What started as food allergies have not only led to lifestyle changes for Madonna Roudett but also resulted in a flourishing business venture.
Upon returning to T&T after spending about nine years in Maryland in the US, Roudett encountered health challenges.
"I knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn't figure it out. I did a lot of changes, diet-wise. I even became conscious of what I used on my skin," Roudett explained.
She went from selling infused oils while abroad to now making hand-crafted soaps, natural Castile liquid soap, vinegar and vegan and gluten-free ice-cream for the local market.
Roudett eventually discovered she was celiac, making her gluten intolerant.
Even the smell of flour makes her nauseous.
"I started making my own stuff because I wanted things that I could eat and enjoy eating.
I also wanted things that I could use on my skin without encountering any side effects. This enabled me to start my own business," Roudett added.
Hence Niche Traders was born about seven years ago but not without encountering challenges.
"Starting a microbusiness is challenging especially without financial support. It was even difficult when sourcing information to start up and where to get the raw material and even proper packaging.
"I think getting affordable labelling was one of the biggest challenges," Roudett said.
She said accessing raw materials was another impediment.
"Big businesses want you to buy in bulk...like ten thousand or five thousand items, but most times all microbusinesses need and could afford is about 50 or 100 of the items, so it's a constant struggle," Roudett explained.
Entrepreneurs and artisans face loan and other financial constraints.
In this vein, networking becomes critical not only for product promotion but for developing any business, Roudett noted.
In 2015 she founded the T&T Natural Artisans Group which is advocacy for local artisans, natural and organic producers only.
"Often, we are too slow to recognise how much and in what ways we can assist each other through sharing such expertise and knowledge.
"The group is focused on supporting, guiding and educating members to successfully interact with and engage the local market and building long-lasting relationships to promote microbusinesses and ensure a greener T&T," Roudett said.
She also coordinates several food festivals like the recently concluded Sorrel Melee Festival.
The annual Mango Melee Festival, another popular annual event, is expected to be held in May next year.
Noting that the country's food import bill remains too high, she urged people to support and buy local.
"Many of the local products are superior to imported products and are not full of harmful chemicals and preservatives," Roudett added.
What is celiac?
Celiac disease, sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
Eating gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine and over time, this reaction damages the small intestine's lining and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients (malabsorption).
The intestinal damage often causes diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and anaemia, and can lead to serious complications.
There's no cure for celiac disease—but for most people, following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing
Tips for starting a small business
1. Be passionate
Make sure you're on the right track by asking yourself whether you feel the excitement when you think of the business, and if it is worth the sacrifice of your time and money.
2. Start your business while you're still employed
Being employed while you're starting out means you will have money in your pocket to invest in the business, as well as to ensure you can keep up with your monthly living expenses.
3. Don't do it alone
When you're starting a business, experienced guidance is the best support system of all, so finding a mentor in your industry will also allow you to learn from someone who has already been through the startup process.
4. Get clients or customers first
Don't wait until you've officially started your business to line up clients, as without them, your business will not survive. Spend time in the commonplaces of a potential market to network or connect with people over online social platforms, such as LinkedIn.
5. Write a business plan
This is a key step as it provides you with invaluable information. Creating a business plan will allow a better understanding of both operational and financial goals, providing crucial budget and marketing strategies.
6. Do your research
When you're starting a business become an expert on your industry, products, and services.
7. Seek professional help
If you need to write up a contract, and you're not a lawyer, hire one. You will waste more time and possibly money, in the long run, trying to do things yourself that you are not qualified to do.
8. Get the money lined up
Save up first, as well as approach potential investors.
9. Be professional from the get-go
Everything about you and the way you do business needs to convey to others that you are a professional running a serious organisation.
10. Get legal and taxes right the first time
Does your business need to be registered? What about VAT?
How will the form of business ownership you choose to affect your legal and tax situation? Make sure you find out all of this.