a plan that will produce the most desirable outcome for you, rather than worrying about what other businesses have the capacity to do.

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Narrowing your focus

Just like consumer preferences, marketing tactics are constantly shifting. Social media demonstrates this well. Because social media platforms have skyrocketed over the past two decades, marketers no longer rely solely on traditional platforms such as print or television ads. And even within social media, things aren’t constant. TikTok has become one of the fastest-growing platforms, quickly overtaking Facebook.

With so many options, your marketing plan must keep a narrow focus. For some companies, TikTok doesn’t matter. They can’t yet measure the return they’re getting from the platform, so this isn’t exactly a feasible opportunity. Don’t be tempted to try everything or be everywhere. It’s a matter of isolating what you practically can use to give you the insights that will help you.

Two questions will help focus your strategy:

  • How do your goals compare to last year?
  • What are you striving for (e.g., enhancing the brand vs. increasing brand awareness)?

How you answer those questions will help you identify where and how to focus your efforts so you don’t get lost in a bunch of small, irrelevant tactics.

Using your budget

Most people think of budgets as being stable or hard data — but almost all companies work with unknowns. In reality, the best they can do is come up with an educated guess that seems to make sense – a ballpark range. Because nobody can plan with certainty for every scenario — and because it’s so easy to become overwhelmed with an infinite range of outcomes — it’s advisable to lean on a few key financial assumptions and build a strategy around those.

Once you have a budget figure to work with, create high and low projections for everything you want to do. Let’s say the aim is to get to 50% brand awareness. What would your plan look like if you exceeded that and got to 75%? Alternatively, what would you do if awareness went down to 25%? Creating these high and low projections will let you design a more flexible approach and avoid being caught too off guard.

As you come up with your main scenarios and high-low projections, think about the key internal drivers you’ll need to address next year. Consider the risks, and assess whether you’ll have the data, technology and skills to develop and maintain what you expect to put forward. Keep in mind that it’s more important to pivot when issues come up than to predict what’s going to happen accurately.

Related: 4 Tips for Developing a Marketing Plan That Will Actually Grow Your Business

Paint flexibly within your broad strokes

A five-year marketing plan paints a broad, long-term picture of how you’ll communicate with your audience while giving details about your projected products or services. It includes assumptions and factors that aren’t necessarily static, so you have to approach it with a grain of salt and be ready to shift gears if the plan doesn’t work.

Even so, if you stick to three key buckets (assumptions, goals and metrics), keep your tactical focus narrow and incorporate multiple projections in your budget, you should end up with a strategy that blends the data and flexibility needed to strive in a changing world. Because annual marketing plans need to connect to your long-term marketing vision, let the annual marketing meetings serve as check-in points to keep your longer-term marketing plan relevant and viable.

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Lauren Sánchez Is Heading to Space on a Girls Trip

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Sorry, Jeff — this one is for the girls.


Jeff Spicer / Stringer I Getty Images

The Amazon executive chairman’s girlfriend, a former journalist who collaborates with him on philanthropy, is bringing a girl gang to space

Jeff Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren Sánchez, said in a new interview with the Wall Street Journal that she planned to take an all-female trip to space with the Amazon founder’s space manufacturing company, Blue Origin.

Five women will join her on the journey.

“It’s going to be women who are making a difference in the world and who are impactful and have a message to send,” she told the outlet.

The mission is set for early 2024, and the passengers’ names will be announced at a later date.

The WSJ’s report was Sánchez’s first solo interview, the outlet noted, since her relationship with Bezos went public in 2019, shortly after his divorce announcement from now ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott.

The interview also talks about Sánchez’s relationship with Bezos and the business advice he’s given her (keeping meetings under an hour, speaking last as a boss).

Sánchez is a former broadcast journalist and a helicopter pilot who founded her own filming company Black Ops Aviation, per Insider.

“Right now, I’m immersing myself in philanthropy and strategic giving,” she told the outlet. She also has a new production company, Adventure & Fellowship.

Bezos and Sánchez also work together on picking the winner for the Bezos Award for Courage & Civility, which was awarded to Dolly Parton in 2022, giving her $100 million to dole out to charities as she pleased.

But don’t expect Bezos to crash the girls’ trip. “He’ll be cheering us all on from the sidelines,” Sánchez said, adding that Bezos is “excited to make this happen with all of these women… He’s very encouraging and excited, and he’s thrilled we’re putting this group together.”

Sánchez’s nonprofit work includes This Is About Humanity, which helps give supplies to kids separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, supporting the Bezos Earth Fund, which fights climate change, and working with the Bezos Academy, a system of free Montessori schools.

Bezos told CNN in an exclusive that aired in mid-November that, like many other billionaires have pledged to do, he would give away most of his money.

Ex-wife Scott, meanwhile, has donated over $14 billion since 2019, much of it coming from the settlement with Bezos.

Bezos has always planned on giving his money away, Sánchez told the outlet.

“Jeff has always told me since I’ve known him that he’s going to give the majority of his money to philanthropy,” she said.

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