Why Volunteering is a Good Thing for Entrepreneurs

Each winter, I volunteer for my little town’s annual ping-pong tournament, a community event organized and run by local residents. Our planning committee handles a long list of tasks, from processing registrations to setting up matches. When the big day arrives, we enjoy seeing people of all ages and playing levels come together for some fun and exercise.

As we get ready for the 2020 tournament, I’m reminded of this lesson: Volunteering offers rewards that carry over to many areas of your life. For entrepreneurs, that includes these benefits.

A way to serve others. It’s gratifying to give back to the community and help your neighbors and friends.

New or improved skills. A well-run volunteer effort requires time management, clear communication, team building and resourcefulness. All of these skills are critical ones to have when you own a business.

A greater appreciation for volunteerism. Most causes and community events wouldn’t, or couldn’t, exist without selfless people who are willing to donate their time and talents. You see this first-hand when you serve as a volunteer yourself.

New relationships. When you volunteer, you may attend planning meetings and work shoulder-to-shoulder with others to set up tables, stuff envelopes, register attendees or perform other logistics. The hours spent working together sometimes foster long-lasting work relationships or friendships.

New business opportunities. Volunteerism can increase awareness about you and your professional services. Fellow volunteers who learn about your business expertise may refer you to others, become your clients or open other doors for you.

Most business owners are strapped for time. But if you can, find a way to roll up your sleeves and volunteer — even if it’s just a few hours here and there. You’ll be glad you did.

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Some Interesting Holiday Business Ideas

From ugly sweaters to festive lighting, business opportunities abound for those who enjoy helping others get ready for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, among other holidays. Meet some entrepreneurs who began holiday-themed businesses at a later age.

DebsTackySweaters – Deb Rottum, a Florida-based single mother of three, began creating ugly, 3-D holiday sweaters as a hobby.  As described in this article, she now has a full-fledged business selling her tacky sweaters, along with dresses, skirts, shoes and other gaudy wearables to help her customers celebrate the season.

Hire Santa – Mitch Allen is the Texas-based founder and Head Elf of this service that connects clients with Santa Claus actors. Hire Santa got its start after Allen dressed as Santa Claus at an employee Christmas party. Eventually, Allen bought the domain hiresanta.com and launched his business.  In December 2018, Allen appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to present Hire Santa, landing a deal with shark Barbara Corcoran.

Culture Greetings – This Atlanta, Georgia-based online greeting company’s founder is Dr. Dionne Mahaffey, a business psychologist, college professor and serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of technology experience. Culture Greetings lets customers choose a culturally relevant card and write a personal note inside using handwriting fonts that mirror real penmanship.

Gift Wrapping Service Plus – Owners Sue and Julie Burgoyne, originally from Bristol, England, had other customer-service oriented careers before starting Gift Wrapping Service Plus near Fort Worth, Texas. Sue held management positions with couple of major retailers. Julie, a veteran of the entertainment industry, owned restaurants and pubs in England. Today, the duo provides custom gift wrapping services and rents decorated Christmas trees for home or office delivery.

Christmas Light Source – Shellie Gardner, another entrepreneur from Fort Worth, used her 20+ years of electrical engineering, project management and marketing experience to create Christmas Light Source, which offers an array of lights and hardware for holiday decorating. “This is more than a job,” says Gardner. “I’m on a mission to make all of life’s celebrations brighter!”

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Launching a Second Act as a Filmmaker

By Lynne Beverly Strang

Melissa Davey films an opening sequence for her documentary, Beyond Sixty Project

In October, I went to see Beyond Sixty Project in this year’s Washington West Film Festival held in Reston Town Center, Virginia. The 77-minute documentary features a series of interviews with 10 women over the age of 60 who have stories of resilience and continued relevance today.

All 10 women are remarkable. Among those profiled are a veterinarian who is the oldest U.S. woman to swim the English Channel, a psychoanalyst/drama therapist once married to Pablo Picasso’s son, and a voice-over artist who is the voice of Apple’s Siri.

But here’s the thing: Melissa Davey, the film’s director and executive producer, is pretty remarkable herself. The grandmother of three started making movies almost four years ago, when she was 65 years old.

A Pivotal Moment

For aspiring entrepreneurs, an instructive element of Davey’s journey is the pivotal moment that prompted her to move forward. As her story shows, it isn’t enough to get a lucky break. It’s what you do with that break that matters.

In her earlier life, Davey was an executive with a national managed care company. In 2015, she drove from her home in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to attend a meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting was a dreary, depressing replica of so many others she had endured throughout her two decades in a corporate career.

Davey didn’t go to her office when she returned to Pennsylvania that afternoon. In need of a respite, she asked a friend to meet her for lunch. Later, they went for a drive in the country and happened to come across a movie shoot taking place at an old farmhouse. They pulled over to take in the bustle of activity from afar.


