From Teaching to Franchise Owner: 4 Pieces of Advice When Starting Up

Stacy ParkelA former teacher, today Stacy Parkelj is co-owner of a Tutor Doctor franchise in Dallas. She shares 4 wise lessons she has learned in starting her own business.

The journey towards doing what you love and being able to support yourself and your family is often fraught with obstacles, confusion, and innumerable questions. I myself have gone through several different eras of work, from being a teacher, operating a web design company, to managing a large sales team before returning to the classroom. It wasn’t until I returned to my love of teaching that I realized my passion for education could fit perfectly with my entrepreneurial spirit through opening a tutoring business.

Four long years ago, I took a leap of faith and opened my small business, a Tutor Doctor franchise location in the Dallas Ft. Worth area with the help of my father as a business partner. Since then, I’ve learned hard life and business lessons and have grown my business to support local community families. It is such a powerful blessing and gift to be able to do what I love every day, and I believe that everyone should be able to say the same for themselves.

Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.

Here are some pieces of advice that have helped me through the launch and growth of my business.

Be open to making sacrifices early on

Launching a successful business requires so much more than just a financial investment. Especially in the first few years, entrepreneurs should expect to invest a significant amount of time into their business, putting processes and systems in place to accelerate growth and move towards self-sufficiency. Because of this hard truth, dedication to launching a successful business forces you to shift priorities towards the business. Be prepared to miss sleep and events, and have a plan in place to help manage and care for your children.

Make Wise Hiring Choices

The employees you hire are unquestionably some of the greatest investments you’ll make into your business. It’s important to make strategic hiring decisions for the business, especially while the business is still being established. As much as it is possible, seek employees that bring more to the table than the skill sets required by their positions, and employees who compliment the business model and team members. Selecting employees who meet your criteria will create a synergy in your company that will drive it to successful heights.

Stacy Parkel
Stacy and her father and business partner

Seek out a support system

Business ownership can be a very lonely journey. As stress mounts and weighs on your shoulders, having a support system can mean a huge difference in your attitude, pool of resources and references and the future of your business. Finding a support system that will understand every inch of what you’re experiencing is crucial and sometimes requires reaching outside of your traditional circles. While your friends and family might be supportive and excellent listeners, unless they’re also business owners they may not completely understand your situation and not be able to offer helpful business advice. Finding a business-minded mentor will not only give your business the powerful resource of someone who has been through it all, but also an outside perspective.

Set a routine 

Without a doubt, the first few years of business ownership is punctuated by long hours, hard decisions and balancing the world on your shoulders. Thankfully, this phase of startup and extreme productivity doesn’t last forever. Once the dust has settled and the business is up and running, it’s vital to establish a proper schedule and routine. For me, that means that from nine to five o’clock every day I go into my home office and close the door. Simulating a real-world work environment while working from home establishes necessary boundaries for myself and my family and ensures that I can maximize my time. Even if you aren’t working from home, it’s important to find a way to end your work day and “turn off” your business brain.

Whether you’re going it alone, or entering business with a partner, it’s important to go into business with your eyes open and a set plan. Once you have the road map laid out and set the plan into motion, everything will fall into place with a little hard work and dedication.

 

The Bra That Changed My Career

Ali CudbyAli Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. She’s also a bestselling author and has been featured on TV and in print and online publications.

Most women put shopping for bras and root canal surgery right at the top of their “least fun things to do” list. For a long time, I felt the same way. Then in 2004 I had an experience that changed my mind – and my career.

Before 2004, when I went bra shopping it felt like an act of masochism. The largest bra I could find at our local department store was a DD, and it didn’t come close to fitting. When I did find a bra that sorta, kinda worked, it always somehow resembled a flak jacket. I was sure the saleslady felt sorry for me. As a teenager, all I wanted was lacy lingerie in pretty colors, but there was nothing available in my size.

I felt humiliated by those shopping experiences, as if each bra that didn’t fit was communicating a larger message: that I didn’t fit. I excelled in lots of areas, but failing to feel good about my body compromised my self-esteem and undermined my confidence. As I transitioned through my twenties, I figured out other ways to feel good about myself. I focused on my career and friends and eventually came to embrace my curves.

I began dating a charming Englishman who, before long, insisted it was time to meet his family on the other side of the pond. On a whirlwind weekend in England, we were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in. I veered closer to look at the window, and couldn’t help myself. Without thinking, I went inside, leaving my boyfriend’s family standing on the sidewalk.

The store was filled with bras that were pretty, lacy, feminine—and all in large cup sizes. I received a professional fitting and discovered I was a size I never knew existed. Even better, the lovely fitter brought me a dozen gorgeous bras to try on. With each new garment, I felt more and more whole. All of a sudden, I noticed myself standing straighter. “My girls were lifted for the first time ever, in a bra that actually fit, was nice to touch and pretty!”

That fitting changed my life.

“We were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in.”

On that day, I knew I would never wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras again. I got home and began talking to my friends, only to realize that whether they had grapes or melons, almost none of them had bras that fit. In fact, most of them said, “I know my bra doesn’t fit!” When I heard them, I was floored. For all those years, I had suffered in silence, thinking I was the lone oddball. How could so many smart, successful women have ill-fitting bras? Then it struck me — as women, we never really learn how a bra should fit.

That stroke of inspiration became the basis of my company, Fab Foundations. I created a methodology Fab Fit Academy Logofor helping women find bras that fit which became a book, Busted! The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras That Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic (no longer in print). Busted! was a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for a year! Next, I developed a curriculum for training – and certifying – lingerie retailers in the art and science of bra fitting. My methodology has been used by lingerie pros on six continents around the world … just Antarctica to go!

But a funny thing happened as I was working with all those amazing retailers. As much as they got great at providing fittings, their businesses didn’t always grow. I realized that fit excellence was not the ultimate foundation for creating the best possible business.

I went back to the drawing board.

Your Iconic Brand LogoPulling from my corporate background as a Marketing Executive at companies like The New York Times Company and Animal Planet TV Network, I investigated. A pattern emerged – if women didn’t FEEL good about their fitting experience, they wouldn’t become loyal customers. Period.

