Five Customer Service Lessons from a Fish Entrepreneur

Technology and social media developments may have changed the way businesses communicate but certain “old-fashioned” customer service fundamentals will never go out of style.

Many 40-and-older entrepreneurs understand this because they’ve been customers themselves for a long time. Take Paul Wheston of Reading, England. For years, he worked as an agent selling other people’s fish. Now, the 47-year-old owns Fish Glorious Fish, a fishmonger service that he opened earlier this year.

GetReading wrote this profile piece about Paul. His Golden Rule approach to customer service is one that can be implemented by other business owners who follow these steps:

1. Know your customers by name. Dale Carnegie said it best in How to Win Friends and Influence People. A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.   

2. Provide personalized service. Paul knows most of his customers likes and dislikes. Some prefer to stick to a regular weekly order; others like to experiment. People appreciate it when you go out of your way to give them what they want.

3. Develop partnerships with trusted, reliable suppliers. Without them, you can’t be sure of the quality of your products and/or may have nothing to sell. “I pretty much know where the fish were caught, when they were caught and in some cases I might even know the name of the fisherman who caught them,” said Paul.

4. Know your competitive advantage. In Paul’s case, it’s super freshness. He puts his fish on sale the day after it’s caught – something that supermarkets can’t do.

5. Do what you love. When you enjoy your business and believe in your product, it shows. Your customers can sense it when they walk through the door.

Have any customer service methods that have worked especially well for your business?  Please feel free to share them below.

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Seeing in Others What They Can’t See in Themselves

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember this post about entrepreneur Len Forkas’ experience as a solo competitor in the 2012 Race Across America — a grueling, 3,000-mile bicycle race that starts in California and ends in Maryland. At age 52, Len finished in less than 12 days, placing first in his age group and tenth overall. Best of all, he raised over $300,000 for Hopecam, his nonprofit that uses technology to connect young cancer patients with their friends at school.

Earlier this year, Len published What Spins the Wheel, a book that describes his journey and lists ten lessons he learned during the race. Lesson #8 is to “See in Others What They Can’t See in Themselves.” By doing so, “we can inspire people to achieve more than they ever thought possible,” he wrote.

That lesson came to mind when I watched Dananjaya Hettiarachchi’s winning performance in Toastmasters International’s 2014 World Championship of Public Speaking. Over six months, Hettiarachchi, a human resources consultant from Sri Lanka, advanced through seven rounds of competition against 33,000 competitors worldwide before taking first place.

A video of his speech, “I See Something,” is below. Take a few minutes to watch it. You’ll be glad you did.


Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , | 26 Comments

How One Dad Teaches His Kids About Entrepreneurship

By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs

Malia and Owen Shafer with their taco wagon.

Malia and Owen Shafer with their taco wagon.

Paul Shafer knows the exuberance that comes from being a young aspiring entrepreneur.

In college, he invented the “Gum Chum” for storing bubble gum during a meal. The small, capsule-like device had a clip that attached to a plate or glass, keeping the gum nearby until it could be popped back into its owner’s mouth.

While the Gum Chum didn’t turn out to be the next Big Idea, it wasn’t a wasted effort. “It was a good exercise that gave me something creative to do while working on my degree,” said Paul, who now lives in Austin, Texas.

After graduation, he set aside his entrepreneurial aspirations for a sales career that took him to British Airways and Dell, among other places. He and his wife, Kathleen, became the parents of two children, Owen and Malia.

But the entrepreneurial itch from Paul’s college days didn’t go away. When his 40th birthday arrived three years ago, he decided to take action.


“I wanted my own children to see me living a challenging and inspiring life.  And I thought, ‘How can I encourage them to pursue their dreams if I’m not leading by example?’”

— Paul Shafer, Shafer…Power!_______________________________________________

“I find that I’m really in the flow when I’m creating things – so I figured it was time to start taking steps to fulfill that desire,” he said. At the same time, he didn’t want his research and development to absorb the limited time he had to spend with his family.

Inspiration struck after Paul watched business coach Cameron Herold’s Ted Talk on raising kids to become entrepreneurs. “I wanted my own children to see me living a challenging and inspiring life,” said Paul. “And I thought, ‘How can I encourage them to pursue their dreams if I’m not leading by example?’”

In 2012, Paul started an initiative with a simple goal: to have fun as a family while learning about entrepreneurship. Its name – Shafer…Power! – is the family’s battle cry. When the four Shafers head out somewhere, Paul yells, “Shaferrrrr” and the kids respond, “Power!”

Owen and Paul Shafer

Owen and Paul Shafer

At the heart of Shafer…Power! is an “AdVenture Bucket List” consisting of monthly activities to provide hands-on entrepreneurial experience for Owen, who’s now eight years old and Malia, now six. So far, they have run a taco wagon in partnership with a restaurant, helped bake treats at a cupcake producer and launched a dog walking service. They’ve created their own energy bars and sold them at a children’s business fair.

