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updated: 8/20/2014 7:24 AM

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  • Mary O'Connor, owner of Take a Bite Food Coaching Services, prepares ingredients as she makes a loaf of gluten-free bread in her shop in Bloomington. O'Connor has branched out to offer gluten-free baked goods and vegan lunches and dinners. O'Connor started an online funding campaign to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter so she can catch up on bills and stay above water the next few months.

      Mary O'Connor, owner of Take a Bite Food Coaching Services, prepares ingredients as she makes a loaf of gluten-free bread in her shop in Bloomington. O'Connor has branched out to offer gluten-free baked goods and vegan lunches and dinners. O'Connor started an online funding campaign to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter so she can catch up on bills and stay above water the next few months.

 
By PAT SHAVER
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON -- Mary O'Connor is struggling to keep her business open, so she turned to social media.

The owner of Take A Bite Food Coaching Services, a Bloomington vegan and gluten-free bakery, restaurant and cooking class business, started an online funding campaign to raise $3,000 on Kickstarter so she can catch up on bills and stay above water the next few months.

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Kickstarter and other online funding sites have become more popular in recent years, allowing businesses, inventors, technology startups and artists to raise money online, said Rebecca Hayes, assistant professor of communication at Illinois State University. Often times, the campaigns are started by people who cannot obtain bank loans or other conventional financing.

Kickstarter allows people to set a goal and a deadline, and if the money isn't raised by the cutoff date, there is no funding. Similar websites include Indiegogo and GoFundMe.

The success of the campaign depends on the business or project and how it spreads on social media sites. Not every online funding project is a success, Hayes said.

"Basically I'm growing slowly but not fast enough," O'Connor said. "If I don't get some help, I'm going to have to close so I can get a job."

The business, located at 510 IAA Drive, Suite B, Bloomington, opened in February, and since then it has been a struggle.

"I've worked 60 hours a week since February with no pay," she said.

O'Connor has until Aug. 20 to raise $3,000 in her campaign. As of Tuesday, she raised $1,125 from 32 donors. The $3,000 would keep her in business for at least three more months.

"It has to be compelling, any social media spread depends on a compelling idea," she said. "You can have the greatest idea, but if you can't convey what it is in a cool, engaging manner, it isn't going to work on Kickstarter."

As a new business owner, O'Connor wasn't able to get approved for a second bank loan, so an online funding effort was an alternative.

"The only reason I'm still doing this is because of all the people who come in that can't eat anywhere else," O'Connor said. "A lot of people don't understand that if you want small shops to stay open, you have to come consistently. I'm not Burger King; if I have a bad week, that might be it for me."

Meanwhile, Justin Turner, who owns Sangha Farms in Heyworth was able to successfully raise more than $10,000 through Kickstarter to begin his farm operation last fall.

"I just tried to get as much exposure as possible. I went around to local restaurants and anywhere that let us put up a sign or put cards out, or would mention us on Facebook," said Turner, who grows fruits and vegetables.

The money allowed him to buy the equipment he needed to start about two acres of farmland. His produce is now part of a farm co-op that distributes to restaurants and grocery stores in the area. He also sells at the farmers' market in downtown Bloomington.

Hayes said some business owners who are having trouble taking out a loan may use a funding website to make a case that their idea is relevant and deserving of a bank loan. Many companies see success through online fundraising campaigns, though Hayes said they aren't for everyone.

"If you are an organization that does face-to-face communication really well, it might not be for you," she said. "You should focus on where you do things well."

Another challenge is that Kickstarter keeps about 10 percent of the money raised, she said.

Despite that, Turner said the site helped his business grow.

"I don't think we would be where we are now if it wasn't for that," he said. "I think it was paramount."

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