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Building a business — one baby step at a time

Welcome to Startup Story, a six-part series in which we will follow a new business through its startup and the trials and tribulations of a new venture over the course of a year.
Notary public Franca Muraca
Notary public Franca Muraca (left), executive assistant Rebecca Klassen (far right) and Kamloops Computer Centre employee Kelly Brugger in Muraca’s temporary office downtown. Dave Eagles/KTW

Welcome to Startup Story, a six-part series in which we will follow a new business through its startup and the trials and tribulations of a new venture over the course of a year. This is a collaborative venture between Venture Kamloops’ VK Accelerate Program and Kamloops This Week. The featured business has purchased an advertising package in Kamloops This Week as part of its participation.

When you first enter the office of Franca Muraca Notary Public Inc., it looks a little empty.

The two desks, a filing cabinet and a photocopier don’t come close to filling the room and the furnishings are dwarfed by negative space.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the business was either in the process of moving into, or just about to move out of, the office on Victoria Street.

In fact, both assessments are correct.

Muraca opened her business in October after spending weeks looking for an appropriate space — something clean and well-maintained that was in her budget. The spot she was found wasn’t available until late December, though, so her current location, just down the hall from her permanent home, is a temporary one.

She was originally hoping to find something on the North Shore, where she grew up, but spaces available to her were either too large or needed too much work to get off the ground.

“Somebody came in today and they were like, ‘Oh, it’d be great if there was a sofa there,’” Muraca said.

“And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it’s just more to move.’”

Moving furniture into one space before moving it to another space a short time later is but one of the hurdles Muraca has faced while starting her business as a notary public.

The first hurdle was going back to school after spending 25 years as a teacher.

“I had a very upstanding, noble career. I had a master’s degree already. So it’s like, just leave well enough alone, Franca,” she said.

But after teaching English and French for 25 years, Muraca decided a career change was in order.

After considering careers as a florist or basket-maker, Muraca landed on the idea of becoming a notary public.

“I met with Janice Rutherford, who’s a notary and has been an amazing notary for 10 years, and I sat down to do the paperwork for the sale of my home and it was like I interviewed her,” she said.

“It was weird. She probably thought I was crazy. But I was like, ‘Do you like your job? And she said, “I do, and I used to be a teacher.’ And it just kind of was like this Kismet thing. Everything kind of fell into place.”

The switch from teacher to notary public may not seem natural, but Muraca explained that the job provides many of the same kind of qualities that initially led her to a career in teaching.

As a notary, she could work directly with people and have a positive impact on their lives.

“It felt like being a notary, which was something that involved being meticulous and being of service and dealing with really important documents, I felt like I could affect change,” she said.

After being commissioned as a notary and finishing her school year in June, Muraca took the month of July to rest and compose herself before hitting the ground running in August with the new business.

However, as one income stream ended and another was just starting, she found herself facing costs she hadn’t even considered.

“All of a sudden, you have building costs that are called CAM (common area maintenance) costs, which you don’t realize you have to pay,” she said.

Such costs can include elevator maintenance and custodian wages.

“There’s all of those costs that you learn on the fly,” Muraca said, noting she needed to rely on a combination of savings, credit cards and the financial support of family in order to get the ball rolling.

“I had to do all of it,” she said. “It was basically all in, which is terrifying.”

Early on, Muraca realized that while her education had prepared her for doing the work of a notary public, she had not been taught how to effectively run a business.

While she had grown up watching her mother as an entrepreneur, that alone wasn’t enough to help her understand all the struggles she was going to face.

That’s when Muraca turned to Venture Kamloops.

“It was like a life raft for me,” she said.

Through Venture Kamloops, Muraca was able to access experts in a number of areas that were vital to her business, such as branding and marketing specialists, business coaches, interior decorators people who can provide financial assistance.

The organization was a lifesaver for Muraca, especially because she didn’t reach out for a lot of help from the people around her — something she cites as the biggest mistake she has made so far.

“I think when you’re a high-functioning, independent person, often times you don’t reach out for that help,” she said. “You just kind of take everything on yourself and try to figure out everything. So, I would say that’s something I can do better.”

Muraca is excited as she looks to the next few months, as she goes from just dipping her toe in the entrepreneurial pool to getting her feet completely wet.

“I said to my assistant today, ‘We’re going to screw up,’” she said. “Let’s just give each other permission right now to screw up, I said, but I just want that sense of collegiality and support between myself and the people who work for me.

“I just want people to feel comfortable coming into our space and feel good walking out of our office, like that was a positive experience.

“If I feel that in a couple of months, I’ll be thrilled.”