Remembering an Icon in the Beauty Industry

By Lynne Beverly Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash

Vision, drive and tenacity.

Entrepreneurs who want to build sustainable businesses need these traits. Mary Kay Ash had them, plus the self-knowledge that comes with being older.

This month marks the 100th birthday of Ash, who founded Mary Kay – a multibillion-dollar direct seller of cosmetics – at age 45.

Ash was born May 12, 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas as Mary Kathlyn Wagner. Her upbringing wasn’t exactly glamorous. As a girl, she ran the household and took care of her ailing father while her mother worked. Shortly after high school, she married her first husband, with whom she had three children.

A Pivotal Moment

Her determination to get ahead surfaced early in her life. In 1939, the 21-year-old Ash went to work for Houston-based Stanley Home Products. Three weeks after joining the company, she heard about its annual convention in Dallas – and made up her mind to go.

But there was a problem. The cost for the roundtrip train fare and hotel stay was $12. And Ash didn’t have the money.

As recounted in this article on the Mary Kay Foundation’s website, Ash asked every friend she had before one agreed to lend her the $12. The event didn’t include meals – so for three days, she lived on crackers and cheese that she packed in her suitcase.

At the convention, Ash watched as the top saleswoman was crowned queen of sales. Afterwards, she sought out company president Frank Stanley Beveridge and said, “Mr. Beveridge, next year I am going to be queen.” Beveridge looked into her eyes and replied, “Somehow, I think you will.”

“Those words changed my life,” said Ash. “I could not let him down.” Sure enough, she became the new queen of sales the following year.

In 1952, Ash moved to the World Gift Company, where she became its national training director. She quit in protest when she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man she trained.

The Advantage of Life Experience

Mary Kay Ash greets a group of admirers

After she left, Ash began working on a book to assist women in business. As she wrote down her ideas and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of her previous employers, she inadvertently created a marketing plan for her ideal company – one where women would have unlimited earning potential and growth opportunities.

Ash’s collective life experience influenced her entrepreneurial choices in a couple of key ways. One, she focused on direct sales since that’s what she knew. And two, she opted to create a business to help other women because of what she went through herself.

As a working parent who married three times, she understood the struggle for work-life balance long before that phrase came into vogue. And as someone who experienced sexism for decades, she shared the frustration and anger felt by workers whose gender kept them from advancement.

With her life savings of $5,000, she bought a formula for skin lotions from the family of a leather tanner who developed the products while he worked on hides. In 1963, she and her son Richard opened Beauty by Mary Kay (as it was then called) in a small Dallas storefront with nine salespeople.

A Legacy Continues

Fifty five years later, the company is in nearly 40 international markets and has millions of consultants worldwide. According to its website, Mary Kay also has more than 1,300 patents for products, advanced technologies and packaging designs in its global portfolio. To date, Mary Kay and its foundation have given a combined $76 million to combat domestic violence and cancer.

Mary Kay Ash passed away in 2001. Although it’s been over a half century since she set out to help women fulfill their potential, that objective remains in place for the consultants who work with the company today.

“I’ve really grown as a person and traveled to places I never would have seen had I not joined Mary Kay,” said Independent Sales Director Anna Sempeles. “It’s provided a great platform for both me and my family.”


Mary Kay Ash had a way of words.  Here are a few of her sayings:

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

“Sandwich every bit of criticism between two layers of praise.”

“Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try.”

“A good goal is like a strenuous exercise — it makes you stretch.”

“Don’t let the negatives in life control you.  Rise above them.  Use them as your stepping stones to go higher than you ever dreamed possible.”

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How a 76-Year-Old Became a Swimwear Entrepreneur

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Cherry Harker always wanted to design bikinis. Her infatuation with the skimpy swimsuits began in the late 1950s.

Back then, she was a teenager who spent holidays at exotic places like Monaco and St. Tropez. Her father, Ronnie Harker, was Rolls-Royce’s first test pilot. When his work took him to these posh resorts, his family went with him.

During those trips, Harker had opportunities to watch glamorous people and observe what they were wearing, occasionally spotting celebrities (she bumped into Brigitte Bardot in St. Tropez). She also became familiar with the hazards of doing watersports in a bikini.

“I pretty much learnt how to water-ski one-handed – one hand on the tow-handle and the other holding my briefs up,” she says in this Mailonline article. “And I noticed that quite often some women lost their swimwear when they dived into a pool.”

Fast forward to almost 60 years later, when Harker retired and needed something to do. After contemplating possible projects, she chose her lifelong dream: designing a bikini line.

In 2016, Harker launched ZwimZuit at age 76. Her swimwear features four collections made from neoprene, a non-slip material that enables ZwimZuit customers to enjoy the water without worrying about a wardrobe malfunction.

As she explains in this article published in The Telegraph, the launch of her UK-based company came at the right time in her life. “I married when I was 30, then spent my 30s and 40s focused on family life, supporting my husband, John, in his business and raising our daughter, Tamarisk. I’d battled breast cancer in my 50s, cervical cancer in my 60s, so now I finally had time to do something that was just for me.”

