If you’re new to direct sales, find a sales coach. I did not think that I needed a sales coach, and lucky for me, my friend told me I did and her husband became my amazing coach. Get used to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. Tell your close friends what you’re planning and listen carefully to their feedback. I would not have started the lengthy process of identifying the right CRM tool had it not been for my coach advising I get one asap.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Beth Simon, the founder of Niche Partnership Consulting, LLC. After more than three decades in corporate financial services, Mary Beth Simon now uses her strategic talents to help local entrepreneurs and individuals navigate unexpected events, build contingency plans that empower their loved ones in an emergency, and create a vision for the future state of their business. Mary Beth is continually inspired by her clients’ transformations. She believes that the combination of continuous learning, growth, and change is the fountain of youth and recently became a certified Les Mills BodyFlow instructor at her local Y.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Wow! That is a tough question for me to answer. It’s much easier for me to talk about business. I grew up in West Philly, and my childhood was very challenging. My mother struggled with bipolar disorder and was a single parent for most of her life. My father was unpredictable and unreliable. And, one of my older brothers died from hydrocephalus three months after I was born. I think from the moment I arrived that I was on a mission to manage details and calm the chaos. I took on a lot of responsibility for running our home at an early age. By seven years old, I was balancing my mother’s checkbook and working on weekends, cleaning neighbors’ homes because we needed the money. At twelve, I was deemed old enough to babysit outside of our family. That’s when I created a babysitting business that grew exponentially from grade school throughout my college years. My entrepreneurial roots began in my childhood.
What was the catalyst for transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Throughout my corporate career, I was known as one of the best project and program managers in the company because I loved creating clarity out of messy and ambiguous situations. I believed then, and still, believe that most problems can be solved. After I was eligible to retire, but while still working, I explored options to design my next career to be one that would leverage my corporate expertise and talent to serve my local community. Then In 2017, one of my best friends from work who had retired two years prior was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Through the process of spending time with my friend before she died, and then helping her husband navigate the corporate complexities required for him to assume her retiree accounts and benefits, my new career started to crystallize. At the same time, I was helping my friend’s husband; two local entrepreneurs needed short-term project management consulting. That’s when I realized that these clients had no other professional consulting options available to them. And that’s how my new career was born.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I completely understand why so many good ideas never reach the marketplace. As I reflect now, there are three key practices that sustained my momentum.
The first practice was staying open to inspiration amidst struggle. In the early days, I thought that I couldn’t possibly create my post-retirement career while grieving the loss of my friend and helping her husband through the beneficiary maze. Then a local entrepreneur needed my services. And then another. That’s when I realized that I would never feel like it was perfect timing to create my business, but it was clear that my community needed my services now.
The second key practice was honing and deepening my niche network. People in my network were asking me to start this business because they either needed my services now or would need my services in the future. My network helped me sharpen my niche by introducing me to people interested in my services, thus helping me to expand my network. This group became a critical sounding board for marketing ideas and website content. My expanded network included entrepreneur innovators in my local and virtual communities. When we create a unique new business, we need the expertise, referrals, and support of fellow innovators who can help us dissolve roadblocks that inevitably arise.
And the third key practice was setting an equally demanding fitness goal. This practice served several purposes. It was a retirement gift to myself in that I had always dreamed of becoming a yoga instructor. It provided me with the mind/body balance that helped me manage the new business roller-coaster. Training and teaching reminded me daily that the path to success is often bumpy, winding, frightening, and exhilarating. Becoming a Les Mills BodyFlow instructor helped me to focus on myself, grieve the loss of my friend, connect with her spirit along my journey, and meet members of my community in a new way.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Follow your instincts and intuition. I would never advise someone to try making a living at something they are reluctant to do because entrepreneurs encounter so many obstacles. We need to continually demonstrate determination and a willingness to solve problems to forge that path forward. Obstacles can be overcome. If there’s something you love doing and are reluctant to do it for a living then consider if there’s a niche aspect or specialized twist on that idea that could be more appealing. I would perceive reluctance as an indication to keep iterating the possibilities.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
My work naturally stays fresh because every client I work with is unique and presents different problem-solving opportunities. I serve three specific client needs (personal contingency plans, business project management, and beneficiary process navigation) and the diversity of my clients and work keeps it engaging. The best part of my business is seeing how our collaboration transforms my client’s personal and professional lives. The transformations stoke the joy in my work.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Working with my clients is the most enjoyable part of my business. Our work often takes place during their very challenging life events, and we develop close bonds as a result of our collaboration. It is an honor and privilege to work side by side with people as they transform their lives and businesses.