The Shafer kids also have interviewed several Austin-based entrepreneurs, such as Brad Cason of KirkLee Bicycles and Matt Sieler of Maine Root Handcrafted Beverages. And they’re talking with interesting people worldwide to learn about their careers and the different ways to make a living.

“The feedback has been very positive and the entrepreneurs we’ve met have been really good to the kids,” said Paul. “I think entrepreneurs are natural educators because they do such a good job of explaining things in terms that everyone can understand.” He hopes Shafer…Power! can serve as a model for business owners and others interested in teaching entrepreneurship to children.

Whether that happens remains to be seen. In the meantime, Owen and Malia are enjoying the journey. They aren’t the only ones.

“I’m having fun being with my kids and viewing the world through their eyes,” said Paul. “My sense of curiosity is back and the experiential learning we’ve been doing is exhilarating. Each day brings a more defined vision as to where we can take this thing.”

“As every entrepreneur knows, there are no guarantees but my view is that I’m on an adventure with my kids,” he added. “If we’re all learning and growing as a family, it’s a win-win scenario.”

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , , | 33 Comments

An Entrepreneur Builds a Brand in Eyewear

Julie Allinson was 42 when she started Eyebobs, which offers high-quality, funky reading glasses at reduced prices. Fourteen years later, her company occupies almost all of a 37,000-square foot building near downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Optical shops, clothing stores and even museum gift shops around the world carry Allinson’s eyeglasses.  She has a celebrity following that has included Katie Couric, Andrew Zimmern and the late Joan Rivers.

And what about the company’s name? As explained in this Forbes story written by Deborah L. Jacobs, “Eyebobs” is a play on Southern nicknames for guys — Jim Bob, Joe Bob, etc.  It also works for women who refer to their earrings as “earbobs.”  “I tell every guy named Robert that I named my company after him,” says Allinson.

In Forbes, she talks about the ingredients for starting a company. One is a strong support system that includes people who are risk-tolerant. If your family and closest friends are risk-averse, it’s better to talk to other entrepreneurs who can relate to what you’re going through.

Courage also is critical. If we analyze the risk, “no one would ever start a business — there are so many reasons not to,” Allinson says. Still, few things are more fulfilling than living and dying by your own sword.  “I don’t like other people telling me what to do,” she says.

She has a clear understanding of her target market.  As her website puts it, Eyebobs sells “eyewear for the irreverent and slightly jaded.”

“I don’t pretend to sell to all the Baby Boomers,” says Allinson, who’s now 56.  “I want to sell to the Baby Boomers like me who have some moxie.”

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

A Chinese Entrepreneur Makes Movies to Take on Social Issues

Zhang Wei earned millions as an entrepreneur who made video intercom doorbell systems in Shenzhen, China. In 2006, things changed in a big way.

That’s when Zhang sold his company and started studying filmmaking. Today, the 49-year-old is a director who makes socially conscious movies.

As explained in this article, Zhang’s latest film is about the exploitation of Chinese assembly line workers, a subject rarely touched by China’s filmmakers. In “Factory Boss,” the owner of a toy company struggles to hold his business and himself together as he comes under intense pressure from local competitors, his workers, the media, officials and his own family.

“Factory Boss” is Zhang’s third movie. His first two, “Beijing Dream (2010) and “Shadow Monologue” (2011), also reflect his concern for social issues.

Unlike his earlier business, Zhang’s self-bankrolled movie career hasn’t been a money maker. But he doesn’t seem concerned with achieving commercial success or recognition. He has plans for several other films, including one about an autistic youth.

“I want to do stories that others won’t do,” Zhang says in the article. “Once I’m done with a film, I want to move on to the next one. I’ve started working on films only in middle age and I want to make as many as I can.”

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

How One Couple Found a Business Idea Seven Thousand Miles from Home

By Lynne Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs

Meredith and Lee Hedrick

Meredith and Lee Hedrick

Doha, Qatar has megamalls, luxurious hotels and soaring skyscrapers. It also has a small- but-scrappy souvenir business with its own style.

Doha Designs is the brainchild of Lee and Meredith Hedrick, two Annandale, Virginia teachers on temporary assignment in Qatar. Since its launch a year and a half ago, the Hedricks’ startup has found a niche among Doha’s many Western expatriates seeking good-quality mementos of their time in the city.

International living seemed to be in the cards for Lee, 41 and Meredith, 40, from the beginning. Both studied international relations at Michigan State University and served in the U.S. Peace Corps – he in Senegal and she in Turkmenistan.

