Finding Your Business Idea

For 40-and-older entrepreneurs, the number one reason for starting a business isn’t necessarily to make big bucks.  It’s more about doing something that’s enjoyable and gives you a sense of fulfillment.

In this video post, I describe a very simple method I used a few years ago to assess what I wanted — and didn’t want — in my next business opportunity.  Maybe this technique can help you as well if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who’s evaluating what product or service to offer.

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A Retired Admiral Becomes an Entrepreneur – And Finds a New Way to Serve Others

Robert O. Wray, Jr.

As a two-star nuclear-trained admiral in the U.S. Navy, Robert O. Wray, Jr. inspected ships, submarines and carriers while reporting to Congress on their status. Now he’s found a new calling: creating technology to help seniors.

What led him to this business idea?  Two things.

One, he wanted to do something to help his aging parents and in-laws.

And two, he saw a void in the marketplace for technology that assists seniors, the fastest growing segment of the American population

In 2013, Wray founded BlueStar SeniorTech when he was in his mid-50s. The Rockville, Maryland-based business offers technology-based products and services to help seniors, veterans and their family members age safely within the comfort of their homes.

“As a proud member of the Naval Academy and product of a family who has multiple generations of veterans who have served our country including my own dad and father-in-law, I feel it is our duty to provide this service,” said Wray in this announcement.

Among BlueStar’s suite of products are wearable medical alerts and health monitoring devices. There’s also a controller that turns off the heat of a stove when left unattended, and a smart pillbox that helps people remember to take their medications at the right times.

BlueStar serves all seniors but hires vets, donates to veterans causes and offers special pricing to vets and their families. Not surprisingly, the company gets its name from the military (a Blue Star family consists of the immediate family members of someone who currently serves in the Armed Forces).

Wray’s former life as a Navy officer is very different than his current one as a business owner.  But these two occupations have at least one thing in common.

As a recent story on local television station put it, “In uniform, he served to protect.  As a civilian, his mission remains the same.”

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A Late Bloomer Tries Her Hand at Video Blogging

After eight years of written posts, it’s time to change things up.  So here’s my first video post for Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs.

The topic is – what else? – video blogging for entrepreneurs.  If you’re thinking about video blogging (or vlogging), I encourage you to give it a try.  Sometimes the hardest part is getting started — especially if you aren’t used to seeing yourself on camera.

At the end, I offer my thoughts on the biggest marketing advantage that video blogging provides for business owners.

I hope you enjoy the post.  As always, thanks for stopping by.

 

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Takeaways from 9 Interesting Business Books

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Looking for business books to read in 2019?  Maybe this list will spur some new additions to your nightstand.  Some of these books are recent; others have been around for a while. Each listing has a key takeaway to peak your interest.

1) We tend to remember flagship moments – the peaks, the pits, and the transitions. This is a critical lesson for anyone in the service business.The Power of Moments by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

2) Motivation become easier when we transform a chore into a choice. Doing so gives us a sense of control.– Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

3) Customer service is like the weather. Everybody talks about if but nobody (well, almost nobody) does anything about it. — The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence by Robert Spector and Patrick McCarthy

4) Success doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It emerges when a human being dedicates their life to an ambitious goal, and it usually involves plenty of personal struggles along the way. Those struggles are important because they build the depth of character needed to embrace success when it finally arrives. – Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

5) None of us are immune from life’s tragic moments. Like the small rubber boat we had in basic SEAL training, it takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others. – Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven

6) If you find yourself ready to change course, you have to put your foot on the very lowest rung of whatever ladder you want to climb and prepare yourself for a relentless ascent. – Call an Audible by Daron K. Roberts

7) It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. – Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

8) I used to believe that timing is everything. Now I believe that everything is timing. – When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink

9) There will always be new challenges in every business, but if you’re creative and passionate, then you will keep creating new ways to overcome those challenges and succeed. – Our Customers, Our Friends: What 50 Years in Business Has Taught Rita and Rick Case about Sales Success and Community Service by Rick Case with Brooke Bates

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Instant Pot’s Inventor Shows It’s Never Too Late to Create

One of my Christmas gifts this year was an Instant Pot, a smart kitchen appliance that’s an all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and warmer. My new gadget got me wondering how it became an Internet sensation.

