Celebrating Self-Employment


Celebrating Self-Employment

Catina Downey is the President of Nicole’s Event & Meeting Space, Inc, which does business (dba) as NES Cornhole Lounge in Glen Allen, Virginia. Catina is a certified public accountant (CPA), proud US Army veteran, and mother. The business is a unique and versatile event space with indoor cornhole space and a lounge. The NES Cornhole Lounge provides a space for organizations and individuals to gather and have a great time. The business caters to organizations holding team-building or networking events as well as cornhole tournaments and leagues. Additionally, our venue is perfect for birthday celebrations and other milestone events.

When and why did you join NASE?

We joined NASE in 2019. I saw the great resources and information the organization provided that was specifically for self-employed people, like me. Other organizations tended to focus on large corporations, and I needed information more relevant to me.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?

We saw a need in the venue market, and we knew we could provide something unique.

When and why did you start your business?

We have always loved family gatherings. I wanted a space where my family would come together and celebrate and have a good time. In my search for locations, I found there was a shortage of spaces that met our needs. I also found that others were in the same situation. So, we created the space we wanted and added the amenities we would want in a space. My accounting and military background are instrumental in creating and orchestrating the infrastructure behind the fun part of the business.

How do you market your business?

My marketing strikes on several fronts. I use social media, strategic email marketing, networking, sponsorships, and event marketing. I post Reels and videos on social media and share related posts. I also uplift and spotlight complimentary businesses. We have a membership arm of our venue and individuals who have signed up to receive updates on our events and specials. I message these individuals periodically to keep them informed. I access my accounting network of colleagues and other businesses for corporate events. Before we secured the physical building, we did mobile events and set up cornhole boards and displays and various events around town to generate excitement about the coming business. Now that we are open, we will continue to have staff at these various events to represent us. I also created weekly collaborative events to continue to drive business to the space when it isn’t rented out for private events. For example, we hold weekly country line dancing lessons in the space and people come in to play cornhole, eat, drink, and line dance.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge has been funding. As many small businesses know, access to capital is our biggest hurdle. As a start-up business, it is exponentially difficult to secure financing. From my experience, what tends to happen is small businesses receive just enough funding to fail. The other challenge is getting the word out about the business. This goes hand-in-hand with access to capital. I would love to do a much stronger print marketing campaign, but my capital is used primarily to pay staff and existing business obligations. With more money, we could increase revenue and drive even more business to the venue. To overcome this, I do a lot of the marketing and operational work myself. We also have a strong business partner who is instrumental in helping me manage the day-to-day operations.

Do you have any employees?

We have 20 part-time employees. I designed the business to use technology to increase efficiency. On most days, we are able to operate with minimal staff because of the way we structure the operations and limit manual processes.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?

I still operate my CPA private practice. So, a typical day for me starts really early. I start by scheduling my social media posts before I even get out of bed. My mind is going constantly. I then check my numbers (bank account balances and upcoming bills for both businesses). I then begin work on client accounting tasks. Around midday, I check social media to see if there is anything trending that I can incorporate into my social media posts. If something inspires me, I will create a Reel. I also share or remind followers about upcoming events. In the late afternoon, I shift to event space work and head to the venue. I respond to requests about booking events, talk to customers, schedule staff, return phone calls, etc. In the venue, if we have a pop of customers, I may run the register or run the concession kitchen. I often work at the register because I love interacting with the customers. It also allows me to see what my staff has to do to get the job done. Which allows me to create more efficient processes for them.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

The best thing about being self-employed is the ownership of my time. I wake up every day excited about what I can do. I don’t take for granted the ability I have to choose my day.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?

 “This is cool!!” In the event space, we hear it often and I love it every single time. The validation that others find my idea cool, lets me know that we have something of value. We also receive compliments often about how nice and friendly our staff members are to the customers.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?

Plan, plan, plan. Do a business plan and take your time to run your numbers. Design a strong marketing plan. Don’t just do the business plan to secure financing, do the plan for you.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?

Publications and grants. The publications are great because I get to see what other business owners are doing out in the world. They also have good information to keep me up to date on trends or government initiatives that could impact me.

Courtesy of NASE.org