First - I've Made a Choice
I chose to move into a semi-retired lifestyle, living on the island of Kauai. A dream come true. I divide my time between helping other business owners focus and grow their business, writing, traveling, enjoying island life and playing competitive badminton.
I earned this. I don’t say this to show my ego, especially when you are reading this for the first time.
We all have been through the hard stuff in life, building a business, family and health challenges. We have won our place in our communities and as leaders in our field.
I believe no matter how much we love our business; we deserve the right to make a choice and claim our desired lifestyle. I question a woman who has reached some magical age and said she would never cut back or retire. Is her definition of fulfillment working 24/7?
Besides playing badminton, my passion is helping others succeed in business. I built my first real business from a seed of an idea into an award-winning company with $.5M in sales. I thought I was going to keep this business forever. However, new doors and opportunities opened, and I sold the company 15 years after its inception.
At this point in my life, I want to help other 50+ businesswomen find their way to honestly answer the question, “What do you want to do with your business at this point in your life?” and help them make it happen.
I spent 25 years working in the nonprofit sector and 20+ years building, running and selling a business. From these experiences and with the encouragement of my colleagues, I began working with many entrepreneurs to create and operate a successful small business.
I’ve developed a system that helps Service Professionals/Entrepreneurs build upon their expertise and experience to focus exclusively on their business and lifestyle goals. Its design is based on efficiency and sustainability. I call this method Unfaltering Focus.
After more than 30 years in business, I have settled on the fact that multitasking does not work. The way I look at business success is like riding a bicycle.
We need to maintain a singular focus – on our goals, our tasks – everything. Like pedaling the bike, you keep going forward, revolution after revolution.
My goal is to help women simplify the process of moving their company or passion, into a “rightsized” business, appropriately sized for their financial and life goals.
My Full Story
I can’t remember when I first knew this. However, my brother always tells the story that I wanted to own my own business - at 5 years old. First, it was a hardware store, later a lumber yard. At that early age, I was plagued with ideas.
My Dad owned and operated a monument business in a small, rural community in upstate New York. I loved going to work with him.
My First Job
Dad paid me to cut out obituaries from the newspaper. I got a penny for each one from the local paper and 10 cents from the 'city' paper. At the time my allowance was 25 cents, so this was big money.
The Conventional Career Path for a Young Woman of the 60's
My early love of business had to wait. I set out to be a teacher - physical education. I loved playing sports! In high school, I played the violin in the orchestra, sang in the 'elite' choir but, I played every sport our school offered; this totaled eight each year. That was my reason for going to school.
My desire to be a leader was born early on. As a kid, I organized neighborhood baseball games and in high school was elected as president of our GAA (Girls Athletic Association) and captain of many of our teams.
A Quiet Rebel
I was a quiet rebel as my Mom was a teacher and our family friend was the Principal of my high school. I felt I had to be on good behavior. But that did not stop me from fighting to get lights on the curving back road driving up to the school. Many of us walked that way, and it was dangerous going home after a late basketball game. I also led the charge when budget cuts threatened our athletics program. We never lost our programs.
In college, my leadership trend continued. I was President of our Sorority house and the WAA (Women's Athletic Association) in my junior year. Through my leadership in the House, we fired the cook and took over the kitchen. I proved to the Board that it would save the house money and fit our lifestyle better as we were never home for dinner. We were primarily involved in athletics, and team practices ran much later than the 5:30 dinner bell.
During my college years, the school changed the PE curriculum. I hated it because we had to take all the prerequisite courses during the first two years without anything related to our major. In my sophomore year, I rewrote our entire curriculum into a trimester program. Nothing changed but my advisor, knowing how unhappy I was asked me, "Marylee, do you know what you need to graduate?" With my answer of "Absolutely!" She said, "OK, you create your program, and I will sign off on it each semester. However, don't you dare miss graduating on time!" You can guess that I went on to fulfill that requirement and graduated with extra credits, a full education and an excellent experience.
Armed with a Degree and Nowhere to Go
Upon graduation, the need for public school teachers was an all-time low. I cobbled together various jobs and spent some very 'thrifty' years trying to get by.