Journalists and other influencers point to Instant Pot’s word-of-mouth marketing, passionate fans and use of Amazon’s fulfillment program as primary reasons for its success. But a sentence on the Ottawa-based company’s website suggests another key factor.

“Instant Brands Inc. was founded in 2009 by a team of Canadian technology veterans who set out to explore the food preparation category based on their own life experiences,” the sentence reads.

Instant Pot inventor Robert J. Wang was in his mid-40s when he was laid off from his job and began working on multi-purpose cooker designs. Earlier in his career, he weathered many ups and downs from starting three other businesses. By the time Instant Pot came along, Wang had accumulated a combination of professional and life experience that benefited his latest venture.

As an engineer with a Ph.D. in computer science, he had the know-how to conceptualize the sensor technology used by Instant Pot. As a father of two, he knew that busy families and professionals didn’t have the time or energy to prepare a hot, nutritious dinner after a long day.

Wang also had more than $300,000 in savings to invest in development. Not every startup has that much seed money, of course. Still, inventors and entrepreneurs of all stripes can benefit from these lessons:

View personal dilemmas as potential business ideas. Wang’s inspiration came from his family’s own nightly challenge: what to do about dinner when you’re tired and want a quick, healthy meal.

Drill down for answers. Analyze what your customers like, dislike and want. Wang says he’s read more than 40,000 reviews of his products.

Be in it for the long haul. Instant Pot required eighteen months of grueling research, design and development prior to the product’s introduction in 2010.

Make changes when necessary. After its first product, Instant Pot produced subsequent versions to improve functionality, user-friendliness and safety.

Get legal counsel to avoid big headaches. Wang planned to call his invention the “iPot” as a tribute to Apple. His attorney feared trademark infringement and wisely advised against this idea.

For 40-and-older entrepreneurs, Wang’s story offers one more lesson: don’t let age stand in your way. Here’s a CNBC video that tells more about Instant Pot.

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From Crunching Numbers to Chopping Veggies: How a 40-Something Found Her Calling

By Lynne Beverly Strang

Colette Wilson, ColMoni’s Catering

For 20 years, Colette Wilson earned a good living as an accountant who did work for the federal government. Now she’s found joy in pleasing taste buds through scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and mouthwatering sweets.

Wilson is a co-founder of ColMoni’s Catering, a Lorton, Virginia-based business that caters a full range of events throughout the Washington, D.C. area. ColMoni’s creations include a full array of specialty cakes and other desserts as well as pre-made meals for busy families and professionals who don’t have time to cook.

How did Wilson make the leap from accounting executive to culinary entrepreneur? Smart financial planning, a strong work ethic and a willingness to ask for help (even when she didn’t want to) all came into play. So did a desire to identify and pursue her true passion. This wasn’t a top priority at the beginning of her career, however.

After graduating from Mary Washington College, Wilson took a job with a CPA firm in Alexandria, Virginia. She worked her way up the corporate ladder as a CPA, making partner before she turned 29. Along the way, she married and had two children.

Wilson was good at what she did, as evidenced by her appointment as Chair of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants in 2012.  By then, she was in her early 40s and had a long list of clients. But she also had an exhausting schedule and yearned to spend more time with her children.

After a talk with her husband and a meeting with her financial advisor, Wilson made a life-changing decision. She sold her partnership interest and left the accounting firm that had been her home for so many years. “I wasn’t sure where I was headed but knew I needed to take a break and wanted to do something different,” she says.

During that time, she gave herself permission to explore her interests. She began cooking for others because it was something she had always enjoyed doing.

The ColMoni’s Catering team: Monica Yates (left) and Colette Wilson (Photo credit: Frontier Kitchen)

In June 2013, a former colleague hired her to cater an event, marking her first paid gig. Another pivotal moment occurred in March 2014. That’s when Wilson met Brenda Brown, who was in the early stages of opening a business incubator for culinary entrepreneurs.

While Brown searched for an incubator location, Wilson prepared food in her own kitchen and developed a following as a caterer. She also recruited Monica Yates, her longtime friend and college roommate, to be her business partner.

In 2015, Brown found space in Lorton and opened Frontier Kitchen. That March, Wilson and Yates – both in their mid-40s – put in $10 thousand each and combined their first names to found ColMoni’s Catering, LLC. They joined Frontier Kitchen as one of its first startups.

