By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs
Bill Cheeks thrives on activity. That’s a good thing, considering his schedule these days.
The 66-year-old president of ABBA Associates, Inc.., which conducts seminars nationwide to help consumers manage their finances, has just returned from a week in California. Over the next three weeks, he’ll travel to South Carolina, West Virginia and Florida before returning home to Powder Springs, Georgia.
For Cheeks, the opportunity to go different places and meet people adds to the satisfaction of owning a business. Since he works from home, he doesn’t have to deal with rush hour traffic or other commuting headaches. He sets his own schedule and takes on projects because he wants to, not because he has to. On top of it all, he earns more money now than when he was working for someone else.
A Plan to Make it Happen
While entrepreneurial life may be good, it didn’t just happen. “I had a plan,” Cheeks said.
Before starting ABBA Associates in January 2002, Cheeks spent 34 years with Equifax, Inc., one of the country’s three major credit bureaus. During his last years with the company, he undertook several measures to lay a foundation for his next professional endeavor. One was to cultivate contacts that provided administrative support once he left the corporate world.
His last Equifax position, Vice President of Consumer Education, involved the implementation of a fiscal management and life skills program for high school students. That role put him in touch with several groups and individuals who became instrumental in the success of his own consulting practice. He also participated in Equifax’s loaned executive program and worked for Junior Achievement, which became one of his clients.
Today, Cheeks stays involved with a long list of organizations, including United Way, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Operation HOPE and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. In March, he joined the Board of Trustees for InCharge Debt Solutions, a non-profit credit counseling service.
The Role of Networking
“For me, networking comes naturally,” he said. “Once you meet me, I make sure I stay in touch with you.” While he isn’t on Facebook or Twitter yet (which he attributes to “a generational thing”), he’s on LinkedIn and sends emails once or twice a week to many of his key contacts.
Cheeks’ recommendations for business owners are to join the Chamber of Commerce and volunteer at a charity, in part because the other volunteers often are high-level executives. “That way, they get to know you in a different environment,” he said.
“If you are not good a networking, it’s difficult to launch a business,” he said. The best networking approach, he added, is “to look for organizations where you can expose your brand and get needed knowledge.”
In addition to relationship building skills, successful business owners have an ability to focus, said Cheeks. “A lot of people can’t work from home because they don’t have the discipline to do it,” he said. Cheeks has his home office on an upstairs level, so it’s separated from household noise and other distractions. He takes two-mile walks almost every evening to clear his mind, as well as to help maintain his stamina.
Not Just Another Job
“I did not want the business to be another job,” said Cheeks. “I wanted it to be something I managed and controlled, where I could focus on the things I enjoy doing.” For that reason, he only handles work where he can apply his strengths and uses subcontractors for all other assignments.
While he’s reached a traditional age for retirement, Cheeks has no desire to do. Within the next year, he plans to partner with a bank, a credit counseling agency and others from the private and public sectors to launch a national financial planning initiative directed towards churches and their congregations.
Until then, he doesn’t expect his travel schedule to slow down – not even during the summer, when others are kicking back on vacations.
“People sometimes ask me why I’m still working,” he said. “I’m working because I’m not good at retirement. I love what I’m doing.”