I shifted gears and started focusing on helping small business owners develop a foundation for customer relationships that transcended bra fittings. All of a sudden, the one-two punch of fitting/customer relationship started getting results. Clients were growing their businesses by 20%…35%…500%! Even my traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail clients were seeing incredible growth. I was so excited!

On top of that, clients were reporting that their employee engagement was improving, turnover was dropping, and (here’s one I didn’t see coming) a number of clients shared that their marriages were better than ever!

Simply focusing on the customer experience was the key to building the businesses they dreamed of owning.

It’s like the theme song for that 80s TV show, Cheers: You want to go where everybody knows your name. When businesses create that, they get customers for life.

Ali CudbyIn today’s disconnected world, having a place where you feel truly appreciated as a customer is rare and special. When businesses form that bond, they become Iconic in the eyes of customers. This fundamental truth goes far beyond lingerie. Today I love having the opportunity to work with clients in a growing mash-up of industries.

I used to think my AHA moment was when I turned around and saw my reflection in the fitting room mirror at Bravissimo. Now I know differently. When I got that amazing bra fitting, my relationship with my body changed. The day I made the pivot to customer experience, my mission in the world shifted forever.

Every day I wake up (of course, I put on amazing lingerie) and feel ready to make the world a better place – one Iconic customer interaction at a time.

Ali Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.

The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.

Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.

Find Ali at www.YourIconicBrand.com

Heather Dolland: New York’s Finest Food Crawler

Heather DollandJob security isn’t everything, even in New York City, one of the world’s most competitive job markets. And sometimes you have to risk it all to figure that out. Just ask Heather Dolland who turned down a promotion from her environmental consulting firm, where she’d been for more than a decade, to start her own online company.

“There’s never a right time to leave. Usually we just need a little push out of the nest. No matter where this goes, I can say I gave it a 110%. My biggest regret would have been not trying,” Dolland says emphatically.

After 20 years in the US, Dolland’s Grenadian accent may have mellowed but it’s still music to the ears. She moved Stateside in 1995 to study architecture only to find while doing her thesis that her dream turned into a nightmare. So she switched gears and launched into environmental science, getting a Masters from the NY Institute of Technology.

She began her career with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection before moving to an environmental consultancy where she was a Business Development Manager for 11 years.

Halfway through her time at the firm, Dolland took on a side gig. “I bought a house in Long Island by myself, but I had no idea how expensive it would be. Three months into the purchase, a friend from Grenada who promoted wines and spirits asked me if I could help her with promotions in Long Island so I became a brand ambassador on nights and weekends, mostly as a means to supplement my income.”

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow.”

Dolland was so good at brand evangelism, hosting events, spirit tastings and launches, she took on several brands in the Bacardi family. It wasn’t an issue with her employer because she was doing the promotions outside of working time and there was no conflict of interest. But increasingly she realized which work she was more passionate about.

“Even though I was making progress and moving up in the company, I knew I had topped out. I could Heather Dolland with her booksee what the rest of my life was going to look like. I liked what I did, but the idea of living this life for the rest of my life was frankly a little depressing. I was by no means reaching my potential,” she explains.

When the work day ended, Dolland looked forward to the evenings which were spent promoting her clients products. “No matter how long the day had been, I always had energy. I loved it. I had this gut sense that this is what I was meant to do.”

The inspiration for her shift came during a visit to South Beach, Florida, with her mother who lamented they didn’t have enough time to try all the great restaurants. “I remember saying to her, ‘Who says we have to eat the entire meal at one place? Why can’t we enjoy each course as we like?’ So we did just that and had a food tour of the restaurants.”

As a huge foodie herself, it occurred to Dolland that she could market a more formal experience to others. And so, while still working as an environmental consultant, she launched a website – All the Tastes of New York – offering a food crawl concept. Clients enjoy each course at  a different restaurant within a few blocks of each other in various neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village. Dolland arranges everything directly with the restaurants.

“I feel like my brain is a portfolio of restaurants. I have eaten through the Zagat – from Afghanistan to Zaire so I know my stuff! I do a lot of bachelorette parties and themed events like dining at places where there are celebrity chefs or eating a specific cuisine such as Italian. I tailor the experience to what the clients want and everything is built in.”

Heather Dolland Book SigningInitially, the business was just an outlet, something that gave her joy but, as the demands on her time grew, Dolland knew she had to choose.

“I really wanted to go for it, but I was so nervous to leave my job. It never seemed to be the perfect time. Then my manager offered me a promotion but made it very clear I would have to drop ‘my distraction’ and focus 150% on my work. I guess it was what I needed to hear because I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ and I knew then I was turning down the money to do something I really loved. Hopefully the money will follow,” she laughs.

Starting a small business is scary for anyone, but Dolland had now lost the salary that was funding All the Tastes of New York. Because she had seen the day coming, she had extended lines of credit for her business while still employed. But without the comfort of her paycheck to fall back on, she lived lean and got serious about money management.

A year and a half after she left her secure job as an environmental consultant, Dolland is seeing the Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom Book Coverpayoff of all her hard work. Match.com was an early client and, as the culinary experience she has created lends itself to movement and communication, she has many corporate clients doing team-building events. She has plans to replicate the concept in other cities like Las Vegas and South Beach and has written a book, Discovering the New York Craft Spirits Boom, promoting small distillers in the New York area as a way to spread word about her business but also to integrate locally produced beer, wine and spirits into her food crawls.

“If I think about the journey I’ve been on since I left my job, I know now that you can’t have one toe in. It’s all or nothing. You only really see all the aspects that you need to manage when you are fully in it. It’s not really possible to run a business effectively when you’re doing it on a part-time basis. I still feel like I’m still figuring it out but having so much fun doing it.”

Tips from Heather Dolland
  • When you start a business in a new space, be open to evolving. Don’t stray so far afield that you lose sight of who you are you. Try to build on your competencies.
  • The irony of having a small budget is that it keeps you very cautious. If I had a ton of money, I would have burned through it.
  • While it’s not sustainable in the long run, having another job enabled me to evolve slowly and cover big ticket items early on. My business wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t have that salary because I wouldn’t have been able to afford all the mistakes I made early on.

Watch this video to learn more about All the Tastes of New York.

