Sailing the seas offers good prep to run a small business

May 13—WHEN TIMES are tough, operating a small business might feel like you’re sailing on the ocean, facing waves 20 feet high and wind speeds of 90 miles an hour.

Not really.

But if you can survive that, you might have what it takes to run your own company.

Before deciding to buy their first business, Toutou Marsden and her husband, David, spent more than two years traveling the world on a catamaran with their two school-age children, visiting 22 countries.

“We quit our corporate jobs, sold our house, sold our cars, everything,” said Marsden, former “owner and first mate, S/V Coconuts,” and since 2016 co-owner of Dell-Lea Weddings & Events in Chichester.

The Marsdens, who both previously worked for Fortune 500 financial firms, came home ready for another adventure, this time on dry land.

“We can tackle big things,” Marsden remembers thinking. “As long as we have each other, we could do it.”

Marsden says the tale of how she and her husband chose their business is “not a very sexy story” — but that’s only if you compare it to sailing the seas for a couple of years with your kids.

The Marsdens were pragmatic. They fell in love with the wedding business only after exploring other options, including a greenhouse, an ice cream shop and a fitness center. They examined the books and made sure the businesses had strong financials.

The Chichester wedding venue met their requirements.

“It also was really a perfect fit for our personalities and our strengths,” Marsden said during an interview last week.

And it spoke to them.

“Sometimes you know you know, right?” she said. “Once you go and look for a house and you’ve looked at 30 houses, and you see the one that you like, that feels right, you just go with it.”

In 2019, the Marsdens participated in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which had just been introduced at Manchester Community College. The free program is designed for small businesses that have been in business for at least two years, have at least two employees and have grossed at least $75,000 in the prior year. (The deadline to apply for the fall cohort is May 25.)

“Our second year we had a stellar year,” Marsden said. “As we were growing we wanted to make sure we were dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s. But we were also looking at the future of growing, and how we wanted to grow.”

At the time, the Marsdens were the only full-time employees, and they had a dozen part-timers. Soon, they would have to reckon with the pandemic, which temporarily shut down the wedding industry.

“We were writing checks out because of all the cancellations. There were more checks that were written out than were coming in,” Marsden said.

Being part of the Goldman Sachs program helped them navigate the storm.

“For us, the biggest part that I took away from 2020 was we had this great system of resources that we could tap into,” Marsden said.

They also could exchange ideas and information with other business owners, such as how to apply for help from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program.

“That was very comforting. We were able to share ideas about how we pivoted, whatever revenue streams that we could bring in. To have that support system was really essential,” she said.

Growth track

Since the Marden bought the business, they have more than doubled the staff. They currently have four full-time and 26 part-time employees.

While the they both have master’s degrees and corporate experience, they had no prior experience with small business.

“Having the program helps you develop your growth plan, helps look at all the facets of your growth, from personnel to HR to administrative to operational to financials,” Marsden said. “It really allowed us to take a look at all the facets of the growth.”

They also learned more about each other’s strengths, which helped them build the foundation for their company.

The couple likes to joke that each has 51 percent of the vote for separate sides of the business.

“We understand there can only be one captain sometimes,” Marsden said.

New Hampshire business owners can apply to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program through the website: or contact Tracy Gillick at 603-206-8189.

Mike Cote is senior editor for news and business. Contact him at or (603) 206-7724.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the views and opinions of the sponsor, its members and affiliates.

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