As online business owners, we are all searching for the freedom and flexibility this kind of work affords. But some of us choose this option of a ‘portable business’ not just because we want to, but because we have to. Today’s guest, Rae Walaska, is a military wife and stay-at-home mom who developed an incredibly unique niche that leverages her love of event planning – and allows her to work from just about anywhere her husband might be deployed.
Rae is the owner of Murder n’ Mayhem, a company offering murder mystery parties and kids’ adventure hunts. It began in Port Orchard, Washington, where Rae worked in partnership with a local restaurant to host monthly murder mystery dinners. The business then grew to include home parties, corporate events, and even a Murder Mystery Weekend Festival on the waterfront. With each move, Rae builds a local network, and now the company hosts events all over the country, including a mystery scavenger hunt inside Las Vegas’ Excalibur Hotel.
Rae is also the co-founder of She Sells Studios, a joint venture that seeks to build a community of female entrepreneurs. She Sells is on a mission to empower and inspire, providing resources that allow other women to benefit from the lessons Rae and her partner, Jenny, have learned as solopreneurs. Today she empowers us, sharing how she developed such a unique business model, how she builds a network in each new city, and how she leverages goal-setting to facilitate growth.
What inspired Rae to choose such a unique niche business
- Experience working hospitality in college
- Event planning was something she enjoyed
- Provided the flexibility and portability she needed as military wife/mother
How Rae partners with vendors
- Pitch in person to restaurants, bed and breakfasts, etc.
- Explain benefits (exposure, new customers)
- Build package that will cover fees for both
- Partner to market the event
How Rae’s business grew organically
- Attendees asked her to host personal events (i.e.: anniversary party)
- Businesses hired for team-building workshops
The greatest challenge of setting up shop again after a move
- Building a new network
Why Rae began a new venture with She Sells Studios
- Craved the opportunity to collaborate
- Desire to leave a legacy and give back
The aim of She Sells Studios
- Empower entrepreneurs
- Provide resources/referrals (e.g.: tips, information, services)
The obstacles Rae has faced as a military spouse and solopreneur
- Difficulty building a tribe
- Juggling the roles of mother and business owner
Connect with Rae Walaska
As a stay at home mom I found myself going stir crazy and decided I wanted to start my own business. My husband is in the military so it was crucial that the business was something that could move about the country. I reflected over all the things I had done in my past and what I enjoyed. That was when I came up with the idea to start a business that provides murder mystery parties, Murder n’ Mayhem.
The company started in Port Orchard, WA. We worked with a local restaurant to host monthly murder mystery dinners. We then grew to home parties, corporate events, shipping parties all over the US and even hosting a Murder Mystery Weekend Festival on the waterfront.
Fast forward through several cities and many mysteries. We now not only offer murder mystery parties and kids adventure hunts, but also have two murder mystery scavenger hunts in San Diego and one in Las Vegas inside the Excalibur Hotel. It is amazing to think that I am helping people create memories that will last a lifetime.
When I am at networking events I like to introduce myself as the local hit woman. I am killing off people in the community on a regular basis. It creates for a memorable introduction.
I have been in business 8 years and it has been amazing to see how my company has evolved over time. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Laura Pennington (Host): Welcome back to the Better Biz Academy Podcast. I am really excited about my guest tonight because as most of my listeners know, I am a soon-to-be military spouse and at the time of this recording, we are preparing for our sixth move in six years. So, my guest today can definitely talk more about why you need a mobile career when you are a military spouse, family member or significant other and how she has done it successfully with something really out of the box that she is passionate about. My guest tonight is Rae Walaska and she was a stay-at-home mom who found herself going stir crazy and decided that she wanted to start her own business. With a husband in the military, it was really important that that business be able to move with them all over the country. That's when she came up with the idea to start hosting murder mystery parties. The business started in Washington and she worked with a local restaurant to host monthly murder mystery dinners, but then this grew to home parties, corporate events, shipping parties all over the United States and even hosting a murder mystery weekend festival on the waterfront. Fast forward through several cities and many mysteries and now they not only offer murder mystery parties and kid adventure hunts, but they have two murder mystery scavenger hunts in San Diego and one in Las Vegas inside the Excalibur Hotel and she loves helping people create memories that will last a lifetime. She has been in business for eight years and loves to see how the company has evolved over time. So, welcome to the show.
Rae Walaska (Guest): Thank you. I feel great to be here.
Laura: Yeah, I am excited to talk to you. So, one of the things that I love to ask guests about how they got started with their entrepreneurial journey? What really inspired you to start a business that's really so creative and interesting?
