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Traci Smith-Cone: Work with people you love who will challenge you

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, at 10:18 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, at 11:10 p.m.

A childhood friendship and a background working in nonprofits led Traci Smith-Cone to a new entrepreneurial venture.

Smith-Cone met Nathan Smith as a child in grade school. They kept in touch, and Smith began talking about starting a company that specialized in personal designs for caskets and urns.

“Nathan came up with this idea years and years ago,” Smith-Cone said. “He called me up one day and said, ‘I’m going to do this.’ ”

Smith asked for Smith-Cone’s help writing a business plan since she’d been a grant writer.

“The more I wrote the plan, I really kind of thought it was a great idea,” she said.

At the time, she’d taken about six years off of work to raise her son. Smith-Cone suggested a partnership, and Smith agreed.

In late 2009, ’Til We Meet Again was born. It started as a casket store in Towne West Square and is now a franchise with stores opening around the country.

“It’s scary, especially going into business with a friend,” Smith-Cone said.

How to run a business with a friend is one of the key things she’s learned.

“You need to work with people that you love and who will challenge you,” Smith-Cone said. “This is vital in picking the right cofounder. Find someone with complementary skill sets. Someone who will push you hard when you need it and who will know instinctively when to back off. Part of this includes establishing boundaries. Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to separating family life from the business.”

She’s learned more about planning, too.

“Remember that business plan that you wrote? You have to wrap your head around the fact that things rarely go as planned. I’ve had to learn how to go with the flow, and that’s very counterintuitive for me. You just can’t afford to get stuck in traditional business thinking or in old-fashioned business models. We’ve had to be very flexible and willing to change directions at any time.”

Finding a guide is crucial as well, Smith-Cone said.

“Find your trailblazer. Someone who’s done this before.”

For Smith-Cone and Smith, that’s been Pizza Hut cofounder Dan Carney, who also is a ’Til We Meet Again franchisee.

She said a trailblazer can be a sounding board and a sense of calm. “This relationship is very vital to us professionally and personally.”

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