 

Bonnie Moore: Bringing the Shared Housing Movement to Boomers

Bonnie MooreWhen asked to tell her story, Bonnie Moore laughs. “Well, I’m 70 years old, I have a long story. I’ve been through three husbands. I was divorced before I even went to college. And while the truth is, I’m not cut out to be a wife, I’m definitely built for working life. I’ve run my own businesses before, but I didn’t become a serious entrepreneur until I was 69.”

At a time when most people would be putting their feet up for a long-deserved retirement, Moore was writing business plans and seeking developers to launch her online network supporting communal living among mature adults.

Moore’s drive to launch the Golden Girls Network was created out of necessity, but perhaps it also has its roots in her early years as a college graduate and divorcee living the hippy life in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and convenience of communal living,” she explains.

A hippy perhaps, but for 27 of the 30 years she lived in the “City by the Bay,” Moore was an accountant. That is until she brought a class action suit against the California State Board of Accountancy in a fight over her right to refer to herself officially as an accountant rather than a bookkeeper. The case ended up before the California Supreme Court, and – although she lost by one vote – Moore became something of a celebrity, giving lots of talks on the issue of commercial speech. The experience sparked an interest in law, and so at 44 years of age she enrolled in law school, while working part-time.

“I was 50 when I graduated and the first question I asked myself was, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’”

But unlike her fellow eager graduates, Moore had to put her legal dreams on hold. “My 29-year-old daughter was diagnosed with AIDS and there was no question that I would drop everything to take care of her. She was one of the first patients in 1995 to get the untested cocktail because she was dying and had nothing to lose. Within one month she started to improve.”

It took almost three years for Moore’s daughter to get back on her feet, but as soon as she was, Moore decided to move on to the next chapter in her life. With a second divorce behind her, she set her sights on Washington DC, and with nothing more than a 15-year-old two-seater sports car packed with a suitcase and a blow-up mattress, she hit the road to finally live east of the Mississippi.

DC was a good move. After several temp jobs as an accountant, Moore secured a consulting gig with a CPA firm and stayed for 15 years until semi-retiring at age 69. She still works part-time for the firm on a project basis.

Bonnie Moore“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,” she laughs.

Moore’s inspiration for her next move came directly from her own experience. Divorced for the third time in 2008, she was saddled with a large mortgage for her newly remodeled 5-bedroom home in Bowie, MD. “Home renovation is a stressful process,” Moore says wryly. The recession had started and the house value was plummeting.

“I had my dream home. But my income was cut in half and I had 100% of the bills (her ex filed for bankruptcy). I knew I wanted to keep the house so I decided to start looking for roommates. Bowie is primarily a family town so it was challenging to get people to move out there.”

She focused on women in the same age-group. After some interesting experiences … the woman who reorganized all her drawers and the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her Halloween decorations … Moore finally found four roommates that worked. Multiple house agreements have helped maintain order and balance the demands of five different personalities.

Fast forward five years to retirement and Moore realized her next opportunity was right in front of her. There was a market of mature women struggling financially and searching for housing, and the Craigslists and rent.coms of the world were not meeting their needs. She would establish a business to help other women do the same thing that she and her roommates were doing: find like-minded individuals to sharing housing.

Golden Girls Network is a membership-based organization modeled after match.com that provides an easy-to-use platform for mature women (and men) to search for and find shared living arrangements from a national database. Users can be seek housemates to share in their home or rooms in other Golden Girls homes. Bonnie is also working on a foundation which will support a home companion program through which a housemate could receive a reduced rate for rent in exchange for providing assistance in the home of an older adult. “This wouldn’t include medical needs, but rather help such as changing light bulbs, doing the grocery shopping, and shoveling snow,” Moore notes.

“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,”

And while the idea came easily and the business plan has evolved, setting up Golden Girls Network has not been without pains.

“We were trying to do too much and there were liability hurdles that I didn’t foresee. Then I found someone to build the database, but let’s just say it didn’t go very smoothly. I almost packed it in until NPR contacted me. I wasn’t even in business yet! Three developers later, the database was ready to launch and the very same day, we were on the cover of the style section of The Washington Post.”

Completely self-funded (although looking for an investor), the network currently includes more than 900 people in 47 states. Moore is in licensing talks to expand the network outside of the US. And even though she doesn’t sport a hoodie, she joined a business incubation center at Bowie State University shortly after her launch.

“We’ve tapped into something that people are really interested in, it’s a sleeper thing. Baby boomers are retiring and their situations are not what they expected. There is an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People who lost the value of their homes or their jobs through the recession don’t have the money to retire the way they thought they would. What’s more, women’s salaries are lower than men’s and often they don’t have secure retirement plans. Retirement communities are expensive, especially for people on a fixed income. Living in shared housing helps cut costs dramatically and the bonus is you don’t have a house or yard to take care of. It’s kind of nice.”

So what’s next for the septuagenarian after she finds that investor and takes Golden Girls Network to the next level?

“Oh, I’m going to be the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady – the face of the company – and let someone else run it! One of these days I’m really going to retire and live the life of a Golden Girl.”

You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.

And…

  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com to listen.

 

To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com. Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

Pam Holland: Moxie and Tech, a Recipe for Success

Pam HollandIf she’d had a magic wand, Pam Holland would have been a photo journalist or done something in the arts, but instead the New Jersey girl, with a dash of New York, ended up in law school.

“Part of me loved the problem-solving aspect, but after law school I worked at a law firm doing commercial real estate transactions and I really hated it. It was like being a wedding planner for lawyers, too much detail, too many boxes to check.”

To her delight, she got laid off and was recruited to Fannie Mae where she did mortgage policy work. She loved it and stayed over two decades thanks to the interesting work, great benefits, and a near-perfect family/work-life balance.

But the itch to start a business was constant.

“I’d drive my husband crazy with my ideas. There was Kippah Girl, producing colorful kippahs, the beach buggy rental business (secretly it was just because I loved the name Buggies at the Beach) … I recall standing in front of a soda machine many moons ago saying ‘I wish I could get bottled water from this.’ I’ve always been identifying opportunities.”

Toward the end of her time at Fannie Mae, Holland went to a career counselor and discussed her Pam Hollandentrepreneurial dreams. “Even as a kid, I’d been trying to figure out how to make money. I’d have garage sales and made candles, selling them door-to-door. I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

About a year or so later and one year before she turned 50, Holland decided to resign. The mortgage crisis had hit, Fannie Mae was in conservatorship, and the economy was blowing up.

