There’s a lot of buzz lately about the laws of attraction — in which a person has only to set his or her sights on a goal, visualize it and presto! — it materializes. Whether or not you are a fan of such philosophies, it is hard to argue with the power of self-determination evidenced by three enterprising Fairfield County women who set out to fulfill their destinies as flourishing entrepreneurs — and succeeded.
While radically different in their career choices — one is a home-organizational specialist who walked away from years in corporate America to follow her bliss; the second, an artist and mother turned author and motivational speaker; and the third, a financial guru who ensures that baby boomer clients can retire in comfort — each of these entrepreneurial dynamos started with a desire to branch out on her own. In the process, each carved out a unique company that satisfied multiple needs, from artistic autonomy to financial freedom to more time for family and outside pursuits. Their stories are most inspiring to others who have dreamed of stepping out of their role as a supporting actor and into the lead.
But these women didn’t go it alone. They sought the help of organizations like the Entrepreneurial Women’s Network (EWN) of Fairfield County, a group that provides networking, positive energy, guidance, education and a sounding board for more than 150 local women entrepreneurs. As Betsy Krobot, one of our interviewees, put it, “We do not have a water cooler to stand around to share ideas. We do not have meetings to keep us informed of the state of the world, the economy and such. We do not have Sally or Ruth sitting in the cubical next to us to chat with about work.”
BETSY KROBOT: Home Choreographer
Clutter, disorganization, piles of magazines and a closet overflowing with old clothes. Most people can’t stand this stuff and will do anything to avoid dealing with it. Not Betsy Krobot, known in the business as Betsy K., a “home choreographer,” who lives in an immaculate Colonial with her husband, Dave, two cats and a puppy in Saint Mary’s by the Sea in Black Rock.
To Betsy, the growing stacks of the New York Times on your nightstand and the room in your house where you throw everything and shut the door to hide it are the roadblocks standing between you and a productive and harmonious life.
Her mission at Betsy K. Home Choreography is to de-clutter, organize, decorate and, essentially, whip your personal space into shape and bring a sense of calm to your days.
After working in corporate America for over twenty-five years, doing everything from running trade shows to working at an executive recruiting firm and even trying her hand as a certified massage therapist, Betsy took a hard look at her life — commuting to and from a Wall Street office from her home in Greenwich — and decided, “I could not do what they were asking me to do anymore.”
She recalls, “After 9/11 and the trauma that everyone down on Wall Street and that area went through, I could not imagine putting that back into my life. I had just gotten married and the idea of being gone from home thirteen hours a day just didn’t work for me anymore. So I knew I had to focus on working for myself. I had enough business experience and drive to start my own business.”
When assessing her skills, she realized that throughout her life, her friends, boyfriends, roommates and employers had asked her for help getting organized and designing their spaces, and that she had a natural knack, indeed, a passion, for it. She says, “I know it may sound odd, but if left alone in a totally disorganized room for five hours, and I am free to pull it together in my own way, I am perfectly content, challenged and engrossed in the project. I might as well be painting a masterpiece or composing a song. I get lost in the process, I love the challenge and, most of all, I love the joy on my clients’ faces when they see the results.”
Betsy’s timing could not have been better: She opened her business at a point in time when the public zeitgeist for a simpler life had spawned an entire industry, from custom-storage companies to organizational magazines like Real Simple to retail outlets that sell nothing but containers to help people stow their junk in an orderly fashion. Though serendipitous, Betsy says, “It is just a coincidence that this is a trend and a need right now. My timing was spiritually guided, and I know my whole life, I have been preparing for this moment and to use my skills.”
Armed with a pink power drill, a tape measure and a background that includes interior design classes and years of organizational and behavioral training, Betsy walks into a space knowing that her work goes deeper than revamping a disorderly space. In essence, Betsy is the Dr. Phil of home organization to many intelligent yet overwhelmed working women who are facing the challenges of raising children, caring for aging parents, having a career and maintaining their own health, and who are also interested in pursuing their own creativity and talents — and just don’t have time to tackle it all. “No one can do it alone these days,” she says. “Lots of single women don’t have anyone around to help them decide where to hang a picture, where to put the couch, should they keep the football from the old boyfriend as a memory, and I like to offer them a trustworthy and safe person to help them go through their finances and their underwear drawer. You have to trust a person if you are going to allow someone in that deep.”
Get Organized | tips for bringing order to your life
• Never store things in piles. Chances are, you will only find the one thing on top of the pile. The rest is all a mystery. If you can, always have things standing up and well labeled so they are easy to find.
• Label every box you put away. You will never have to search for things or tear boxes open if they are well labeled. Itemizing may take more time, but, in the long run, it will save you hours of searching and hundreds of dollars because you won’t have to keep buying the same thing over and over since you can’t find it.
• When you are storing old files, date the label and the box. This will tell you how old it is, so someday, when you go to clean things out, you can simply throw out the whole box rather than having to go through it again and figure out what it is and when it was from. If it’s from 1958, you probably don’t need it anymore.