Rae: Well, when I decided to with the murder mystery, I was a stay at home mom with a military spouse and I knew that I needed to do something that was flexible and portable. And so, I went back through and thought about what had I done from my college years forward and what did I enjoy the most because that was the other thing; it needed to be something that I would enjoy doing. And I though back to when I was in college, I used to work at a hotel and I had been asked to come with an alternative revenue source for them during their off season. And what I brought to the table to them was doing murder mystery events; murder mystery weekends, murder mystery dinners because we are on a historic property - we actually had a famous race horse buried in our courtyard. And what better way to get, what we say in the hospitality industry is heads and beds, and to be able to use our restaurant, our banquet space and really utilize the entire venue. So, that was what we did and it was so much fun. So, when I was trying to come up with what sort of business I wanted to start, that was what stuck out in my head. I love planning events and it was fun and I knew it was something I could do from anywhere.
Laura: I think that's such a good piece of advice and a lesson for anyone who is listening. No matter what online business or brick and mortar business that you are thinking about starting, you don’t have reinvent the wheel here and start from scratch. Think about things you have already done, whether it’s in a past employment position, in school, in a volunteer position and really go from there. So, I'd imagine, founding a business like this is going to require quite a bit of in person networking skills. So, tell me more about how you take this idea and then turn it into a reality because it sounds like you have to partner with some vendors, you need somewhere to host this; so how did you have those initial conversations?
Rae: So, I literally hit the streets. I went to different places that I thought would be a good fit for me; restaurants. My having the experience with the hotels; so, I went to bed and breakfasts and any location that I thought would be a good fit. I went inside, introduced myself, asked them if I could have some of their time to explain what I was doing and then I really sold it on how it not only was great for me, but a benefit to them. And that's actually how I got my first customer - her and I are still [indiscernible 00:04:58] which is crazy, but she was a mom n pop restaurant and the economy had just started to tank, back in 2008 -2009; and we saw this as a great opportunity to bring her new customers and increase awareness for her restaurant, but also gave me a launching point for my business. And so, her and I partnered together, we built a package that covered my fees, covered her fees; we both marketed it and then form there it grew with such an amazing success on the first one that she was like okay when are we going to do the next one. So, we started doing them monthly and that is literally how I developed new themes for my murder mystery selection. Each month Jen would be like, okay, what's next month’s theme; oh, its wild west or [indiscernible 00:05:48]. And from there, I would write it, we'd market it and we'd go. So, it was just amazing how it organically progressed and the next step then was having the people who had attended those events, saying, oh my gosh! I want to do this for a wedding anniversary or a family reunion and so then it started growing into personal events. And then someone would say, my work could do this for team building and I was getting phone calls from banks and it just - once the ball kind of started rolling, it grew from there.
Laura: I love the fact that it's fused this creative work of coming up with the themes and the ideas and events, but also it's also sort of fused with event planning. It’s such a unique idea because at the end of the day, people want to be entertained and you were so smart to create something 1) that you had experience with, but 2) something that has unique appeal and a variety of different places. So, talking about the fact that you are part of a military family, you move regularly; what sort of changes or challenges does your business experience, if any, when you are moving to a new location? Sort of, how do you set up shop all over again when you are moving somewhere new?
Rae: You know, it definitely - we experience a lot of challenges in regards to, 1) I have to be conscious of when we are moving as far as booking events. I actually remember one move where I had booked for a client that was really special. She was a friend of mine - we had met through some networking event and it was her - well her significant other thought it was her 40th birthday, but it was really only her 39th, so we really suck it to him. But with that, I was literally transporting my printer, my computer, everything I needed in our vehicle and was taking it from the vehicle into our hotel room, printing, shipping stuff on the way, in the middle of a move.
Laura: Unfortunately, that seems to - I feel anyways that no matter how many times you have moved, it’s always extremely hectic and there is always something like that, that happens. No matter how well organized you are, it just happens.
Rae: There is. Yes. Definitely and then obviously, some of the other challenges are building that network when I get to a new area and some of it for me is deciding - and I hate to say this but do I want to build that network, like how long are we going to be there. We lived in Washington DC for 13 months, my son was 2 years old; I really did not build my network. My husband worked a job that required him to travel a ton. He actually lived three days of the week in another state. So, again, keeping with flexible business, I chose to scale back my business at that time. And then it was just a hobby business where since things have grown so much more that I'm no longer is a hobby business and we're getting ready to be up for orders again and my husband had said, Italy might be on table and I thought, oh my gosh I would love to move to Italy. I said, let’s do it and he looks at me and he goes, but what about your company and it hit me; I can’t just go with my gut. I have an actual company now, not just a hobby business. I have to make decisions based on my business.