“There were no longer opportunities. I had totally outgrown my seat, there was nothing left that I really wanted to accomplish. I felt like I had one more career in me and knew that never starting that business would be my number one regret.”

Despite all the ideas bouncing around in her head, Holland didn’t jump right away into entrepreneurial life. She took a consulting position with Bank of America, but after two years hit a wall and decided to leave – but not without a plan.

“I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

For some time, she had been thinking about a business that would teach technology to “late adopters,” both the tech adverse and older generations. A lover of gadgets, Holland was always playing with the latest technology, testing out apps, and troubleshooting devices. It all began with a class she called “Getting to Know your iPad” which she offered at a local community center. “Bingo! That was it. The class was full with a waiting list. I went to other community centers and started picking up one-on-one clients. It’s mostly coaching, filling in the gaps, and getting the client comfortable with the technology.”

Pam Holland
A Tech Moxie client showing off the new iWatch

That was two years ago and Tech Moxie continues to evolve. While Holland still does classes and works occasionally one-on-one with clients, she hires contractors to provide most of the services while she concentrates on growing the business. That has proven the biggest challenge thus far: “It’s a very scalable business, I want to go national, but I need to step back and see the bigger picture.”

Tech Moxie is all self-funded. To her husband’s dismay, Holland said she was “willing to live in a cave” to make this happen. Marketing has been her biggest expense, the website and branding and so on, but the loss of her corporate income has easily been the biggest startup cost. But this tech moxie is in it for the long haul.

“Sometimes I wish I had started sooner, but I’m not sure the market was ready. Tech needed to catch up. Mobile phones have really changed the game because, as people age, the accessibility features open up doors that were previously closed. I love when I show a client with Parkinson’s how to use Siri for example. Helping people understand the tech puzzle gives me such a sense of accomplishment and the best part is finally my time is my own.”

Tips from Pam Holland
  • Fake it! You don’t need to be an expert, just be confident … look for breadcrumbs.
  • The only way to learn how to run a business is to go through it.
  • Work on the most important issues first, not the easiest, otherwise you’ll never get to the big stuff!
  • Having an idea does not mean you can execute it. You need to think about the means to manufacture or produce something, but tech has definitely leveled out the playing field.

How I Turned Panic into Promise

Lauren Laitin

Lauren Laitin is owner of Parachute Coaching which provides clients with the structure, tools, and support, empowering them to clarify their goals and devise the strategies to achieve them.

I was standing at my trendy new desk, staring at the exposed brick walls of my hip, downtown office and trying not to panic. I had recently left the fast track at a leading corporate law firm to be a partner at a boutique legal group and, as early as day one, I knew that something was not right.  On paper, everything was going according to plan – I was in a leadership position, had hopes of interesting work, and, for the first time in years, control over my schedule. But, for a variety of reasons, this new professional endeavor just wasn’t working.

As a woman who had always been confident in my choices, who moved forward with purpose and ambition, I was surprised that I was not happy in my new job. It was agonizing to think that I had made the wrong decision. Even scarier was the question I pondered every day while trying to dampen the anxiety:

“How soon can I leave without being a failure?  Can I have a ‘gap’ on my resume?” 

Without fully arriving at those answers, I told myself I would give it a little bit more time, but if my gut said go, I would.  In short, I gave myself permission to accept that this move wasn’t right for me. I told myself it was okay to throw away the current plan, to accept that it wasn’t working and try something new. Indeed, things didn’t change and, almost exactly six months after that first day, I parted ways with the small firm and embraced the uncertainty of my next steps.

Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.  I turned to my laptop and typed “Parachute Coaching” on the screen.

When I was ready to leave big law, joining the boutique firm as partner seemed like it would be the perfect next step – or at least a great next step on my resume. By thinking in terms of a “solid” career trajectory first, I had tabled the idea that I had been contemplating for over five years – one that I had promised myself I would someday pursue … starting a professional coaching practice.

I was first introduced to coaching about five years prior when, shortly after returning to work from Lauren Laitinmaternity leave with my first daughter, I attended a firm-sponsored presentation about work/life balance led by a professional coach. I was eager to get some advice on how to manage all my competing responsibilities. I had always been efficient, productive, and motivated, but – with an infant in my life – returning to my demanding job made tasks that had previously been quite doable, daunting and overwhelming. My to-do list had never been so long. I was riveted as I listened to the coach talk about defining goals, following internal rather than external expectations, and focusing on personal values. There was something about the soft intensity coupled with the clear opportunity to help people that made me sure that some day I would be presenting to a group of professionals about work/life balance.

The only question was when.

For years I continued to daydream about who my clients would be, what we would talk about, and what changes they would make. Within days of leaving the small firm, I knew the time was now.

The name Parachute Coaching had come to me immediately. When asked to choose one word to describe myself many years earlier, I had chosen “parachute,” because it is open, colorful, and adventurous. Within weeks, I had launched a website, enrolled in a coach certification program, and signed my first client. Four months later, I had more than 15 clients and had rented professional office space downtown.

“Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.”

Once I committed to a career change, I realized this had been the right path for me all along. I am passionate about supporting my clients as they achieve their goals, and in so doing, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment from having achieved one of my own.

I made a conscious choice to focus on professional women because their advancement in the workforce has been top of mind for me for some time. Confidence is such an albatross for women in the workplace. By focusing on professional women, I can both make a difference in how individuals view themselves but also hopefully make a dent in the confidence epidemic overall.

Lauren LaitinI appreciate all the flexibility of having my own business. I work hard, but I finally have some time for myself.  I can go to the gym, which is something I haven’t done consistently since my first daughter was born. I don’t HAVE to plug in at night anymore, although I love what I’m doing so I often do, and growing a business can be a-round-the-clock activity. My husband will remind me on occasion that sometimes it’s ok to wait until tomorrow.

When my clients talk to me about the “fear of failure,” I remember my own feelings of insecurity and anxiety over making the “wrong choice” when leaving the small firm. Now I know that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Admitting to myself that I was not happy, realizing I had to do something about it, and moving on, was an empowering experience. And most importantly, it makes me much more empathetic and aware of my clients’ concerns about similar transitions … been there, done that.