• Don’t be scared to use a room for what will serve you now. Don’t squeeze your lives into a few rooms when you have rooms not being used at all: “It is a dining room, we can’t use it as an office.” Not true. If you entertain only twice a year but need an office every day, use it as an office and make minor adjustments the two times a year. Or swap the smaller room for the bigger room to allow for expansion. A master bedroom does not always have to be used as such. They’re so huge these days, you could play football in them. How about using the smaller room as your master and making the bigger room the office/guest room or a meditation room that you can create in?
• Shelving, shelving, shelving. Get things off the floor and onto shelves so you can see them. If there is not enough shelving, there is no place to store anything, so guess where it ends up? without time management, the world is running you. I call it the tail wagging the dog. Take your power back. Plan your days and stick to the plan. “No” is a complete sentence that many women seem to forget. We spend so much time reacting to others’ wants and needs. This helps those people get to their goals, but who’s helping you get to yours?
JANE POLLAK: Motivational Speaker & Business Coach
To look at Jane Pollak, with three successful grown children, one sees a totally together woman — a sharply dressed public speaker who easily commands a room full of female entrepreneurs who come to her seeking tips for creating a balanced life and business success. But finding that balance wasn’t always easy for Jane, who started a burgeoning arts business after college only to find her dreams put on hold while she focused on raising her young children.
Inspired by her own mother who ran a party-planning business from home, Jane recalls, “My mother’s business was all over the house, very creative and fun to watch. There were sample napkins, matches, invitations and photos everywhere. Her clients loved her, because she was enormously creative and original in her ideas.” On the flip side, Jane recalls, “She was very disorganized and un-businesslike.” Nonetheless, Jane liked that her mother pursued something outside of being a housewife and aspired to do the same, albeit with better organization.
It wasn’t until she was teaching art in a public high school that she recognized her longing to be the creator of her own destiny. “I didn’t like having to be in the same place every day at an assigned time. I didn’t like being on a fixed income or salary,” she says. “I wanted to be more in charge.”
Fresh out of college, Jane experienced her first taste of entrepreneurship working with another designer selling pen-and-ink drawings at the summer theater on campus. “We sold a lot of stuff, which was exciting,” she says. After her first year of teaching, she again exhibited her artwork and sold it at a public craft show and was thrilled with the response.
Along the way, an art project spurred Jane’s passion for Pysanky, the Ukrainian art of decorating eggs. Soon, Jane was creating miniature works of art that became the cornerstone of her first real business, which she called An Egg by Jane. That venture led her from remote crafts fairs and customer rejections to an invitation to the White House and appearances on NBC’s Today Show.
Although her gorgeous patchwork quilt eggs appeared in Greenwich, Country Living, the New York Times and other prominent publications and were in great demand by retailers, she was soon involved with babies and the responsibilities of motherhood. While tending to the family, she kept a hand in the business and did occasional shows, workshops and teaching in local continuing education classes. Then, once her youngest was off to school, she focused on growing the business, getting inspiration from motivational and business advice from the likes of Roger Dawson, Wayne Dyer and Brian Tracy.
She recalls, “I began to accept invitations to talk about entrepreneurship, marketing, goals and such. That’s when I began to help other women. I haven’t looked back since.”
After putting her former egg business behind her (“I do not make the eggs anymore. I don’t miss it. I did it so thoroughly that it’s done”), she created a new business as a motivational speaker, coach and mentor, where, as her tagline says, she “leads remarkable women to uncommon success.” In business, Jane Pollak has morphed many times and has joined a variety of business organizations for support and guidance as her goals changed.
“In each case,” she explains, “I followed the same path — hanging around with people who were doing what I wanted to do, attending trade shows, conferences, networking groups. I took classes, joined Toastmasters, the International Coach Federation, National Speakers Association, and so forth.”
Last year, she got really serious about coaching and is close to becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC).
In her speaking engagements, Jane sees women like herself, filled with ambition, talent and enthusiasm, as well as fear. “I want to reassure them that they’re doing just great, to trust their instincts, take the risks and go for it,” she says. “It sounds simplistic, but there aren’t a lot of people cheering us on out there — mostly naysayers, I’ve found.
“When I see someone who has direction, I want to give them all the encouragement I can. There are plenty of obstacles out there and not enough optimists who know it can be done. Really! I made a very successful business out of decorating eggs. Anything’s possible.”
Get Started | tips for entrepreneurs
• Don’t quit the day job. Until you have a year’s worth of income in a reserve account, keep the paychecks coming while you get your own enterprise under way. Knowing that you’ve got a bank account to keep you afloat during that difficult (and exhilarating) first year is critical to your sanity and lifestyle.
• Do something you love. I never enjoyed bookkeeping or organizing until my numbers and my files were the focus. Then I was riveted to every document and decimal point because it involved what I was passionate about
• Plan. Set goals, write them down and create a timeline to accomplish them. Otherwise, you’ll be only reactive and your business will run you.
• Surround yourself with mentors and like-minded people. A network of business owners and others who believe in you can point the way. And a team that can witness and encourage you, is vital to your sanity and nourishment.