While running a business isn’t easy for Harker, family support makes the challenges more manageable. Daughter Tamarisk, a costume designer, assists with the product design. Husband John, the founder of a classic car business, helps with orders and social media.

ZwimZuit now has customers all over the world. For Harker, one of the most rewarding parts of her business is turning on her computer and seeing women in Brazil or Florida wearing her creations.

“I never really thought of retiring, what do people do when they retire?” she tells The Mailonline. “My father died at 90 but he was fit and healthy and doing things right up to the end and he always said you’ve got to have a project.”

Looks like Harker followed her father’s advice. And what a project she has.

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6 Ways to Market Your Business for Free (Well, Almost)

Photo by Karolina Zuraw on Unsplash

Most new and small business owners operate on shoestring budgets that leave few resources for marketing. If that describes you, take heart. You don’t have to spend big marketing bucks at the beginning (if ever). For greater brand awareness, try these tactics:

  1. Get positive reviews and testimonials. These will help establish trust and enhance the credibility of your business. Provide great service and a quality product to generate “organic” reviews (where people take it upon themselves to comment on their experience). Some customers may forget or just not think about writing a review. In those cases, reach out and ask if you feel like the customer had a good experience.
  1. Be social. Most businesses need a social media presence – but you don’t have to be everywhere. Think about your target audiences. Where do they hang out in the social media world? The answer should guide you on where to focus your time and efforts.
  1. Line up speaking gigs. This can be a highly effective marketing technique for business owners. Speaking in front of groups lets others know about you, ask questions and better understand what you have to offer. You also establish yourself as an authority and gain confidence that carries over to other areas of your business. 
  1. Build relationships with journalists. If you prove to be a good source, reporters will contact you regularly – bringing opportunities to get mentions in articles. Consider signing up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service that connects journalists and bloggers with expert sources.
  1. Have a blog that relates to your business. Take the time to produce useful, high-quality content. Your readers will come back for more – plus you’re more likely to get shares via social media. If you’re too busy to blog yourself, ask an employee or hire a writer.
  1. Volunteer strategically. Give back to your community and help your business grow at the same time. Encourage employees to do the same. If you own a pet supplies business, for example, volunteer at an animal shelter – where you or your team members may cultivate clients as you help prospective pet owners find a new furry companion.

Any suggestions to add?  Please share them in the comments section below.

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How to Stay Motivated in February

Photo by Firasat Durrani on Upsplash

February can be a tough month for entrepreneurs. The holiday parties are over. People may be reluctant to spend money right now. They’re still paying credit card bills for the gifts they bought in December.

Then there’s the weather, a big factor for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. When ice and snow keep customers away, brick-and-mortar businesses suffer. So do the moods of their owners and employees.

How do you keep going when it’s the dead of winter and spring seems far away?  Here are some ideas that may help:

Join a networking group. You’ll meet new people and may come away with ideas to grow your business. If you prefer virtual networking, LinkedIn has all kinds of professional groups to explore. An advantage of in-person groups, however, is the opportunity to get out of your office and attend events (a good remedy for cabin fever). Meetup can be a good place to find groups that share your interest.

Put the quiet time to good use. Clean your work space, organize your files or tackle another indoor project. Compile the information you’ll need to file your tax return. This particular activity isn’t exactly motivational but you’ll be glad you took care of it.

Review your goals. Remember that list you made for the New Year?  Read through it for a jolt of inspiration. Print another copy and put it in a place where you’ll see it every day.

Get one-on-one support. Head to SCORE’s website to find free counseling. Or consider hiring a coach, which can be a worthwhile investment. Third-party accountability can do wonders to keep you on track during times when you’re tempted to slack off.

Be a mentor for someone else. It’s uplifting to help others – plus you’re sure to learn from the experience.

Exercise. Hit the gym or, better yet, go outside for a walk and some fresh air. It will clear your mind and make you feel better.

If all else fails, remind yourself that February only comes once a year. Take some time to enjoy the good things it has to offer, including that special occasion on the 14th. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

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Five Money Moves for Gig Entrepreneurs

As a freelance writer, I like the independence that comes with gig work. I also like interacting with a variety of clients, setting my own schedule and working from home in jeans and a t-shirt.

But I’m not so crazy about the administrative, record keeping and money management tasks that are part of the picture. I’d much rather devote time to the actual work I enjoy doing.

Sound familiar?

The reality is that any entrepreneur – gig or otherwise – needs a back office of some sort. January is an ideal month to look at where you are and make adjustments for the year to come. Consider these five tips to get the money side of your business in good shape:

1) Find a good accountant. This advice came from just about every 40-and-older entrepreneur I interviewed for my book. It isn’t enough to locate someone who can prepare financial statements, however. A “good” accountant is someone who understands your business and gives you a strong comfort level. Trust your gut. It may take some digging and a few meetings to find the right person.