Tips from Lauren Laitin
  • Focus on what YOU want to do, not what others think you should do.
  • Embrace fear – it can really be a gift; let it motivate you to put pen to paper on what the new opportunity or new business plan could actually deliver.
  • Ask for help. There are lots of resources out there; getting objective advice can be eye-opening, empowering, and fun!

From the Lab to Labradors: Finding Fulfillment Behind the Lens

Jenny KarlssonJenny Karlsson is a pet photographer based in Pittsburgh. She shared her professional and personal journey from scientific research to photography with Career 2.0.

I’ve always loved nature and animals. It’s not surprising I guess as I was born and raised in a small village not far from Bjurholm, in northern Sweden, where I spent my weekends and summers working on my family’s dairy and potato farm. I left the farm for the lab when I went to study Biomedical Laboratory Science at Umea University and worked as a medical technologist analyzing patient samples in hospitals.

But my heart was pulling more towards the path of research and exploration and so, when I was invitedDog Running to spend the summer after graduation at the Center for Biologic Imaging at the University of Pittsburgh, I simply couldn’t refuse. Once in Pittsburgh, I was offered a full-time position as a research specialist taking images, making movies of cells and tissues, and quantitating the response to different compounds.

While working full-time in the lab, I enrolled in a part-time MBA program at Katz Graduate School of Business with the idea that I would work for a microscope manufacturer or software company once I graduated, as others in the lab had previously done. I took up photography as a much-needed creative outlet when I wasn’t working or studying. I was mostly photographing still life and participating in photography forums such as Flickr until I came across a lifestyle dog photographer in Seattle … it blew my mind that pet photography could be a career.  When I told my boss I had found my dream job, unsurprisingly she looked at me skeptically. And, even though I shelved the idea for a while, my dream remained constant.

Hugging a DogInitially I started assisting local wedding photographers on weekends, becoming increasingly stronger in my technical abilities as a photographer and developing my vision as an artist and storyteller. About four years ago, I began volunteering at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, taking photos of dogs for their adoption profiles. It felt amazing to use my skills to give back while gaining valuable experience.

When I wasn’t working or studying, all my free time was given over to photography and building a client base. The demands on my time were hard as I also had just met my husband-to-be. After graduation, I spent most evenings and weekends working on my photography business. I continued working at the lab, where I’d happily been for a decade, until last year when I finally made the leap to photography full-time.

“No matter how much you plan and prepare for it, you’ll never be completely ready or find the perfect moment to quit your job. At some point you just have to jump and trust that you’ve put in place a good foundation.”

In the months before quitting, my husband and I went over all our personal expenses and reduced our spending, treating my salary as if it didn’t exist. We saved as much as possible so that, when I finally left, we had at least four months of living expenses in the bank. This really gave me confidence to make the move.

Although my ultimate dream was to become a pet photographer, I didn’t believe it would be possible to Couple with Dogsmake a living if I specialized in animals. Talk about mental roadblock. Although I photographed pets, I also took family portraits and covered weddings and bar mitzvahs. Eventually I ended up with a pinched nerve, and the joint in my thumb was so out of alignment that I couldn’t even lift my Shepherd-Akita Alice’s water bowl. The business I had created allowed no time for photographing pets, and my body was literally screaming at me that something needed to change.

With the help of an amazing business coach (shout out to Emily Levenson of Propelle), I started re-shaping my business, changing my message, and aligning my passion with why I had started my business in the first place. It was incredibly liberating to narrow my focus and truly speak to my target client. At the same time, it was very difficult to let go of my beliefs of what it would take to make the jump. In the end, I did it. It was almost a harder thing to do than leaving the lab.

Jenny KarlssonFollowing my passion rather than others’ expectations of what I should do was definitely the right decision. It can be challenging to have to self-promote constantly (this goes against the Scandinavian in me), but it’s so much fun when you find your “tribe” who value what you do. I love being in the driver’s seat, deciding how to run my business, what to say yes and no to, and how I grow as an individual, artist, and entrepreneur. It’s also hard work. Even though I have more time to devote to my business, I never feel like I’ve done enough in a day. I try not to work at night and don’t always succeed, but I live more intentionally now to make life more than work.

And in the end, saying I’m a pet photographer always results in interesting conversations. People want to know whether I’ve photographed snakes, spiders or the like. For the record, I hate snakes and only photograph dogs, cats, and rabbits … well at least for now as I recently discovered that one of my neighbors has a pet pig, and I am working up the courage to ask if I can photograph it. Liz if you are reading this, what do you say?

Check out Jenny’s awesome website: Jenny Karlsson, Pet Photography.

Tips from Jenny Karlsson
  • Design a life and business that makes you happy. Choose to do the things that are aligned with who you are as a person, and what excites you. If you’re not having fun in your business, why do it in the first place?
  • Run the numbers and figure out how much you need to cover your personal and business expenses for a certain amount of time. Equipped with this knowledge you can more confidently make the jump and go for your dream. The day may be closer than you think.
  • No matter how much you plan and prepare for it, you’ll never be completely ready or find the perfect moment to quit your job. At some point you just have to jump and trust that you’ve put in place a good foundation.
  • Don’t get caught in the comparison trap, everyone has their own struggles. Look at the big picture and be happy with what you’ve created.
  • Surround yourself with a diverse group of driven women in different industries and form a mastermind. Create an environment that fosters honest conversations, allows for vulnerability, and provides support and accountability. It’s hard to be a business owner, and it is immensely important to have a sounding board to share the wins, struggles and question marks with. Your spouse/partner will thank you!
  • Schedule regular self-care dates in whatever form you prefer. The body has a tendency to hold a lot of stress, and it is important to be kind to it and take care of it, otherwise burnout is just around the corner.
  • There is always more to do, and it is easy to sink into the “not enough” trap. Focus on celebrating the wins, and build momentum one day at a time.

Helping Others Find Financial Freedom through Franchising

Valentines photoJane Stein is President of Your Franchise Is Waiting, a consultancy firm which helps people in various stages of reinvention discover the possibilities offered by business ownership through franchising. She shares her somewhat bumpy ride from corporate financial services to self-employment and why she loves nothing more than helping people get out from under the corporate shackles.