The move provided access to a commercial grade kitchen as well as training in marketing, pricing and other aspects of running a culinary business. It also enabled Wilson and Yates to join a supportive community where they could learn from other food entrepreneurs.

ColMoni’s Catering has seen steady growth since its launch three years ago. Sales increased 18% from 2015 to 2016, and 19% from 2016 to 2017. As of the third quarter in 2018, the company had matched 2017 revenues and expects to do well over the holidays.

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“My God-given gift is my desire to serve people. And my passion is cooking. When you can combine your natural gift and your passion, that’s the best of all worlds.” — Colette Wilson, ColMoni’s Catering

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Wilson’s journey offers useful lessons for those seeking to leave a traditional job and become an entrepreneur. Here are some key takeaways:

Plan ahead. Wilson and her husband began saving money towards long-term goals several years before she went out on her own. As a result, the couple had sufficient reserves to tie them over while ColMoni’s Catering found its footing.

Get a financial advisor. The Wilsons already had an advisor whom they liked and trusted. When Colette Wilson decided to leave her accounting firm, the advisor devised a financial plan based upon her husband’s income. A portion of the accounting firm’s payout funds was used to create a “salary” for Wilson as she explored career options.

Choose business partners who have different strengths. ColMoni’s two partners each have clearly defined areas. Wilson handles the logistics, contracts and client interaction. Yates is in charge of baking, food presentation and various behind-the-scenes duties. “Monica is a calming influence and I’m an energetic worrywart,” Wilson laughs. “We have different personalities and different strengths, yet we still come together for success.”

Have a safety net.  While she builds the catering business, Wilson is maintaining her CPA license and her professional contacts in accounting. This gives her peace of mind should she decide to switch gears again in the future.

Get help. Initially, Wilson was reluctant to reach out to others but soon realized that she couldn’t start a business by herself. “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know,” she acknowledges.

Compartmentalize your time. Like many late-blooming entrepreneurs, Wilson has both professional and family responsibilities. She organizes each day by blocking hours for different areas of her life. This lets her focus on one task at a time, whether it’s preparing a contract for a client or ordering uniforms for her children’s soccer teams.

Going forward, Wilson wants to increase revenue and hire staff to prepare recipes so she and Yates can concentrate on running the business. Her long-term goal is to open a brick-and-mortar café one day.

In the meantime, Colette Wilson is enjoying her entrepreneurial ride, which she’s doing at her own pace. For her, one of the best parts has been building a business on referrals.

“I love to help my customers bring their vision to life,” says Wilson. “I remember each and every client and what he or she likes.”

“My God-given gift is my desire to serve people,” she adds. “And my passion is cooking. When you can combine your natural gift and your passion, that’s the best of all worlds.”

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Can a Childhood Dream Become a Business?

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

In August, my family and I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina with a stopover in Abingdon, Virginia. We took advantage of our night in Abingdon by seeing a performance of The Lemonade Stand at the Barter Theatre (a charming place, by the way).

In the show, a 50-something named Garret gets fired from his job.  So he decides to start a lemonade stand in front of his house in an upscale, suburban neighborhood.  Along the way, he meets Rachel, the college girl next door who wants to be his lemonade-stand intern and handle his social media.

At one point, Garret explains his choice of business to Rachel. “I wanted to build something where I’d be happy working each day,” he says. “What better than a lemonade stand?”

The real world has people who, at a later age, built their own lemonade-stand type of a business – one based upon a passion or interest from their youth.

Take Annie Margulis, who dreamed of becoming a fashion designer at a young age. Eventually, she founded Girls Golf – a clothing line for women golfers — after a long career in nursing.

Rory Kelly wanted to drive a limousine at age five. In his 40s, he left the steel industry – where had worked for more than 25 years – to found Prestige Limousine.

Then there’s Cherry Harker, who wanted to design bikinis when she was a teenager.  Almost 60 years later, her vision became a reality when launched ZwimZuit at age 76.

Not every childhood dream can be turned into a business, of course. In some cases, the idea lacks a market – or is just too weird to be viable. In others, procrastination gives someone else the opportunity to swoop in on the idea.

Still, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur seeking sources of inspiration, don’t overlook the early years of your life. They can be a great place to mine ideas for a product or service that lets you fill a need and have fun at the same time.

Successful business ownership depends upon a combination of factors but a passion for what you do is what enables you to persevere.  And that most certainly will determine whether you make it as an entrepreneur.

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