While in Senegal, Lee was a small business development volunteer and worked with government agencies to coordinate Peace Corps activities to meet the needs of local entrepreneurs. Over the years, the couple dabbled in importing bamboo, rugs and other goods and selling them at weekend fairs.

Eventually, they moved to the Washington, D.C. area where they worked briefly for an international development company. Each earned a master’s degree in secondary education from George Washington University and landed a high school teaching position (Lee teaches history while Meredith specializes in English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL). They bought a single-family home in a suburban neighborhood, became the parents of two boys and settled into a comfortable life.

Then in 2011, Meredith received an offer to teach in Doha for a year, with a possible extension of her contract. While the notion of moving almost 7,000 miles would be scary for some, the Hedricks felt the pull of wanderlust. They rented their home and, with their two young sons, embarked on an international adventure on the other side of the world.

Testing the Market

In Doha, the Hedrick family enjoyed many aspects of city’s culture. But after several months, Meredith realized her job wasn’t a fit. The couple also felt somewhat socially unfulfilled due to their work routines. They began exploring ideas for a side business that would expand their Doha network while providing another source of income.

Lee and Meredith, who describe themselves as “risk adverse,” tested the market for a souvenir business while Meredith still had a steady paycheck. The results from focus groups with local residents and other research suggested strong potential for their business idea.

Meredith Hedrick with a Doha Designs show display

Meredith Hedrick with a Doha Designs show display

One day, Meredith happened to be in a coffee shop and struck up a conversation with a woman who was buying eight or nine mugs to ship to her family and friends. “The person who comes up with a good Doha souvenir will become a millionaire,” the woman predicted. That chance encounter proved to be the final push for the Hedricks.

In February 2013, they launched Doha Designs as a part-time business (both Hedricks also teach at a local academy). Its signature item is a series of custom-designed vintage posters depicting Doha scenery. Other products include t-shirts, bags, postcards and handmade jewelry.

Doha Designs sells its products at local craft shows. It also has a few wholesale clients, including the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Qatar Gift Shop and the book store for Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Hedricks believe they wouldn’t have opened a business had they moved to Doha when they were younger. “In our 20s, we didn’t have the same financial awareness and interests that we have now,” said Meredith. “At this stage in our lives, the business makes sense. There was a market need that we could meet fairly efficiently to earn extra money for the family, but not take too much time away from being with our kids.”

An understanding of each other’s strength and weaknesses is a key contributor to their success. Meredith oversees the show schedule, networking and wholesale clients while Lee manages the retail sales, finances and pricing. “We know what risks to take – and not to take – and have a good sense of our priorities” said Meredith.

They also know and accept the realities associated with their entrepreneurial endeavor. “When you own a business, you get a large share of the profits,” said Lee. “But you also get a large share of the headaches.”

Future Opportunities

The Hedricks aren’t sure what will happen to their business when they return to the United States. At least one retailer scheduled to open a location in Qatar’s new airport is interested in selling the couple’s products.

Regardless of Doha Designs’ future, Lee and Meredith’s worldwide travel seems destined to continue. So far, they’ve visited more than 50 countries and lived in five. All that international experience has influenced their view of life.

“We have faith that things will always work out and we aren’t so scared or intimidated by the unknown,” said Meredith.

“I like the proverb that goes something like, ‘If you can’t go through the door then go through the window, if you can’t go through the window go through the chimney,’” she added. “To me, it means there is always a way and don’t give up too easily.”

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Five Reasons to Start a Personal History Business

Tom Gilbert

Tom Gilbert

I recently interviewed four people who were at least 40 years old when they became personal historians. Their individual stories appear in this guest post written for Later Bloomer, Debra Eve’s blog.

Among the four are full-time and part-time personal historians whose areas of expertise range from memoir coaching to ethical wills. Some produce books for their clients; others focus on video or other formats.

Yet they all have the same basic mission: to help others tell their life stories so they can be passed along to the next generation.

The people who get into this business really enjoy it. Here’s why:

1) An emphasis on storytelling — “It’s always interesting because people’s stories are so varied,” said Tom Gilbert, who started Your Life is Your Story, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based personal history business, after a 30-year career in radio broadcasting.

2) Flexibility – Projects can be scheduled around other responsibilities.

3) Mobility – It’s possible to work from just about anywhere in the world.

4) Minimal overhead – New business owners can get going with basic office equipment.

5) An important purpose – Gratification comes from helping to preserve someone’s family history.

If the idea of a personal history business interests you, stop by the Association of Personal Historians’ website ( For another example of a late-blooming personal historian, check out this post about Jennifer Campbell of Heritage Memoirs.

You can also poke around such sites as Cowbird, ImaStory and StoryCorps to get a feel for personal history — and to read some wonderful stories about life.

Posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success | Tagged , , | 12 Comments