I was a senior VP of Investments and Certified Financial Planner with Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley) for more than 20 years in Houston, Texas. I got married at 35 to my 42-year-old husband and cranked out two adorable boys – time was a wasting afterall.  When you have a full time stressful job (is there one that isn’t?) it truly takes a village.  We relied heavily on the kindness of not only strangers but also family and hired help.

Our second child was all of 4 weeks old when I felt that something wasn’t right. He didn’t make eye Boys at the Lakecontact (when he nursed!) and seemed to be in perpetual motion. I knew he had autism. This was 1997, and autism was just starting to be on the radar, as opposed to the full blown epidemic it has since become. Being the kind of person who believes “everything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I jumped into overdrive and surfed the internet until 2 am every morning researching every possible intervention known to man. We did gluten- and casein-free diets, sound therapy, supplements, skin brushing, as well as the traditional speech, occupational, and “floor play” interventions. By this point, my son was living in the back seat of my car and therapists’ offices. Needless to say, it was a crazy ride.  Not so great for the marriage either, which is another story.

Should I stay or should I go?

Then along came 9/11 and after struggling to get out of bed for six months, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I realized that I was seriously burned out and had not enjoyed what I had been doing for years. I was tired of the same conversations day in and day out and wasn’t learning anything new. I felt that crushing feeling of “is this all there is?” and of life being fleeting. I wanted to spend whatever time remained raising my own children (at this point, we had two full-time nannies) and living in a place where they could play outside without being covered by mosquito bites from head to toe in minutes. We Jane Steinresearched various cities that met our criteria (should be safe and have clean air and water, an educated community, and four seasons) around the country. We assessed our financial picture and where we could cut back, and took a leap of faith. We relocated the family to Boulder, Colorado, which had good public schools and more than its fair share of quirky kids. I figured mine would fit right in.

There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.

Cut to ten years later when my oldest was leaving for college, I began to feel restless and Jane Steinrealized I was bored, bored, bored. Hiking, golfing, going to lunch with friends and volunteering did not fill me up.

I did some deep thinking and realized I:

  • love working the way some people love weekends,
  • need an organizing principle in my life: for me it’s work
  • wanted to build another empire if I could – I missed the challenge.
  • missed having discretionary income to be more generous in my philanthropy and, let’s be honest, to spend.

There’s more I could say, but at age 58 I did a lot of research and exploration of various career options and eventually relaunched – as a franchise broker.

I work from home connecting people in transition into businesses that are a good match for them based on their investment parameters, skill sets, and income and lifestyle objectives.  Walking people through the steps of reinvention is very rewarding.

“There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.”

I love learning about new business concepts every day. I get to try to connect people to their dreams of self-employment and hopefully open the door to what will be their future financial security and the satisfaction that comes from “steering your own ship.”  Now I help people invest in themselves, instead of managing their passive investments, and it’s much more exciting and empowering for them.

This is a business I can do from anywhere there is a phone line and an internet connection.  There’s no reason I won’t do this well into old age.

Stepping past the fear 

Personal reinvention is hard.  Things have to be pretty miserable for you to overcome the hurdle of inertia and fear. But there can be great reward in taking the leap. Transitions are a part of life. Most of us will experience quite a few in our lifetime. The best ones are the ones you initiate yourself. It’s a great feeling to chart a new course. In facing your fears, ask yourself – in a year, will my situation improve if I do nothing? If the answer is no, you and I both know what the right move is.

When I decided to leave the financial services industry, I woke up every morning feeling free. After a while, that feeling was replaced with a sense of adventure. I was going to reinvent myself – again. Investing in a business is a bold move. But it just might be the right move.  And remember, women make great entrepreneurs!

Interested in learning more about franchising? You can connect with Jane on Facebook and  LinkedIn.

Susan Rocco: The CEO Whisperer

Sue RoccoDrawn to journalism and the stories behind the stories, Susan Rocco has always been curious about other people – where they came from, what led them to where they are now –  so it should come as no surprise that today she hosts a live weekly radio show and podcast that spotlights female CEOs, founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs from around the world. What is surprising, however, is Rocco’s own story; how she struggled with low self-esteem until the day she finally decided to believe in herself, pitch her idea for Women to Watch, and chase down the guests and advertisers needed to make her dream a reality.

“I was not an honor student. I had a tape playing in my head that I wasn’t smart enough. Although I had a wide network of family and friends, there wasn’t that one person who believed in me and my abilities. If you don’t have a mentor or someone who sees the gift in you, you get lost and struggle. I had no awareness of who I was and what I was good at so it took me some time to find my way. Later I learned to appreciate that our emotional quotient is equally as important as our IQ. That’s my strength. My ability to connect with people, to be a good listener and have empathy.”

Raised outside of Philly, Rocco was the middle child of three. An Irish Catholic, she attended 16 years of Catholic Sue Roccoschool, including Villanova University where she studied communications. When she graduated, she bounced around a bit from advertising to PR before ending up in sales. “I had grand illusions of making it in media but if you’re not in a C-Suite position there’s not a lot of money to be made, so I looked for other opportunities. I didn’t give sales a lot of thought. It wasn’t something I was really interested in, but I was good at it and it paid the bills.”

After taking some time off to raise a family, Rocco did a lot of part-time work before returning to sales full-time, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Her greatest joy had always been her family, so when she became an empty nester in her late 40s, her search for personal growth hit new heights. Her “a-ha” moment came while being interviewed on the radio one day about her small direct-sales business, W by Worth.

“I was so fired up. It was such a great experience, but I’d really have preferred to have been on the other side of the mic. I said as much in the “thank you” letter I sent to the host, Kim Douglas,” she recalls. “In a joking way, I added if Kim ever needed someone to fill in for her, I’d love to do it.”

The response was immediate. Douglas encouraged Rocco to pitch her idea to the general manager.

Sue Rocco“I said yes but then panic immediately set in. I knew I wanted a show for women. The radio was flooded with political programming, real estate, and finance. And, as much as I love fashion and lifestyle, I didn’t want fluff. I wanted a program that would help women like me who struggle with low self-esteem. So I hit on the idea of interviewing women who are already successful and accomplished and get them to share their stories while sharing their adversities as this is where the greatest lessons are learned.”

