Erica Dickson didn’t have a clear career plan until she had her first son at the age of 20. Unexpected pregnancy not only challenged her financially and physically as a young single mother but also implanted a career idea into her mind – open a childcare center.
Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Dickson and her family moved to Columbia, Missouri in 2002. After giving birth to her child, she continued with college while trying to strike a balance between study and child rearing. Working at a local day care center in the daytime and taking classes at night, she soon realized how important good day care service is to children and their parents.
“So many kids spend more time at a child care setting than they will spend in their own homes,” she said. “It’s important to have quality and affordable places to go to…I dream to have my own center one day.”
After graduating from Columbia College in 2011 with a major in psychology, and two minors in education and sociology, she was introduced by a family member to Teri Roberts, the asset development coordinator at Central Missouri Community Action, through whom she was able to develop a business plan, take a microbusiness loan, and eventually open her day care center, King’s Kids, in September 2012.
“Teri was very welcoming and inviting. She worked with me around my schedule to get it done,” Dickson said. “She helped me with my feasibility plan, which was the core of the business plan…She started asking questions, doing the financial planning part of it. One of her first questions was, ‘what’s your exit strategy?’ It was something that I had never thought about.”
Dickson said the name King’s Kids carries her love and hope for kids. She believes that every kid is special and should be treated well.
“I believe that if they are raised to know that they have royalty, be treated as such, and will act as such,” Dickson said. “Train up children in the way they should go. It’s a description that I live by especially here.”
The program now serves 16 kids aged from eight to 12. It offers after-school pickup, tutoring, arts and fitness classes, and outdoor activities such as swimming and skating. It’s staffed by about six volunteers, some of which are from the Asian affairs and service learning departments of University of Missouri. Dickson said the goal is to provide affordable services for children who are not able to get otherwise and expose them to things that they don’t normally have opportunities to do.
Now, Dickson is pursuing a master’s degree in education at Columbia College while working at King’s Kids. She enjoys having kids around and seeing them grow.
“It’s something that I’m able to get up in the morning and look forward to doing. Not many people can say that about their jobs,” she said.
What is it like being a business owner?
It’s challenging to be a business owner. It’s a big risk sometimes. It’s a big leap of faith at times. Just try to go through the transitions that you need to go through to make it work. Once you make it past your third year, you will make it. For me, it’s a business which my family depend on. There are a lot of responsibilities…But the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
What’s your vision of your business?
A lot of people ask me about expansion, but I don’t want to be so big on number that I miss out the quality. Of course we can always expand it to another space, but it takes hiring more quality staff. I’d like to see more transportation moving out. So maybe we can go to different schools and serve different people. Just keep it going. Longevity is my vision.
What’s your advice for amateur entrepreneurs?
Make sure you do a lot of planning. They said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
How has your experience of developing a business changed you all these years?
As a human being, I’m a lot stronger now. It takes a lot of strength and endurance to run a business. As a business owner, I think I’m a lot smarter. Just kind of more aware of what it takes and all the things that go into running a business. I’m more financially intelligent and organized.
What are some challenges for female entrepreneurs and how can they deal with those challenges?
I think sometimes this community can be a very conservative place in some ways. A lot of times, a woman’s role seems very old-fashioned. A lot of people say that you are a mom, how do you do that and balance it. It takes a lot to find balance. When people see that you have found a balance to be a good mother and business owner, it kind of surprises them. A lot of people don’t realize how old their ways of thinking are. But we are smart, strong and able to do all the things that men can do.