Todd and Teresa Tilkens of the Green Bay area have a new business and they’re fishing for customers.
Todd, a retired Army veteran with 23 years in the service, has turned his love for fishing into a business, “Fish’n Walleye Guide Service.”
“I’ve fished all my life, but in the last 10 years, I’ve really been concentrating on the bay of Green Bay and have been trying to figure it out,” he said. “I took out friends and family and in the last few years, I had people telling me I should do this, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”
But, as most entrepreneurs have learned, starting a business is more complicated than you’d think. For Tilkens, it meant a new boat, hours of researching similar businesses and meeting regulations.
“It was an extensive process – way more than I had imagined,” he said. “When I first thought about this, I just considered the fishing aspect and didn’t think about everything there is to do behind the scenes.”
Tilkens had to go to classes and take tests to become a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain. He needed a Wisconsin Guide license, and became certified in First Aid, CPR, and AED (Automated External Defibrillators). Then there were the other business requirements such as insurance, equipment and marketing.
“I was looking into the marketing; how to get the business up and going and remembered SCORE,” Teresa said. “I met with them and we started talking about the business. They suggested that we write a business plan and make financial projections.”
The Green Bay SCORE mentors also made marketing suggestions, and Teresa got busy setting up a website (fishnwalleye.com) and social media accounts. She worked on a brochure and set up a spreadsheet for financial reporting.
“The financials were the most difficult to project,” she said. “When you start, there is a lot of money going out and none coming in. Small things just seem to keep cropping up.”
In addition to small expenses, there was the big cost of a new boat. Todd sold his existing boat and researched charter boats. He selected a large boat with a 250-horsepower motor that was designed for waters like the bay of Green Bay and has state-of-the-art equipment, including rods, reels and tackle.
With the quality of the gear, he hopes that every person will have a great experience. His goal is to teach his clients how to catch a trophy fish and become better anglers. When not working full-time at his regular job, he is scouring the waters looking for the best place to catch fish and said that he is obsessed with catching that monster walleye.
His biggest catch was 33 inches (30 inches is considered trophy size), and his walls at home are hung with his trophy fish. He hopes to parlay fishing success into business success.
“My strength is my knowledge of fishing,” he said. “I also love talking to people and having fun, and I want every person to have a good experience on the boat.”
He said his weakness is the business side of it, but thankfully, that is Teresa’s strength. Having run a home childcare business for 15 years, she is familiar with financial reports, taxes, marketing and regulations.
“I learned a lot through trial and error, but it’s been fun,” she said.
Between them, they hope to make this charter stand out as one of the best. Looking to the future, Todd would like to do white tail hunts in the fall and the fishing charters in the spring and summer, and hopes this can be a full-time job.
“The best thing about having a business is the freedom to pursue something I love,” he said. “It takes time to get it going, but I think most people will come back if I show them a good time.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.