There’s a lot of buzz nowadays about the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking. Apparently, a person has only to set his or her sights on a goal, visualize it and — presto! — it materializes.
Whether or not you’re a fan of this way of thinking, it’s hard to argue with the power of self-determination evidenced by three enterprising Fairfield County women who set out to test their luck as entrepreneurs and succeeded.
Their career choices are poles apart: One is a design/marketing guru who helped start a thriving agency; the second walked away from years in corporate life to find success as a home-organizing specialist; the third is an artist turned author and motivational speaker. Yet, despite these differences, there is a similarity. Each of these entrepreneurial dynamos has branched out on her own, creating a unique company that satisfies multiple personal needs, provides increased financial freedom and gives her more time for family and outside pursuits.
These women didn’t go it alone. Each sought the help of organizations like the Entrepreneurial Women’s Network (EWN) of Fairfield County, a group that provides networking, guidance, education and a sounding board for its more than 150 members.
Felicia Rubinstein, Designing Woman
In between ferrying sons Dylan and Cameron to and from sports practice in her trusty Volvo, Darien mom and entrepreneur Felicia Rubinstein returns calls to clients on her Treo, sets up meetings and touches base with some of the women who freelance for her design firm, 341 Studios.
Felicia is one of the founding partners in this thriving Darien-based agency specializing in “Performing Visual Arts and Marketing Magic.” At the core of the company are three experienced designers with a broad range of expertise in marketing, graphic design and Web design. Their portfolio includes work for an array of retailers, nonprofits and service companies in and around Fairfield County.
Felicia, who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and is a master’s degree candidate in biomedical engineering, worked for Apple Computer as a business and market development specialist before having her first child. Then she turned to graphic design.
“I no longer wanted to commute into New York, so I tried to figure out something I could do part time,” she recalls. “I loved working at Apple and didn’t want to give up my Macintosh [computer], so I started freelancing at temp agencies, creating slide presentations and brochures.” Soon she was taking design classes and scouring magazines and books about graphic design. She also sought guidance from various professional organizations, including Designing Women, BizMac, SCORE and the Entrepreneurial Women’s Network.
While she was working at a temp job, she met Gretchen Bruno, a graphic designer with a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a boatload of experience at national magazines and design firms. In 1999 the two founded 341 Studios. Recently they added a new partner, Mary Callahan, a Web specialist whose advanced website design capabilities, like FLASH animation, allow the firm to create high-end, high-design sites.
“Each of us has her own unique strength,” Felicia says. “I enjoy the initial meetings with the clients, running the office and checking off the tasks. Gretchen loves the creative projects and is excellent with production and print management. Mary is happiest when she is designing websites, creating programs and solving technical problems.”
The growing business also has provided a unique, female-friendly choice to a host of creative women thirsting for a flexible, non-corporate gig. “We have a fabulous group of subcontractors and support people — Web designers, brand strategists, PR specialists, copywriters, printers and bookkeepers,” says Felicia. “Everyone in our group is really nice, genuinely wants to please the clients and will work hard to accomplish the tasks.”
Instead of meeting at “the office” — there is no official workplace — Felicia and Gretchen may meet in the mornings to discuss business while walking their dogs. Some days they confer over green tea at Starbucks; other days they invite clients to a local sandwich shop to review everything from logo designs to corporate branding and direct-mail campaigns. Being plugged into twenty-first-century technology allows all the players to communicate wirelessly via the Internet and cell phones.
“This type of career works for me as a mother because if a child is sick, I can always be there,” says Felicia. “I can drive them places, run to a school meeting, and if they have a day off, I can do something with them.” When things get hectic, her husband, Martin Magida, a former entrepreneur who is now an investment banker in New York, is supportive and picks up the slack.
For many women, 341 Studios is the way the workforce should be. “We commiserate over the balancing of life and work,” says Felicia. “We have to be very flexible — mother in the hospital, snow day, et cetera, but we try very hard to meet our clients’ deadlines. We jump through some serious hoops, but, in the end, our work is rewarding and we love it.”
Felicia Rubinstein’s tips for working with a creative team
• The best way for a client to work with us is to offer suggestions on things they like or dislike prior to starting the design process, and then allow us to be creative.
• If the budget is limited, focus on creating quality work on fewer campaigns. Make those campaigns successful.
• Our name, 341 Studios, reflects our philosophy of threes: If you are going to do direct mail, send a minimum of three pieces.
• We like to partner with our clients. A client needs to understand that our success is their success. We are proud when someone’s business does well because of our collaborative work with the client.
• Give us a reasonable time frame. Rush jobs don’t allow for creativity and often lead to mistakes.
• Designing by committee is a bad idea. Appointing one lead decision- maker will make everyone’s job easier.
Betsy Krobot, Home Choreographer
Clutter, disorganization, piles of magazines and a closet overflowing with old clothes. Most people will do anything to avoid dealing with this stuff. 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 New York Times on your nightstand and the room in your house where you throw everything and then shut the door are the roadblocks standing between you and a productive, 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.
Betsy had been working in corporate America for more than twenty-five years, doing everything from running trade shows to working at an executive recruiting firm, when she decided it was time to take a hard look at her life. She had been commuting to a Wall Street office from her home in Greenwich and realized that it wasn’t something she wanted to continue doing.
“After 9/11 and the trauma that everyone on Wall Street went through, I could not imagine putting that back into my life,” she says. “I had just gotten married, and the idea of being gone from home thirteen hours a day didn’t work for me anymore. I knew I had to focus on working for myself — and I also knew that I had enough experience and drive to start my own business.”