“Making a film is an amazing experience. Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery. To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.” — Melissa Davey


As the two friends sat parked on the side of a dirt road, Davey did an internet search on her phone. She learned that the movie’s director was M. Night Shyamalan, a local filmmaker who has a foundation that supports leaders with a special interest in education.

A few more clicks revealed that the foundation was auctioning “A Day on the Set with M. Night Shyamalan” to raise funds for its mission. Davey began bidding right then and there in the car – and kept at it for two weeks. She finally won after outbidding a dentist from New Jersey.

“I Want Your Job”

The day on the movie set was both exhilarating and educational. During a lunch break, Shyamalan asked Davey about her aspirations. “I want your job,” she replied. His response: You better hurry up.

“That simple, very short conversation was all it took for me to make the decision to retire from my career and move to my second act as a film director” she said.

Filmmaker Melissa Davey answers questions from the audience at the 2019 Washington West Film Festival

Since then, Davey’s life has been a whirlwind of endless tasks. She has had to hire a production crew and maintain a budget when she no longer had a paycheck. To select the women profiled in the film, she did phone interviews with nearly 100 candidates, spending two hours on the phone with each one.

On top of everything else, Davey was sick for more than a year with Lyme disease. She has tested herself, made mistakes, corrected them and felt a great sense of accomplishment.

For Davey, what’s especially gratifying is the fact that her project inspires people of all ages. After her documentary’s showing in Virginia, she was on hand to answer questions from the audience. The young woman who introduced her was moved to tears by what she had just seen on the screen.

What’s Next

“I hope young women will be inspired to seek out older women as mentors,” said Davey. “And I hope all people – men and women, young and old — will walk away with a deep sense of appreciation and admiration for women’s struggles and their hard-earned accomplishments throughout history.”

Now that Beyond Sixty Project is completed, Davey is exploring distribution options. She also wants to produce more movies, of course.

“Making a film is an amazing experience,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I won the lottery. To learn something new at my age is exhilarating and exhausting in a good way.”

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How Older Entrepreneurs Deal with Setbacks

Photo by Michael Rosner-Hyman on Unsplash

A potential investor hasn’t responded to your emails or phone calls. A shipment is late, meaning you can’t deliver a product that a customer expects tomorrow. A social media campaign launched earlier in the year isn’t generating the results you wanted.

If some – or all – of these scenarios sound familiar, you aren’t alone. Just about every entrepreneur has moments like this.

Here are words of wisdom from a few 40-and-older entrepreneurs interviewed for my book.  Their perspectives may give you a lift if or when you’re having an off day.

“If my back starts to hurt, I pretend it doesn’t.  I just keep my eye focused.  It’s really about mental focus.” – Frannie Martin, Cookies on Call

“You have to be tough.  You have to be ready to deal with it and have emotional support.”  — Michael Penny, Savvy Rest

“Reach out. Find a mentor.  Entrepreneurs want to give back.”  — Suzanne Magee, Bandura

“Everyone makes mistakes when starting out.  If you start small, these mistakes are not likely to be expensive ones.”  — Art Koff, consultant and founder of RetiredBrains.com

“You have to love what you do, then those challenges become good challenges.  Never stop learning.” – Julie Savitt, AMS Earth Movers

“Whenever we were over our heads, we found the right experts, such as attorneys who specialized in franchising, public relations/marketing experts and accountants.  Leveraging the expertise of others is key to any successful business.” — Sharon Dillard, Get A Grip

“If you have an idea, you have to be able to work hard, persevere, listen to people and still stay true to yourself.  Don’t get discouraged.” — Annie Margulis, Girls Golf

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Lessons Learned from an 83-Year-Old Bodybuilder

Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash

If you want to meet someone who truly exemplifies the “age is just a number” philosophy, look no further than Ernestine Shepherd.

At age 83, Ernestine is a personal trainer, a model and a bodybuilder. In 2010, the Baltimore, Maryland resident became the world’s oldest competitive female bodybuilder, a title bestowed upon her by Guinness World Records.

She hasn’t always been so fit, however. According to her website, she used to be “a sedentary, well-padded school secretary and ‘slug’ who had never worked out a day in her life.”

All of that began to change for Ernestine at age 56. One day, she and her sister, Velvet, went shopping for bathing suits. As they tried on different suits, they laughed at each other – and realized it was time to get in better shape.

The two sisters joined a gym and started working out together. Soon after, Velvet died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Devastated, Ernestine didn’t go to the gym for several months as she mourned the loss of her sister.

Then a friend pointed out to Ernestine that Velvet would have wanted her to continue what the two of them had started. Ernestine returned to the gym, more determined than ever to get in shape.

Over time, she completely transformed her body. At 130 pounds, the 5-foot, 5-inch Ernestine now has about 9-10% body fat. She takes no medications and has more energy than many people who are decades younger.

Her life has transformed as well. Ernestine’s work now involves training mostly senior women five days a week, with the goal of helping them reach their physical potential.