Making a decision that day in August 2012 to believe in herself, Rocco set up a meeting with Sharon Pinkenson, who she had just read about in Philadelphia Magazine and thought would make a great guest. Pinkenson was the first Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which brought the film industry to the City of Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties.

“I finally stopped focusing on what others were doing and decided to be myself. I told Sharon my idea for the show. I confessed I didn’t yet know the name of the show but if she said yes, I’d come up with something. She said yes,” Rocco laughs.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out.”

It turned out booking the interview was the easy part. Rocco got the station on board with her idea and was flying high that she was going to have her own show until she learned they weren’t going to pay her, but rather she would be paying them production fees.

“I guess I was a little naive,” she explains. “I realized I quickly had to secure advertisers. I reached out to my network and got some advertisers that would sustain me for the first few months! But there is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’, a ton of prep work involved.

“I knew I could secure guests. I had a mission to help women to build self-esteem and find their own purpose but my vision is to get women to pursue leadership. When I started to share that with other women, it resonated with them.”

It didn’t hurt that three months after Rocco launched her show, Sheryl Sandberg came out with Lean In.The Truth Group Women’s groups were popping up and gender diversity in senior management was a compelling topic. Women to Watch entered the fray with a twist … getting women to open up and share the challenges they face on the road to success.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges.. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out. I moderate panel events, I give speeches. I really believe in myself now. Some days we do it well, and some days we don’t. I’ll never turn the tape off completely. I’ll continue to second guess, but every time you accomplish something, it allows you more quickly to turn that old voice off.”

When asked who her favorite guest has been, Rocco politely responds that the ones she enjoys the most are the women who are incredibly bright with big jobs but at the same time, funny, self-deprecating, and gracious.

“I love the ones with no ego, doing what they do because they love it and want to help other people. We really are all the same; human beings are human beings.”

You can listen to Women to Watch™live every Monday at 3 pm EST on WWDB Talk 860 for the Philadelphia Tri-State area, or anytime at women2watch.net.  Available shortly on iTunes.

Denise Roden: Loss So Often Leads to Gain

Denise RodenThe first line of Denise Roden’s scrapbook reads, “This is a book about me, for me.” You wouldn’t know it until you glance through those pages, but at one point in her life Roden weighed 265 lbs. It’s possible she weighed more but she can’t say for sure because she never stood on a scale until the morning of her life-changing bariatric surgery. Something else you wouldn’t know by looking at the confident blonde is that starting her own business at the age of 48 has been transformative – even more so than the surgery.

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following theDenise Roden money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

Roden grew up in Alabama, north of Birmingham, in a typical Southern family. Raised on fried food and Hamburger Helper, weight was always an issue as she and her siblings rarely exercised and were not encouraged to spend a great deal of time outdoors. By high school, Roden weighed 200 lbs. She tried aerobics and played some sports, but the slow slide into obesity had begun, interrupted by spurts of yo-yo dieting.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Roden enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher, but her heart wasn’t in it so she dropped out after two years. Ideally she would have done something with computers, but it was 1983 in Alabama and there weren’t many options for that type of career, especially for a young woman.  She continued working odd jobs, toying with the idea of going back to school. She never did, though; instead marrying a soldier at the age of 23. The pair moved first to Virginia and then to Korea where he was stationed.

Weight gain continued to be a problem. “I tried everything. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, that crazy grapefruit diet. You name it, I did it. But nothing worked because I was looking for a quick fix rather than being mindful about what I was putting into my mouth and actually changing my lifestyle,” she recalls.

After Korea, the couple moved to Massachusetts, but the marriage was on the rocks. Roden took a secretarial position and taught herself how to use the Wang computer (remember those?). “I did a lot of payroll and accounting, and generally picked up the skills of whatever needed to be done. I was like a skills sponge,” she laughs.

Following his tour in Massachusetts, Roden’s husband was accepted into nursing school with the Army’s support and they moved to North Alabama where the marriage continued to flounder. “My parents had been married for over 40 years.  I didn’t think divorce was an actual option and deep inside me, I really thought I could make it work. However, I just gained more weight.”

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following the money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

After returning to school to get an associate degree in general studies, Roden held various office managerial positions and built her finance expertise. After several moves, the couple settled in suburban Washington DC, where Roden worked as Director of Finance and Administration at the non-profit Jewish Women International. She stayed for 14 years.

Denise RodenFour years after the move to DC and several counseling sessions later, the couple finally separated. When her husband got orders to go back to Korea, Roden declined to follow, choosing instead to do a BA in business administration while working full time. Around the same time, she began looking into bariatric surgery as a solution to her weight problem. She was suffering from a barrage of related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and hypertension, and the surgery – a stomach or intestinal operation that helps obese patients lose weight – felt like the last option.

After a year of reflection, Roden decided to go for it. As she was still covered by spousal military benefits, the surgery, and accompanying tummy tuck and breast implants to adjust for excess skin were all covered. “I just had to buy the bra,” Roden laughs. “It was such a gift.”

Roden dropped 100 lbs relatively quickly and was transformed. She attended bariatric support group meetings and after getting certified by the Bariatric Support Center International (BSCI), became a support group leader, a task she enjoyed but found frustrating when noticing who was attending the sessions.

“It was the patients required by their insurance firms to be there as part of pre-op or the success stories. The people who really needed to be there, the ones experiencing what I call ‘the creep’ – the slow but steady weight regain – were not coming. I had always felt there was a number on the scale that, if crossed, would be a slow descent from which I’d never recover. So I vigorously fought off the weight regain by focusing on my own wellness and happiness.”

This proved to be challenging considering what she was experiencing at the office.

“I learned a lot in the 14 years at JWI but I also grew up during that time. I was 34 when I started working there. For many years, the salary and work motivated me, but when I hit my mid-40s, I was no longer happy. I didn’t feel valued and wanted something more fulfilling. I’d start crying on Sunday nights when thinking about work the next day.”

A way out finally presented itself when, about two years ago, Roden received an email from BSCI offering her the opportunity to purchase a license for their bariatric support curriculum. At this point, Roden was on meds for high blood pressure and anxiety so she felt she didn’t have much to lose. Her new “permanent fiancé” was encouraging Roden to make a change and was unequivocal in his recollection of those days, “He reminded me just last week, ‘Do you realize the first word out of your mouth every morning was shit! Do you know what it’s like to start your day next to someone who says that every morning?’ I guess it was tough on him too,” she says a little guiltily.