The downsides of running my own business are that I am not good at everything, and I don’t enjoy doing everything. I overcame (and continue to overcome) these downsides by hiring experts. This is another example where my ever-expanding network has been tremendously valuable. It provides so many local and virtual expert referrals. I would not have the success I have today if not for my network.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The most striking difference between my vision and the reality was that I did not foresee buying so many separate applications to do things like manage my client base, create proposals and invoices, automate bills, and perform record-keeping. There is an opportunity in the small business space for an IT developer entrepreneur to solve this problem!
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself, “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
No. Maybe it’s because I worked in Corporate America for so long. I have no “grass is greener” illusions.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most interesting stories to me is an evolving story of how one helpful entrepreneur led me to another helpful entrepreneur, and so on, and so on. One of my business project clients introduced me to a marketing consultant who has been critical to my success. She introduced me to an entrepreneur network & podcast that introduced me to a speaking coach. And the story grows every day! There is an amazingly supportive network of local and virtual entrepreneurs out there who help new and existing business owners, and I am so grateful for all I have learned from them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My former colleagues may find it funny that I really struggled to find a CRM (Client Relationship Management) application that worked for my business (I still can’t laugh about it). I was on a small leadership team at Vanguard a few years ago who led the enterprise CRM evaluation and selection process. I expected choosing a CRM to be a slam dunk. It was not. I spent more time and money than expected when evaluating various products. I would load data and eventually be disappointed by performance or ability to integrate. I ended up choosing a free CRM that didn’t show up on any recommendation lists I had seen, but it works beautifully for me.
The lesson that I learned is that everything tends to take longer and cost more than we expect. It’s important to build time and money into our approach to accommodate the unplanned rabbit holes.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I am inspired by the leadership of everyday people. The way the unsung heroes lead in their life and contribute to the betterment of the human experience inspires me to continue bringing my talents to the community. I’m inspired by the mechanic who raised his daughter with joy as a single father after burying his wife years prior. I’m inspired by the young wife and mother fighting cancer today while leading a large corporate technology team. I’m inspired by the men and women who wake up at 5 a.m. to practice BodyFlow and meditation with me before going to work. I am surrounded by inspirational leaders every day!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I see the world become a better place when I see my client’s success and transformation. There were two amazing experiences I want to share with you from working with my friend’s husband. My friend collected T-shirts from her travels and kept them in pristine condition. She had T-shirts from her honeymoon nearly thirty years prior! I found a woman who made quilts out of T-shirts. My friend’s husband was able to choose the shirts for the quilt and ship them to Florida (it was tough for him to let go of such precious cargo, even temporarily). The completed quilt was beautiful when it arrived at the end of September. Then in October, he felt good enough to open his heart to a beautiful pit-bull at our local animal rescue and was approved to adopt him. It has been amazing to watch them heal each other’s broken hearts.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There is a tremendously supportive network for new entrepreneurs out there. Find your people. Explore your existing network and follow the bread crumbs to expand it.
- Pay monthly plan rates even if it costs more than annual rates. There are so many services, apps, and communities you will try, especially at the beginning. You will cancel more services than you will stick with long term.
- Buy your desired domain names as soon as possible. I filed my business with the state first. Although I had submitted to purchase my favorite domain, it was secured by another entity. Then the entity offered to sell it to me for hundreds of dollars. Buy more domains than you could possibly need for $13.99. You can let them expire later.
- If you’re new to direct sales, find a sales coach. I did not think that I needed a sales coach, and lucky for me, my friend told me I did and her husband became my amazing coach. Get used to the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. Tell your close friends what you’re planning and listen carefully to their feedback. I would not have started the lengthy process of identifying the right CRM tool had it not been for my coach advising I get one asap.
- Get ready for feedback like never before. I love feedback, and one of the hardest adjustments for me in solo-entrepreneurship was not having easy access to feedback from colleagues like I had at Vanguard. But there were days when the feedback was overload. That was partly due to getting fitness instructor training feedback simultaneously. Just know that people won’t understand you at times. You’re messaging will take time to develop. Be patient with yourself and others.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love? You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want to inspire adults to become Prepared Optimistic Mortals. Let’s face it; we are all mortal. We don’t like talking about death, and we don’t like preparing for it. Estimates are that only 40% of American adults have wills. And wills, Power of Attorney (POA), and living wills are the most basic elements of preparedness. I am amazed by how many adults avoid handling adult business. We all need a password book, so our loved ones can be empowered to keep life humming along in an emergency. Let’s make handling the business aspects of our temporary absence, illness, or death as easy as possible for our loved ones.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.
“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I’m a great optimist. But, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst-case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about because I have a plan in place if they do.”
This quote pretty much sums up my approach to life and my business! I’m all about minimizing worry because we created a plan. Let’s get on with living!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
If I could meet with anyone in the world, I would love to meet with Oprah. We have challenging childhoods in common, and as I was climbing the corporate ladder, I saw Oprah as a strong and smart role model who transcended her early life with grace. She still helps so many women in the world, not just envision a bright future for themselves, but achieve it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com