Inspired by children with special needs and their families, and hopes of creating a more inclusive and accepting environment, Jo Mach, Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier and Mary Birdsell started Finding My Way Books in 2013. They observed that children with disabilities are not well represented in literature, so the goal of FMWB is to honor children with special needs by telling their stories. The three hope this will help the development of skills needed for self-determination.
“How to Start a Business was straight forward and easy to understand. This gave me good business direction.” – Jo Mach
While the business idea was solid, getting FMWB to where they are now was not an easy task. For Mach, Stroup-Rentier and Birdsell, getting into publishing posed a larger hurdle than expected. Breaking into the world of publishing can feel difficult enough, but trying to break into the business world at the same time felt nearly impossible. Unsure of the next step to take, Mach reached out to the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Washburn University and attended the introductory seminar “How to Start a Business.”
“It was straight forward and easy to understand. The presenter shared specific information for every step of the way. This gave me good basic business direction,” said Mach.
Mach and her team then began working with the WU Kansas SBDC to start building their business plan. Marketing proved to be the biggest struggle. Parents loved the books but didn’t want to buy them, and were faced with similar problems with disability organizations. They wanted to spread their message and sell to a larger audience.
Working with the WU Kansas SBDC has helped the team at FMWB learn more about the process of owning and operating a small business. They have used multiple tools and resources at their disposal and have taken the steps to get their business off the ground. From attending WU Kansas SBDC classes to working one-on-one with consultants Karl Klein, Logan Hildebrand, Al Bonner and others, Mach and her team have overcome many of their marketing challenges and have begun establishing themselves in the world of small business. “Through our contacts with staff at Kansas SBDC we’ve gained confidence which has helped us make better decisions. We’ve broadened our target audience to include librarians and teachers! Now we are able to present our mission more clearly, using more professional-looking collateral materials. We’ve started building relationships with about 10 libraries and have been invited to present at the TSCPL,” said Mach.
This fall FMWB has been invited to present at the Kansas Book Festival and they have been accepted as a book supplier for the Reach Out and Read program in Kansas City and the Kansas Pediatric Foundation Turn a Page/Touch a Mind program. Both of these programs offer free books to children at their medical appointments. In addition, they are working with an elementary school teacher in Indiana and a high school teacher in Wichita on pilot projects using the books to promote inclusion.
“We haven’t increased our income yet but we have greatly expanded our reach in connecting with people who are interested in our books. Eventually this should help with book sales. But best of all, we’ve met a lot of very wonderful people who are helping us along the way.”
So what is the secret to the success of Finding My Way Books?
“We really believe in what we are doing. We feel it is important so we have to keep going even when we feel unsure about what to do next,” said Mach. “We’ve had a lot of wonderful support from friends and have sought out the guidance we needed.”
Mach also had some helpful advice for someone thinking about starting a business today:
“…Kansas SBDC at WU is an incredible support. I know I can call or email Karl anytime and I will get a response of how they can help me. I think the earlier you start with them, the better it is for your business.”
Mach and the team at Finding My Way Books are on a mission to promote inclusion and self-determination for children with special needs. Each of their books shares a true story of a child with a disability or developmental delay. FMWB also provides lesson plans for schools and educators that facilitate inclusion and developmental skills through classroom activities. For more information, visit findingmywaybooks.com.