Laura: And absolutely, that's something that I think every business owner has to go through. This sort of mind set shift of discontinuing thinking about this as your hobby and actually viewing it as a business. And I know that was certainly challenging for me and when I got started freelancing, I really viewed all the income that I made with my freelance writing business is mine. I mean I had a day job, all the money that was coming in was for me and I wasn’t planning properly for taxes. I wasn’t doing anything like that and then there was a shift that had to happen when I began doing this full time to realize that a lot of this money needed to be poured back into the business. A lot of it needed to be set aside for taxes and other things. And that was where I noticed that I had to start thinking about this as a business. So, along those lines of the evolution that, you know, your entrepreneurship journey goes through, I know that you are starting a new business as well or you have recently started it; I'd love to hear more about that, and sort of how you decided to incorporate that into your existing structure?
Rae: Yeah, so the second business that I just launched was in August of 2016. I was a victim of solopreneurism. I was getting so lonely, working with my murder mystery company that I decided that I wanted to start doing something else also. And the other part of it was; how was I going to leave my legacy? And so, I decided I wanted to take all my entrepreneurial experience and pay it forward and the best way to do that would be to help fellow entrepreneurs. So, I started She Sell Studios with a friend and our tagline is 'empowering our fellow entrepreneurs in business' and the whole goal is to help provide resources at affordable prices or help provide referrals to those resources. Also, tips and information to assist entrepreneurs in their business. But that said, that company really became my focus - the last part of 2016 - and I truly enjoyed it. I don’t know that it’s going to be taking over full time for me because I do make a full-time income off my murder mystery company and it is steadily growing. So, I've realized that I do need to make sure that I am focusing on where my money is coming in and the two companies don’t necessarily mesh, but when I was launching the other one, there definitely were some struggles regarding schedule, balance of time, making sure everything got done. I did get a really good rhythm going towards the end of the year 2016 that I do feel like is more manageable, now that we have kind of worked through some kinks and I know when my murder mystery busy season is and when are She Sells' busy time is that I am able to try to offset them.
Laura: That's really important because, sometimes you may have parts of your business that are a little bit inter connected or may be even have some of the same strategies or things like that. However, there is also times when you might be working on side projects that are totally unrelated and it’s important to look at those and see how they fit in, if at all and be really knowledgeable about your numbers to help make those critical decisions. So, what has been the biggest obstacle that you have experienced, aside from being lonely and feeling a little bit isolated, which I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel? Have there been any other challenges that you have experienced that you've really learned something from?
Rae: Being a military spouse, my husband deploys a lot, we move a lot, so I don’t have family nearby. Definitely building a tribe, finding those people that you can assist or they can assist and having them kind of in your back pocket so that when an opportunity that comes up, either to go network or do those things that are going to help your business grow, you are able to take advantage of them. I feel like I probably stunted my own growth with my company because of the mom role in that I didn’t want to leave my son with a baby sitter and I needed to learn to just let go. Now that this year, both of my kids have went to school, I have seen phenomenal growth with my company just because I am able to put that focus to it.
Laura: Wonderful, so what do you think is next for you? I know you were talking about a potential move ahead; what is sort of the next version of your business, or the next big goal that you'd like to accomplish with your company?
Rae: Well, we have set some pretty high goals for 2017. My goal for Murder and Mayhem, my murder mystery company is to grow revenue wise by 50%. That's going to put us super close to six figures, and in the back of my head, I am actually kind of thinking like I would like to hit six figures. Right now, we are on target for our 50% growth. I have this little chart where I track it and I highlight in and I've got it broken down into percentages and I check every week where my revenues at. And so, in reaching those goals I have a few set things that I feel like I need to do or I want to do. One is that I want to revamp my website, I want to start a new tour location. I actually live in Williamsburg, Virginia, so I am on the complete opposite coast from where my current scavenger hunts are at. I'd like to get one going here and so I have a whole list of goals that are supporting the big goal. I got the little ones that support the big ones.
Laura: Well, that's wonderful. So, in closing, kind of where can people go to learn a little bit more about you and the services that your company offers?
Rae: Sure, so for Murder and Mayhem, my mystery company, the website is just murdernmayhem.com. You, from there, can reach out to me if you are interested in any sort of the services that we have for the murder mystery company and then for my entrepreneur empowerment company, we have - it’s called She Sells Studios, so it's shesellsstudios.com and on there you can reach out to us. Feel free to ask any questions you might have. Like I said, we have a sort of a private Facebook group; we are on Facebook. We are just really - I love supporting fellow entrepreneurs and I want to help see them succeed.
Laura: That's so wonderful and it's one of the reasons that I actually started this podcast, was to be able to connect with other entrepreneurs and support them in their story. I think your story is so unique and one of my passions is talking to military spouses and significant others about the ways that they can make this sometimes chaotic lifestyle really work for them. It gives them something to focus on and to do that's fulfilling their life's passion and purpose. Something that can travel with them and something that also contributes extra to their household. So, it’s so cool to be able to talk to somebody who is doing just that and I just want to thank you for appearing on the show.
Rae: Oh thank you so much for having me and I agree, being able to embrace your lifestyle and your situation just makes all the better for you.
[End of transcript]