One Woman’s Story: Claudette, Mid-Life Entrepreneur
Becoming an entrepreneur is a grand adventure!
After a long, productive work life as an employee in
both the public and private sectors, I retired. Since I was
not working, I had more time to spend with my 86 year old
mother who lives in a nearby residential care home. Because
she has many medical problems that impair the circulation to
her extremities, she always complained that her hands were
cold. I felt I had to help solve this problem both for her
and the other folks in her residential home.
While trying to come up with a solution, I remembered my
childhood in Baltimore when we all wore muffs to keep our
hands warm. It worked then. Why not revive the concept for
use with the elderly now? Thus, I designed and handmade a
special muff for my Mom. She loved it and took it everywhere.
Soon people were asking me how to buy one. Since I could not
disappoint these wonderful people, Happy Hands Muff Company
Although good intentions may provide great motivation, they
do not guarantee success in business. Planning, problem
solving, systems analysis, and budgeting were skills I brought
from my career experiences. But marketing and sales were a
new world for me. “Build it and they will come” may work for
baseball diamonds in Iowa, but not in cyberspace.
So, I asked for help from everyone I met and soon was able
to learn from these contacts. I learned about the Small
Business Administration’s volunteers, talented enthusiastic
business people who helped me with marketing and packaging
ideas. I was referred to a multi media marketing executive
and to people who now manufacture my product. The saying
should be rewritten, “ask for help and it will come.”
Long ago, after dealing with many tragedies and crises in
my personal life, I decided to surround myself only with
people who offer me positive value. When I was starting the
business, I faced a frustrating period of dead ends. Finally
I spoke to a vendor who had spent an entire week problem-
solving my packaging dilemma. Her solution worked perfectly,
and I realized I needed to bring the same principle to my
business life as I had in my personal life – try to interact
only with people who add positively to my endeavors. Now
I find that I am building relationships with positive,
sharing, committed people. I have made the world my mentor
and I know my business will be successful.
Stepping Stones: The Path Claudette Followed
Claudette’s story is a good example of the process of a
mid-life career transition. In her shift from employee to
entrepreneur, she used a series of steps to move her business
forward. We will examine these “Stepping Stones” so that
you can better understand the process she went through and
perhaps facilitate a change in your own life.
(A) Claudette recognized that she wanted to help her mother
and felt confident that her idea was a good one. Initially,
not all of you will have as clear a goal. That should not
deter you when you know that you need to make a change. You
may notice that you experience ambivalent feelings as you
begin to think about the process of change. To help you
manage the feelings, it is important to:
(1) Be aware that change involves risk.
(2) Accept that it is normal to fear leaving the safety
of your comfort zone.
(3) Open yourself up to your dreams and fantasies.
(4) Feel confident about your new ideas.
(5) Trust yourself enough to take a step in a new direction.
(B) Once you decide to make a change, your next Step
will be to begin a self-assessment. This inventory will help
you identify the strengths you have developed from your life
experiences. You may ask yourself a series of questions
similar to those that Claudette asked:
(1) What are the skills I have used successfully in my past
work settings and relationships?
(2) What activities do I enjoy now?
(3) What interests have remained constant since my
(4) What are the values I live by?
(5) What roles have I played in my life that I want to
continue and expand?
(6) What have I learned from challenges I have faced in
(7) What are the experiences that have made me feel good?
(8) What is the reality of my life situation in terms of
family obligations, financial needs, physical and time
(C) Now that you have a better idea about who you are, what
you want and need, you can take the next Step. You can begin
making a plan that works for you by setting long-term goals and
then breaking them down into small objectives and Steps. You
can take some of the same Steps that Claudette found useful:
(1) Compile a list of options and gather information about
(2) Set priorities about how you want to invest your
resources, such as time, money and energy.
(3) Apply skills that have worked for you in other
(4) Identify potential problems and develop solutions.
(5) Maintain a positive attitude.
(6) Develop networks and collaborations.
(7) Ask for help and support.
(8) Surround yourself with positive people.
In most cases, transition is the on-going process of moving
from one place to another with some turmoil in between. Since
the process is a fluid one, the selected Steps that we highlight
may not necessarily follow for you in the same order. There is
no strict formula for a successful transition, only guidelines.
Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s timetable is unique.
We hope you can find in Claudette’s story what resonates for you
and tailor those Steps to your own situation. We will be here to
help you with more stories and “Stepping Stones” in the months
Recommended Resources: Websites to Explore
We thank Claudette for sharing her transition story! We
suggest that you look at her website, HHMuff.com and see
how her positive attitude resonates throughout. She is an
inspiration for beginning entrepreneurs at any stage of life.
The Small Business Association has created a comprehensive website
with numerous subsections extremely useful to women wishing to become
entrepreneurs. Within the website, the Women’s Online Business Center
provides information about resources and programs to help women start
and build successful businesses. There are listings of the Women’s Business
Centers in each state and the district offices. There is also information about
the Women’s Network for Entrepreneurial Training program that matches
experienced business women sharing their skills with promising entrepreneurs.
You will find helpful information on the site about SBA programs for assistance
and training in financing, managing and marketing your new business.
This site, developed and run by the Wall Street Journal,
provides extensive information, advice and ideas for budding
entrepreneurs. www.StartUp.WSJ.com offers features on finding
a business that is right for you, new, old, or franchise.
It lists businesses for sale. Multiple sections give guidance
in all areas of business development from finding your niche,
making a plan, getting financing, and managing your enterprise.
There are many columnists, all experts in their fields, to
offer specific information to help solve problems as well as
a weekly question and answer feature. It is a veritable one
stop education for learning to become your own boss.
IV. Our Invitation to You
Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to
share it with our readers for the benefit of women who
themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you
used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested,
please e-mail us.
(c) HerMentorCenter, 2001