When assessing her skills, Betsy realized that throughout her life, 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.
“I know it may sound odd,” she says, “but if left alone in a totally disorganized room for five hours and told to pull it together in my own way, I am perfectly content and engrossed in the project. I might as well be painting a masterpiece or composing a song. I get lost in the process, 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 when the public’s desire for a simpler life had spawned an entire industry, leading to the creation of custom-storage companies, magazines like Real Simple, and retail outlets that sell nothing but containers to help people stow their junk in an orderly fashion. “It is a coincidence that this is a trend right now,” says Betsy. “My timing was spiritually guided — I know my whole life I had been preparing for this moment.”
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, she is the Dr. Phil of home organization to many intelligent yet overwhelmed women who are facing the challenges of working at a career, raising children, caring for aging parents, maintaining their own health and trying to pursue outside interests. Some clients are married, while others are single. As Betsy points out, “Lots of single women don’t have anyone around to help them decide where to hang a picture, where to put the couch, or even if they should keep that football from the old boyfriend as a memory.”
But all have something in common. “No one can do it alone these days,” Betsy says. “I offer them a trustworthy and safe person to help go through their finances and their underwear drawer. You have to trust a person if you are going to allow them into your life that deeply.”
Betsy K.’s 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 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. 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 keep buying that thing you can’t find over and over again.
When storing old files, don’t just label the box, date it as well. Then, some day when you are cleaning things out, you can simply throw out the whole box rather than having to go through it again to figure out what it is. If it’s from 1958, you probably don’t need it anymore.
Don’t be afraid to give rooms new uses that fit your life right now. If you only entertain twice a year but need an office every day, change the dining room into an office and make minor adjustments the two times a year that you need it. Or swap the huge master bedroom for a smaller bedroom, making the bigger room the office/guest room or a 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?
The most important organizing tool is time management. Without it, the world is running you. 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 unbelievable amounts of time reacting to the wants and needs of others. This helps those people reach their goals, but who’s helping you reach yours?
Jane Pollak, Motivational Speaker and Business Coach
Looking at Jane Pollak, who has three successful grown children and a lovely home in Norwalk, one sees a totally together woman — a sharply dressed public speaker easily addressing a room full of female entrepreneurs who have come to her seeking tips on how to balance a personal life with business success. But finding that balance wasn’t always easy for Jane, who for years moved back and forth between working and raising children.
The idea of running her own business has always appealed to Jane. As a youngster she was inspired by the party-planning business her mother ran from home. “My mother’s business was all over the house — there were sample napkins, matches, invitations and photos everywhere,” recalls Jane. “Her clients loved her because she was enormously creative and original in her ideas, but she was also 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.
After college her first job was as an art teacher in a public high school. She soon realized that she wanted to be more in charge of her own career than teaching would allow. “I didn’t like having to be in the same place every day at an assigned time, and I didn’t like being on a fixed salary,” she says.
It was one of her classroom art projects, pysanky (the Ukrainian art of decorating eggs) that led to her first business. Excited by the beauty and intricacy of this ancient craft, Jane soon was creating her own gorgeous patchwork quilt eggs. She formed a business, An Egg By Jane, which flourished even as she also began to raise a family.
Over the years, as her children grew, Jane kept a hand in the business. Her eggs were featured in Country Living magazine, the New York Times and other prominent publications and were in great demand by retailers. She attended crafts shows, conducted workshops and even accepted invitations to visit the White House and to appear on NBC’s Today Show. Once her youngest child was off to school, she focused on growing the business, getting motivational and business advice from gurus like Roger Dawson, Wayne Dyer and Brian Tracy.
“I also started accepting invitations to talk about entrepreneurship, marketing and goal setting,” she says. “That’s when I began to help other women. I haven’t looked back since.”
She put the 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.”). In its place she has created a new company as a motivational speaker, coach and mentor. Her goal, as her tagline says, is to “lead remarkable women to uncommon success.”
In business she has morphed many times and joined a variety of business organizations for support and guidance as her goals changed. “In each case, I followed the same path — hanging around with people who were doing what I wanted to do, taking classes, attending trade shows and conferences, and joining networking groups,” she explains. Last year she got really serious about coaching and is close to becoming a certified professional co-active coach.
In her speaking engagements, Jane sees women like herself, filled with ambition, talent and enthusiasm — as well as fear. “I reassure them that they’re doing great and tell them to trust their instincts, take the risks and go for it. It sounds simplistic, but there usually aren’t a lot of people cheering us on — mostly I’ve found naysayers.
“When I see someone who has direction, I give them all the encouragement I can. There are plenty of obstacles out there and not enough optimists who know it can be done. Hey, I made a very successful business out of decorating eggs. Anything’s possible.”
Jane Pollak’s tips for starting out as an entrepreneur
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.
In the movie/play Glengarry Glen Ross, the salesmen had a mantra: “A-B-C: Always Be Closing.” I say, “Always Be Marketing.” Marketing is everything leading up to the sale, so how you answer your phone, shake hands, represent yourself in print or respond to customers is critical to your success. You are your company, so represent it to the best of your ability wherever you go.
Do something you love. I never enjoyed bookkeeping or organizing until it was my numbers and my files that 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. Having a guide to point the way and a team
to witness and encourage you is vital to your sanity and nourishment.