Nov. 19 is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and the Lehigh Valley certainly has no shortage of women entrepreneurs.
To recognize the day, LVB spoke with three local women about why they decided to start and run their now successful businesses.
The three women shared a common theme – disappointment in working for others, with two starting their businesses after losing jobs and one missing out on a promotion at work. But, all three say that what may have started with harsh blows turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them, and they’re grateful for the careers they were able to give themselves.
Kari Alvaro was laid off from what had been her dream job on her 30th birthday in 2010. She was devastated and called it one of the worst days of her life. For nearly a year she tried to find a new dream job while working part-time as a baker out of her home. At the urging of friends and customers she decided to give up the job search and start her own full-time bakery in Easton, Sweet Girlz.
She said she felt she was at a low point and had nothing to lose.
“I figured what was the worst that could happen? It doesn’t work? So, I opened a few days before Christmas in 2011 almost a year to the day from my last day on my old job,” she said.
Tracey Werner faced a similar situation. She was let go from a senior marketing and public relations job in 2009. When she started her job search, she found mostly entry-level positions and nothing that would recognize her years of experience.
It was a scary time, she said.
“I had never been out of work before, but there just were not a lot of jobs available for my skill set,” she said.
She realized that the first 10 years of her career were spent working for small marketing and public relations firms. She knew how to run a small agency, so she started her own, Blabbermouth Communications, which she now runs from her Bethlehem home.
Donna Hosfeld was working for Erie Insurance in Allentown and hoping for a big promotion. When she didn’t get it, she was extremely disappointed, thinking she had definitely been the best person for the job. But her disappointment changed when she was called into her supervisors’ office, who explained why she didn’t get the promotion.
It turns out that management thought she was too much of a “people person” for a job that was mostly number crunching and they had other ideas for her. They suggested she be a candidate to open her own insurance office.
It was an honor to be considered, but also a challenge.
“I had oodles and oodles to learn about insurance,” she said.
But she went through the program and got her own office in 1998, which now sells Erie and other insurance products out of her office in Alburtis, Hosfeld Insurance, which is better known by the moniker, the Insurance Chix.
‘Never say never’
All three women said opening their own businesses meant learning and adapting to see what worked and what didn’t.
Alvaro originally planned to concentrate on cookies and cake pops. “I said I didn’t want to do cupcakes and I didn’t want to do wedding cakes.” Because of demand, however, cupcakes and wedding cakes quickly became the bulk of her business.
“I’ve adopted the mantra of never say never,” she said.
Likewise, Hosfeld changed her business focus to meet her clients’ needs. She had started out with the intention of being an Erie Insurance office, but added different insurance carriers when she felt they offered products that might better serve certain individuals. She said the bulk of her business is still with Erie, but it’s good to have options.
She also learned that for some people insurance can be intimidating and boring. She decided to take those people skills and create an environment based on the moto “We make insurance fun.” She adopted baby chicks as a mascot for her all-female staff, bought a tie-dye colored car and created tie-dye theme for her office with giveaways and promotions.
“If we can make them laugh and make them feel comfortable buying insurance it’s a win,” she said.
For Werner, it was about learning to say “no.” When she started Blabbermouth, she was relying on her networking skills to build the business. She took on every opportunity she could, even if jobs were too small to make money on and frequently accepted requests to speak on the topic of social media, marketing and public relations.
But as her business grew and she built a solid base of regular clients she said she found that was all taking away from her better paying work.
She whittled down her workload to her most reliable clients, such as the City of Easton and the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail and concentrated on her core skills, social media management and marketing.
She still puts out her fair share of press releases and does marketing for certain events, such as Easton’s Garlic Fest, but she now runs her office more efficiently so she can provide the best service to her clients.
Being the go-to person
Of course, being your own boss means you are the go-to person all the time. When work needs to get done, you’re the one to do it.
Alvaro knows that. She’s adjusted her schedule a number of times to try and keep work from becoming overwhelming. She even tried to shut down during the early days of the pandemic, but that only lasted three days.
When she realized that as a food establishment, she could remain open, she recalled her staff, but cut her days of operation from six days a week to four, assuming business would be slow during the shutdown. She was wrong. Demand was stronger than ever so she compromised and is now open five days a week — Wednesday through Sunday.
Even now, she and her staff of 10 full- and part-time workers keep busy the whole week.
Werner was never a 9-to-5 person, but being her own boss meant putting in the extra hours.
She routinely finds herself still on her laptop at 9 p.m. after working a full day and has to remind herself to stop and rest. Ten-hour days are a regular occurrence for her.
There are advantages, too; by setting her own schedule she can do things in the middle of the day if she wants.
Hosfeld is busier than ever. She’s usually in the office six days a week. She lost staff to the pandemic when her office had to close. She’s now down to herself and one employee, but is looking to hire.
She said she’d rather work harder than hire the wrong person, because being one of the fun-loving Insurance Chix takes the right kind of person. “I keep reminding myself that it won’t be forever,” she said.
All of the hard work over the years has been worth it. All three women say they are happy with their business’ success and proud of how much they accomplished on their own.
“I can now say, looking back, that I was devastated when I lost my job, but now I thank God every day that it all happened. I wouldn’t be the person I am now if it wasn’t for running this business,” said Sweet Girlz’s Alvaro.
Blabbermouth’s Werner is proud of what she has accomplished with her agency over the last 12 years. She has grown and likes having a business where she can do the work she likes and that she’s best at. “I like that I get to pick and choose the clients I work with. It’s got to be a good fit. The buck stops with me,” she said.
Insurance Chix’s Hosfeld is also happy as an entrepreneur and running her own office.
“I like the creativity and the variety of tasks,” she said. “It’s as fun for me now as it was in 1998. It’s something different every day and it never gets boring.”
Alvaro summed up what being an entrepreneur means.
“Being your own boss and being in business there are certainly ups and downs, but I’m in control of my own destiny,” she said.