She considered the cost of the license, and determined that she could swing it with the income from her condo rental and some Army spouse benefits. She gave six months’ notice and filed for an LLC.

Today Roden operates the Bariatric Center for Success. She earned a health coaching certificate from Georgetown last year and offers several services targeted at weight-loss surgery patients. Her educational curriculums include “Success Habits™ of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” and “Back on Track™.”

“For me and the 200,000 Americans who undergo this surgery every year, it’s not the end of worrying about food. You think it is the solution – albeit a drastic one – to your problems, but unfortunately it’s not. You need to change your mindset too, otherwise it won’t work.”

Getting the business going hasn’t been easy. Although most insurance plans cover bariatric surgery they surprisingly do not cover educational support services prior to or after the fact, despite that about 50% of patients experience considerable weight regain between 3 and 5 years following surgery. They even pay for revisional surgery when patients relapse but don’t invest in the more cost-effective and less invasive approach of peer support on an ongoing basis. Roden is working to build up connections and partnering with local hospitals to get the support services covered by insurance.

“It’s taking some time but it’s so worth it. On Sunday nights now, I start thinking about the week ahead, what I am going to be doing. I get excited and that means more to me than anything. Especially because I am helping people defeat those sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that cause weight regain and be successful long-term.”

Tips from Denise Roden
  • It’s really difficult to do everything on your own. Working from home, I found it hard not to let personal demands eat into professional time. I joined a women’s co-working space (Hera Hub) to address both of these issues. I’ve met a lot of women who’ve given valuable support to my business, I’ve learned from others, and I’ve been more disciplined about my working hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open with those around you. They might not know how challenging what you’re trying to do is.
  • Also, be sure you have enough for start-up cost. For example: website, CMS, accounting package, etc. There are so many little things.
  • As the President of BSCI, Colleen Cook said, “Reach Further, Dream Bigger, Aspire Higher” That’s exactly what I aim to do!

Bringing South American Sweetness to New Jersey

Veronica SainVeronica Sain is Founder of D’ Leche, an all-natural, gourmet baking company focused on creating traditional artisanal specialty sweets inspired by recipes from Argentina. 

The taste of Argentina, authentic and all natural, is challenging to find in the United States. For families that have left behind their Argentine culture, rich with tradition and delicious food, a small taste of smooth dulce de leche or an exquisitely sweet Alfajor is a welcome comfort. It’s that longing and my passion for baking that inspired me to embark on my latest venture and create D’ Leche, an online confectionary that provides foodies with delicious pastries and caramels inspired by traditional Argentine recipes.

My journey to launching dleche.com was in part spawned by my frequent drives nearly an hour north of my home in New Jersey to purchase Alfajores from an Argentine bakery that made them just as I remembered as a child in my native Argentina.  Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery. Not everyone had the access I had to yummy Argentine treats and so began my quest to produce and sell my own hand-crafted line of Alfajores, featuring the silky dulce de leche centers I knew others craved as much as I did.

For over six months, I dedicated my time to researching stories of Alfajores from various regions of Argentina and tested assorted recipes at home. I especially spent a lot of time developing hand-crafted gourmet dulce de leche caramels made of all natural ingredients, similar to what you would find in Argentine bakeries.

D'LecheAs a new entrepreneur, I learned quickly about the importance of having a supportive network to tap into. I joined the Women’s Center for Entrepreneurship Corporation (WCEC), networking with like-minded women, and attended many classes to ensure I launched D’ Leche on the right foot. It wasn’t until I felt I had the necessary tools and knowledge that I left my corporate position and launched the business, six months after having my initial idea.  As a startup, to keep costs down I rent a commercial kitchen and joined Restaurant Depot (which has many locations) for purchasing of some bulk products.  I still purchase my organic ingredients locally to maintain quality.  Since D’ Leche is an online store, there’s no overhead for rent.

I was surprised at first by how rewarding entrepreneurship can be. It’s definitely harder than your typical office job, but the rewards are limitless. But being an entrepreneur is certainly not without its challenges. I admit that not having a business partner to bounce ideas off sometimes puts a lot more pressure on me to be decisive. The upside is that it makes the decision-making process easier as the “buck” stops with me.

“Working for more than ten years in the corporate world in sales and marketing and as a paralegal beforehand, I never really saw myself as someone who would work until retirement in a typical 9-to-5 job. I had long had dreams of starting my own business and experiencing passion in work. The realization of what I could do came to me on those drives back and forth to the bakery.”

Some years ago I read a book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart into It, and realized that his story proves great ideas don’t come easily, but only come with persistence and courage. Starbucks is what it is today because he never gave up. I keep that in the back of my mind everyday, especially when I feel like things are not going right or I learn about a disappointing business deal. Staying focused and forging ahead will get me to where I want and need to be. To ensure that I don’t miss a beat, I am constantly connected to the happenings of my company, learning more about the specialty food industry, and thinking of ways to grow and market dleche.com.

As a solopreneur, my thoughts are always racing, even on weekends and holidays. Because I don’t haveD'Leche the structure of “weekends off,” I must enforce work/life balance by disconnecting – usually by heading to the beach, visiting a historical town with quaint shops, or going to a summer festival. It helps me clear my mind and makes space for new ideas like my new organic soft peanut caramels.

And while sometimes I think it would be nice to have a partner, I work very well independently. I’m also an optimist – maybe to a fault – but it’s what keeps me moving forward. I plan to grow the online store and open a brick and mortar, D’Leche Café, within the next year. From there, I hope to expand the business as a franchise. I imagine already my D’Leche Cafés, places where people from different backgrounds and with diverse interests gather to forge new friendships and of course indulge in my delicious confections.

Sweet Tips for Fellow Entrepreneurs
  • Join a professional network or organization to make connections and learn from others in your industry. Live meetings (Face2Face) are best for networking.
  • Allow yourself to be inspired by your background because that’s what makes you unique.
  • Disconnect every once in a while and make space for new ideas.
  • Remain positive and persistent; don’t give up on your goals.

For more information about D’ Leche, visit www.dleche.com or email concierge@dleche.com.