Blogger Biography: Dana Lofties Reeder, CEO of Reeder Consulting: College & Career Guidance, is an education advocate helping individuals determine their natural abilities for college and career success through proven assessments. Dana created her company to help people “Proceed with Confidence” on the path of life.
The journey to finding your passion, when starting your own venture, is often times a struggle. For some individuals, entrepreneurship may be a lifelong dream. For me, I got frustrated and that’s where my story begins.
Throughout my entire professional life, I’ve believed “You must give to receive.” It’s my personal motto. Giving of my time and talents led me to get a master’s in guidance and counseling. I began working at a university at 21, instilling leadership and volunteer development skills in college students. It’s always been who I naturally was. Living the military life and moving to locations where I wasn’t able to continue my career due to country agreements, I began the slippery slope of losing my professional path. Like many other spouses, I never saw it coming.
One day I decided to write a letter to Dr. Jill Biden. I thought the experience I had was something someone should hear about. I have always admired Dr. Biden because she kept her own identity during her husband’s career. Never really thinking I would hear back, I actually did. Well, sort of. Rosemary Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy sent me a wonderful letter, which I still have today. But that’s not where it ended. A month later, my phone rang and it was Ms. Williams. A letter and a call — that’s impressive! Anyone who has had the wonderful opportunity to get to know her will understand her communication is always done with approachability and compassion, not to mention great humor. She signs her monthly newsletters with “Yours in the Fight” because she genuinely cares about military families. How can you not adore her? But in that conversation about the struggles of professional paths for career spouses, she asked me if I had ever thought about starting my own business because of the wealth of experience I had. That resonated with me, and for the first time, I took my husband’s advice and decided to begin my own company.
Taking Charge of Your Own Destiny:
1. Determine your passion: When I first started my company, because my background is so diverse, I struggled to be “focused.” Find one thing you are really great at and focus. In the middle of the night, I literally woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what my concept was going to be. It was 1) needed, 2) low competition, 3) and had a mission of changing lives. When you lay in bed waiting for the morning to come, you know you’ve picked the right path. Many times I don’t wait for the sun to come up — just ask my husband.
2. Use the available resources: Almost every university has a small business development center with the sole purpose to help you! Don’t be afraid to reach out and have them help you begin the process. They help you fill out paperwork, guide you to other resources and plug you into the massive amounts of networking opportunities. Getting an LLC costs about $300 and that is good for the lifetime of your company. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to begin a business with today’s technological world. Reach out and take advantage of getting free certifications, which provide you access to city, state and federal contracts, if that’s your market. In addition, connect with organizations that offer expert business mentors. There are also companies that put on numerous free webinars targeted at small businesses. Quality feedback, experienced guidance and hard-to-hear advice from mentors is critical! Pick wisely.
3. Volunteer in your communities, not just on base: This is such an important piece of maintaining a balanced professional life. Most importantly, it helps grow your personal and company brand while giving back to our military cities. But do it only if you are truly interested in the mission. While volunteering to help a business do some marketing, I met a man who was part of the local Chamber of Commerce. Before I knew it, I expressed my interest to be involved and within two months became the Chairman for the Chamber of Commerce. Because of volunteering, I was given an incredible opportunity for an even larger volunteer opportunity.
4. Network, network, network: There is nothing more debilitating than walking into a professional networking event without knowing a soul — but it matters. You want people to put your face with your company. I try to attend as many of these events as I can, however, I’m also an extrovert. My favorite event is “Speed Networking.” It’s an opportunity to sit down and pitch your business in a speed dating kind of format. You learn about them and they about you, and then you exchange business cards. In addition, I talk to professionals, individuals and groups about using social media for professional networking. Many people who aren’t proponents of social media often confuse the different platforms. Bottom line: they are not all equal. Use the ones that are 100 percent professional or you are wasting free marketing by not engaging, not to mention you are missing out on connecting with great individuals.
5. Keep learning: The journey of owning your business means you must stay up to speed on industry standards, changing trends, technology, and social marketing. I always say, “Learning never ends!” Make time to create your own professional development institute whether it’s online courses, formal classroom options through continuing education departments at universities or within school districts, one-on-one methods with industry experts, or reading books. Don’t get so busy you forget to feed your own professional soul and curiosity. I think of my business model as a footstool. One-third of my time is on the business, one-third is on networking and volunteering, and one-third is spent on education.
My company motto is “Proceed with Confidence” because I absolutely believe when you are pursuing your natural gift in life; you do just that — have confidence. It exudes from your pores. You walk taller, you speak more compassionately and you view the world clearer. And those qualities are the best gifts you can give yourself and your customers.
Disclaimer: Publication on the Blog Brigade does not constitute official endorsement of personal blogs or websites on behalf of the Department of Defense.
*If you are interested in starting your own business as a military spouse, reserve your seat for the 2016 entrepreneurship webinar series.