• Marketing. In the movie/play Glengarry Glen Ross, the salesmen had a mantra: “A-B-C: Always Be Closing.” I say, “Always Be Marketing.” It is everything leading up to the sale, so how you answer your phone, shake hands, represent yourself in print, respond to customers, and so forth, is critical to your success. You are your company, so represent it to the best of your ability wherever you go.
GILLIAN ANDERSON: Retirement Income Specialist
Gillian Anderson helps clients, typically baby boomers like herself, ensure they do not outlive their life savings. A retirement income specialist with her own wealth-management firm in Westport, Anderson Wealth Management, she worked for many years at large banking and corporate finance institutions, including the Bank of England, GE Capital and Citibank, before deciding in 2001 to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
It wasn’t easy growing up female in northeastern England, on the outskirts of the industrial heartland, at a time when coal mining, shipbuilding and iron and steel plants were huge. Men were the dominant force in all aspects of life, “no matter their intelligence,”she quips, and there were few working women in Gillian’s world.
The sexism was, as Gillian puts it, “like a rocket fueling me to study and escape to a better way of life, where women would be respected and have a place in society, not just in the kitchen.”
Although fortunate to have a family that valued education, including a father who was a university professor, she recalls, “My family role models were not independent women, and their experience motivated me to take a different road, to be more in control over my life.”
From age eight to eighteen, Gillian attended a private girls’ school in Newcastle, England. She went on to graduate from the University College of London with honors and to a postgraduate diploma in business from the London University School of Business.
For Gillian, being educated by highly intelligent, dedicated women was empowering: “A top-class education gave me the confidence to reach beyond my known environment of northern England to study and work in London and then New York.”
After she graduated in the mid 1970s, she worked in London’s banking and corporate finance world — a veritable hotbed of entrenched male chauvinism. Not to be deterred, she says, “I wasn’t going to let that stop me because I loved the city’s energy and financial innovation. There were great benefits to being amongst the first women in banking on a management track, and there were some leaders who believed in women’s roles as professionals. But it took a good deal of self-confidence and determination to get past the patronizing attitudes lurking around every office door. It was often easy to surpass their low expectations and win by doing a great job.”
Attitudes toward women in business have changed dramatically, says Gillian: “Now, women are raised to multitask, and there are now living examples and role models everywhere for girls and women to emulate. There is a spectrum of lifestyles that women can choose from, and the choices vary from pure homemaking at one end and pure career at the other. The choice to mix these, and to what extent, is one women now make knowingly.”
When she decided to step away from her corporate working life in 2001, Gillian sought to achieve a better balance, to live and work in her community, to have more time with her family, and to incorporate more philanthropy into her everyday life. Before going out on her own, she reflected long and hard on what she enjoyed most. “What came out,” she says, “was that I enjoyed being an expert at knowing my clients’ needs and wants and that I gained greatest satisfaction in matching them with the relevant products and services that I had to offer. I was best at what I liked to do best.”
Riding the demographic wave of baby boomers heading toward retirement without solid plans, she took her twenty-plus years of financial expertise and her securities licenses and attacked her new goal with the same focus and professionalism she had applied to her corporate life. “I took my ‘retooling’ education seriously,” she says, “and received strong backing from the firm I chose to join, my new broker-dealer, then called GE Financial, now Genworth Financial Securities Corporation.”
The owner of her own thriving business for the past five years, Gillian comes into contact with women as clients, as attendees at her educational seminars and as colleagues at the Entrepreneurial Women’s Network (where she is president), and at other local groups in which she plays key roles. As a speaker, she promotes the idea that women need to control their own destinies. “I really believe in educating women to be independent in their attitude, to take charge of their circumstances and to believe they are capable of achieving their goals. This is true for women and girls of all ages,” she says. “I help them to understand their financial situation and to set realistic goals to achieve their financial targets. My husband and I have raised our daughters to be independent thinkers, to expect to be responsible for their own financial future and to feel confident of their capabilities.”
Get Prepared | tips for retirement income
• Set lifestyle goals for your retirement and then meet them financially. Motivate yourself to get started with the fun stuff and then set a financial road map to achieve your dreams.
• You’re in charge. Take control of every aspect of your retirement income planning: IRA, after-tax savings, 401(k). Even though you may have great faith in your company pension, there are too many examples of companies cutting or freezing benefits. Do not depend on Social Security.
• Get serious about managing your accounts. If you don’t know how your portfolio performed last year and last month, you should. What’s the risk management strategy in your portfolio? Take time to look at those statements, and if they don’t show the results you want, make a change.
• It’s not too late to take action. Many older adults are able to really save only when their children are educated or the mortgage is paid off. Make the most of the 10 to 15 years before retirement to save as much as possible.
• Avoid the risk of outliving your life savings. Current research by Ibbotson Associates shows the risk of retirees withdrawing more than 4% per year from their savings could result in the capital running down to zero. Make sure your portfolio is set up to provide you with enough guaranteed income to meet your fixed costs in retirement.
• Manage the risk. It’s important to take enough risk in your portfolio to bring you the rewards you need and to outpace inflation over the years. Avoid taking too much risk by owning too much in one stock or one type of investment, like large company stocks. Diversification into a well-balanced mix of asset classes will reduce risk.