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How Oprah Winfrey’s Gift Launched a Business

Kiley Russell, CEO of Big Girl Cosmetics

Oprah Winfrey’s show has come to an end, and, like many across the nation, Kiley Russell is saddened by that. Unlike many across the nation, however, Oprah left Russell a gift that the entrepreneur has turned into an enterprise.

Russell, an assistant principal at the time, and her mom were two of the lucky audience members who won free cars on the Oprah Winfrey show. (There’s no back room hook-up here, folks; Russell logged in online to get her show tickets).

“Who wins a car? You might win a free candy bar or something,” Russell chuckles about her unbelievable luck. “It didn’t click for me. It was like a dream, and I needed a car at the time.”

Russell turned that new car into Big Girl Cosmetics, which sits proudly on a rounded corner in President Barack Obama’s neighborhood of Hyde Park.

Here’s how Russell made her dream come true:

A Big Girl’s 5 Rules for Success

1. Deliver a product or service that people will need.
Russell has sensitive skin and learned to create her own products from her grandmother’s home recipe. With that knowledge, Russell began making body butters and scrubs for friends and family. The popularity of the products paved the way for her business. Russell connected with a chemist and distributor to launch her company, which is now entering its sixth successful year of operation.

Angel's Halo lip gloss in honor of Oprah

2. Sacrifice.“I went to order the car. It was a custom-ordered, fully loaded Pontiac-G6 with the panoramic sunroof, CD changer, everything. But I wanted to start this business, and I didn’t have the seed money to start [it]. So, I figured, ‘I’ll go on and sell the car.’ Everybody thought I was nuts, my husband included. I got a little over $19,000 for it.” Russell also invested $10,000 of her savings to launch the company.

3. Work on your business every day, even after a long day at work. “You have to really be willing to commit the hours. After working 12-hour days, I would still go home and put another five or six hours in on top of that. So, on Mondays, I was working from 5 a.m. until 2 a.m., just getting a couple of hours of sleep, while working on this business.”

4. Ask others for help. Don’t even think about doing it all yourself. “It was very stressful because I saw my vision of what I wanted my business to be, and there are lot of steps from point a to point z. So, it took a lot of determination and a lot of help from my friends and family. They came and helped me do trade shows, and they called salons and spas to help to get us in the door.” Russell adds, “Find a mentor. It’s very hard, but there’s always somebody out there who’s done something that you’re trying to do. Become friends with that person and reach out to them and ask because there are people out there who are willing to help you.”

5. Have a plan, and write it down.“Write out your plan, even if it’s not a formal, step-by-step plan. There are thoughts that you have about your business. Start writing them down. Expand on them, and find a journal to put those things in.”

Oprah Winfrey is leaving town, but she won’t be soon forgotten. Kiley Russell has never met the talk show queen, but the connection remains. “I feel like she’s been a part of my family unit. So, it’s almost like you’re saying goodbye to a family member. I’m happy that she is going to be exploring some other option. She has OWN [Oprah Winfrey Network].” –zondra hughes

VIDEO: Kiley Russell’s Vital Beauty Tip

Photos: Zondra Hughes




1 Comment

  1. Shaneka L. Stanley on June 6, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Love it! Congrats on everything you have achieved.