(L-R) Judith Roussel, IL District Director; SBA, Merrie Dee, AARP Illinois President; Hedy Ratner, WBDC co-founder & co-president; and Marianne O’Brien Markowitz Regional Administrator
U.S. Small Business Administration, Midwest Region
The speakers and audience may have been 50-plus, but their age wasn’t the issue. Starting a business was.
Nearly 50 mature women and men gathered at the WBDC on Tuesday evening, October 2, during the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) “National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day.” Marianne Markowitz, SBA regional administrator, and Judith Roussel, SBA Illinois district director, welcomed the group, then turned the program over to the celebrated speaker and media pioneer Merri Dee, now a business owner in her own right as well as president of the executive council of Illinois-AARP. Dee led a lively panel discussion featuring “encore” entrepreneurs on the rewards of starting a business after age 50.
The speakers were Donna Smith Bellinger, owner of Group Endeavors; Ben Hollis, former host of WTTW’s “Wild Chicago” and now an independent video producer who started Ben Hollis Worldwide; Joanne Cleaver, a former business journalist who launched a public affairs company Wilson-Taylor Associates; and Alan Jacobs, a former entrepreneur-of-sorts who volunteers at SCORE.
Their life experiences were as varied and diverse as they were, which is what made their words of wisdom all the more salient.
“All you need are three things: passion, purpose – and a paycheck!”
“The resource that helped me the most was my database of contacts. I started my business without a dime, but I had my database.”
“I was a serial entrepreneur – a manufacturer’s rep who never had a regular job or paycheck. I understand exactly what it takes to succeed as a business owner. In my opinion, entrepreneurs who fail weren’t prepared.”
“I encourage people to embrace and live the wild life. Harness your passion, your wildness….I used to undervalue everything I did. I was just a funny guy. The limitations we place on ourselves get in the way. By listening to other people, I was able to reassess my own value. Pay attention to the things you do best. It’s what other people appreciate in you.”
“I restarted my career several times. I decided to base my latest transition on my skills. As a certified media trainer and coach, I now apply my skills to a different set of clients. I’ve transitioned from being self-employed to being a job-creator with a contract staff of specialists. My biggest challenge? In realizing my value. The biggest obstacle? Myself.”
With part of the evening’s focus on celebrating mentorship, the speakers shared advice on how to be a good mentor and mentee. Cleaver, for example, said joining professional organizations helped her develop peer mentors who mentored each other. Bellinger suggested looking for mentors who are honest and direct and who “have achieved what you struggled to achieve.” Don’t overlook the younger generation, she advised. You can learn from each other.
The WBDC will survey seminar attendees to determine whether a special affinity group for women business owners age 50-plus, and regular networking and educational sessions, are of interest.
Contributed by guest blogger Chris Ruys of Chris Ruys Communications.
For more pictures from the event, please click here.