While most of us aren’t looking to become bodybuilders, Ernestine’s training regimen and outlook on life offer useful lessons to anyone who seeks to implement a second act, whether it’s starting a business or another endeavor. Here are a few key takeaways from her success:

  • Get up early. This gives you a few hours of quiet time to focus on a task without ringing phones and other interruptions. Ernestine is out of bed by 3 am to get in her 10-mile runs and strength training.
  • Enlist the support of your family. Ernestine’s husband, Collin, prepares her food and makes sure the fridge is always stocked with her seven small and balanced daily meals.
  • Let yourself recover. Long hours spent on the gym floor – or behind a computer building a business — can deplete you physically and/or mentally. Get the rest your body needs.
  • Try to have a positive attitude about everything.  Ernestine views her workouts as fun and sees her work as being on a “long, happy journey.”
  • Know where you want to go.  Everyone needs a purpose. Define what you want to accomplish – and what motivates you. For Ernestine, that source of inspiration is still her sister.

On her website, Ernestine writes that she is having the time of her life “at an age when many folks see themselves as declining and getting old.” What will this remarkable woman accomplish in her next decade? Stay tuned.

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5 Podcasts for 40-and-Older Entrepreneurs

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

Looking for a different perspective, a dose of inspiration or new ideas you can apply to your business?  Give a listen to one or all of these five podcasts:

Business Schooled — Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Initialized Capital and Reddit, travels to eight U.S. cities to interview boomer and Gen-X entrepreneurs and learn how they got their businesses off the ground.

How I Built This – Hosted NPR’s Guy Raz, How I Built This weaves a narrative journey about innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists – and the movements they built.  Some of the episodes feature late bloomers like John Foley, who founded the fitness company Peloton in his 40s.

Your Next AvenueA podcast about working after 50.  Host Richard Eisenberg, the managing editor of nextavenue.org, explores topics that range from “how entrepreneurs can find their target audience” to “making a career pivot after 50.”

Not Impossible – This podcast asks the question, “What if nothing in life is impossible?” Host Mick Ebeling, the founder of Not Impossible Labs, presents uplifting stories about people who have created technology for the sake of humanity.

Your Next Chapter Podcast – Angela Raspass is the host of this podcast especially for 40-and-older women who are current or aspiring business owners. The episodes feature interviews with women from around the world who are creating Next Chapter businesses and lives that are both personally and professionally fulfilling.

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How a 60-Year-Old Entrepreneur Crushed His First Gravel Bike Race

By Lynne Beverly Strang

A bit of weirdness during the DK 200. Jim posed for this pic around the 170-mile mark. Chaise and photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles.

Since this blog began in 2010, I have profiled all kinds of entrepreneurs — but I’ve seldom featured a family member. Happily, I get to write about one for this post.

Earlier this month, I traveled to Emporia, Kansas to watch the Dirty Kanza, an annual gravel road cycling event with several distance options. Among this year’s 2,700 registrants was my husband, Jim, who owns six bicycle stores throughout Northern Virginia. At age 60, Jim was a first-time rider in the DK200, a self-supported, 200-mile endurance challenge.

With gravel grinding, cyclists usually ride on gravel, rocks and/or packed dirt. Typical routes are trails and backroads with little or no traffic – one of the reasons this type of cycling is becoming more popular.

Although I’m a long-distance cyclist myself, I couldn’t helping wondering what my spouse had gotten himself into when he set out to race 200 miles in one day. The dusty, hilly DK200 has just two checkpoints and goes through Kansas’ remote, rugged Flint Hills, described here as “the largest expanse of tall grass prairie existing anywhere in the world.”

A glimpse of the Flint Hills in Kansas.

Thanks to meticulous preparation and a disciplined training regime, Jim did great. He finished in under 16 hours and placed ninth in his age category. Not bad for a sexagenarian rookie.

While gravel riding and entrepreneurship may seem unrelated, they have much in common. For one thing, the sport tends to appeal to hard-working businesses people like Jim, who relish the opportunity to escape for a few hours of outdoor exercise in a quiet, peaceful setting.

In addition, endurance athletes and entrepreneurs share certain characteristics, including a desire to push themselves. As a spectator of the Dirty Kanza, I came away with these reminders about success:

Preparation is key. Fulfillment of a goal requires research, careful planning and a timetable. You usually don’t get the outcome you want if you wing it

Perseverance is critical. Some want to traverse 200 miles of gnarly gravel roads on a bike. And some aspire to navigate the pitfalls, setbacks and tough times that come with starting and operating a business. In both cases, you need a will to succeed.

You can’t do it alone. Your odds for success improve greatly when you join a supportive group of fellow athletes or business owners who share tips and ideas. You also need family members who encourage you to pursue your dream.

Age changes your perspective. As you get older, success becomes more about the journey than the destination. It may take longer than it did 10 or 15 years ago to crest a hill or cross the finish line. But each scenic view, each high five, is sweeter.

Congratulations, Jim. And congratulations to all of this year’s Dirty Kanza riders who took on a challenge bigger than themselves. You rock, literally and physically.

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