2) Set up systems. Think about how to accept payments (a good problem) and keep track of time, invoices and out-of-pocket expenses, among other things. These systems don’t have to be fancy. I use Excel spreadsheets to log hours and make notes. Bruce Summers, a Northern Virginia-based personal historian and Collaboration/Community Practice Coach, uses a combination of methods. For his personal history gigs, he uses Flash drives, digital file folders and project boxes to store hard copies of photos, letters and other family mementos. For his collaboration work, he maintains chronological hard and digital file folders for each client or project, along with folders and subfolders for email. Says Summers: “I have multiple, concurrent projects for each consulting line so I have to stay organized.”

3) Pare expenses. Frugality can help you to weather erratic cash flow and lean times, which are inevitable parts of freelancing (especially at the beginning). Most gig entrepreneurs work in a home office, which saves money on rent and commuting. Others, like Summers, use coffee meetings and virtual conferencing as inexpensive ways to serve clients and develop new business. “I use professional membership discounts when possible,” says Summers, who also comparison shops to save money on office and telecommunications equipment. Bartering is another good way to control costs while obtaining coaching, writing or other valuable support.

4) Decide on pricing. What to charge for your services can be a tricky question. Price them too low and you may not make enough income, or be perceived as “cheap” in more ways than one. Price them too high and you may lose business to less expensive competitors. Contact trade associations in your industry for data and research competitors’ prices. Just keep in mind that location is a big factor in pricing. A freelancer in Manhattan or San Francisco may charge more than one in the Midwest, where the cost of living is often lower.

5) Avoid commingling business and personal funds. Have separate bank accounts for each. “The IRS frowns upon mixing the two because the potential for fraud is much greater,” says Astrid Reeves, owner of Astrid’s Bookkeeping Co. and Services, Inc. in Fairfax, Virginia. “If the money trail is not easily discernible, that does not make them happy. It raises a red flag.” If you must take money out of your business to cover personal expenses, write a check to yourself from your business account and deposit it into your personal account to create a clear paper trail, recommends Reeves.

Bonus tip: Check your credit report. Should you ever need a business loan from a lender, your financial history will be a factor that determines approval. Negative information may result in a loan denial or high borrowing rates. If you don’t know what’s in your report, head to and request a copy. You can get one for free every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).

Any gig entrepreneur who wants to build a successful business has to pay attention to the financial side. This doesn’t have to bog you down, however. Follow tried-and-true steps, get good help and devote time each day to your back office. That way, you can manage your money, rather than your money managing you.

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8 Inspiring Quotes from 40-and-Older Entrepreneurs

The end of the year presents an opportunity to look back at some of the most memorable quotes about 40-and-older entrepreneurs that appeared on this blog in 2017. I hope you find wisdom and inspiration from these eight quotes – especially if your 2018 goals include starting or expanding a business.

Happy New Year!



1) “Go after what you feel deeply about. And be willing to take a risk. If you feel strongly about something, just follow your heart and do it.” – Bob Hamrin, Great Dads

2) “If I had started at age 30, I could not have survived. I had no experience or connections. And connections are very important, especially in this business.” – Edward Kim, Buying Together

3) “You cannot live to be 45-plus and not have something to offer the economy.”— Angela Heath, TKC Incorporated

4) “After a 35-year career managing systems integration and software development projects, I found myself about to be laid off and decided to pursue my passion for hot rods, sports cars and all things automotive. I was presented with an opportunity to become a business partner at a high-end automotive restoration shop….and I haven’t looked back. I love what we do and look forward to going to work every day.” – Paul Vorbach, HV3Dworks

5) “I believe my age gave me an edge. I was born level-headed, I was more apt to stick to it and I was more determined.” – Jeannette Hughes, Hughes Barney Investigations

6) “Business is first and foremost about people. Pick up the phone and call people in your tribe. They’ll introduce you to people in their tribes. That’s how you go from an aspiring entrepreneur or author to a successful one with a sustainable business.” – Jim Horan, The One Page Business Plan Company

7) “I have probably picked up one-third of the income I enjoy today from work I never expected to do.” – Jeff Williams, Bizstarters

8) “I am doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now.” – Paul Tasner, PulpWorks

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This 70-Something Entrepreneur is Passionate about Eco-Friendly Packaging

Paul Tasner used to be a director of operations for a consumer products company in San Francisco – until he was fired in 2009 at age 64.

Two years later, Tasner became a first-time entrepreneur. He’s now channeling his concern for the environment into Pulpworks, which designs and manufactures biodegradable, planet-friendly packaging for consumer goods.

“I am doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my life right now,” he says in a TED Talk titled “How I became an entrepreneur at 66.”

Tasner cites data from the Chartered Management institute (CMI) that shows older entrepreneurs have a 70% success rate for launching new ventures versus 28% for their younger counterparts.  Still, late-blooming entrepreneurs don’t always receive the recognition or support that they should.

“That’s why I’d like to make the expression 70 over 70 just as commonplace as 30 under 30,” says Tasner, who’s started a new forum to generate discussion about people who begin businesses later in life.

Watch Tasner’s TED Talk by clicking below.

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