Finally, I secured a full-time position as Head Aquatics Instructor at the YWCA of Westchester County, New York. In 1979 it paid an annual salary of $9,232. Daily I drove 45 miles one way and paid bridge tolls so needless to say; it was not very much money. I also coached high school sports and officiated volleyball to make ends meet.
After a year in this position, I was promoted to Aquatics Director. I recall my first day, sitting at my massive desk thinking, ok - now what do I do? It felt like I was playing a new game and did not know the rules or the first move to make.
I Want to Do It My Way!
Over the next 19 years, I moved between two YWCA's climbing the career ladder. I desired an executive position so I could try to do things 'my way.' I obtained the #2 role in a large YW and oversaw all program directors totaling a budget of $2.5 million.
I was able to try out many organizational strategies and training programs as well as completing my Master's Degree in Organization Development and Management Communications. This program became a vital part of my education and philosophy in working with large groups. Based on the Humanistic Education program out of Amherst University, my approach towards teaching and training focuses on assisting people to empower themselves to grow from their current strengths and experience.
I was deeply satisfied with my work as the Associate Executive Director in an organization that believes firmly in the empowerment of women. After ten years, I still wanted more.
Also during this time, I met my life partner, and we mapped out a plan to vacate the land of snow in New York State.
However, that was not to be yet. My next step was to a smaller association as the Executive Director. Working with a Board of Directors, while rewarding in itself, it is still not your own - as in a business. My last move in the non-profit world was to Arizona as the Executive Director of the People with AIDS Coalition of Tucson. Here I helped form a merged organization of three HIV/AIDS organizations before leaving to strike out on my own. This position also got us out of the cold and into the desert.
Not Quite There Yet
Although working in nonprofits for 25 years emulated running a business, you still have a board of directors often limiting the direction you want to take. Perhaps as a two-year-old would, I internally stamped my foot and said, "I want to do it my way!!"
But what would I do? I had been trying to find a niche for years having started many sideline businesses from greeting cards for the LGBT community to ceramics to candle making. I had not discovered that one perfect idea but you might notice me leaning towards a creative side.
A Niche is Found
A move from the four-season state of New York to sunny two-season Tucson brought a new love; gardening in pots - mostly floral combinations. Container gardening was a gratifying hobby and all of our friends remarked on how pretty our home was.
BINGO - The Idea
Would other people pay me to design and install beautiful potted gardens for their home? To create more than that a one-pot wonder, I pondered what could I add to my services to keep the clients (purposely not customers) active with me month after month? The logical answer was to maintain the pots on a bi-weekly basis.
I floated the idea around friends, family, landscapers, landscape designers and there was a resounding "Yes.” I could find no other similar business in the city, so competition did not exist in the usual sense of the word. I was soon going to discover that my competition was that I had found a niche that no one would know existed.
I set out to 'get people potted with Marylee!' One of my very creative friends came up with this as a business name. Feeling like it might attract law enforcement officers, I thanked him for a perfect tagline. We came up with the name, The Contained Gardener as the top choice of our brainstorming session and I quickly designed a logo, put an ad into a local monthly paper that serviced the more affluent neighborhoods in Tucson and figured out my pricing.
The very day the newspaper came out, I received a phone call from a couple who became my first paying clients which funded my advertising for the next six months.
Two Businesses or 1 + a Side Hustle?
Going into this business, I had a safety net of a nonprofit consulting contract which funded my budget.
Over the first few years, I worked very hard in both of niches. I gained residential clients, many of who were still with me when I sold the business 15 years later.
Don't let me get ahead of myself. I realized about three years in that I was making about $5.00 an hour in the gardening business. The first year I worked by myself. I purchased and designed for each client individually and did all of the labor and maintenance.
I schmoozed my way into my first commercial client who had 45 small window shelf pots and two large flower beds. When it came time to change out the seasonal flowers, I realized I could not do this alone in a reasonable amount of time. I was fortunate to find a part-time person to help. I added to my part-timers over the next few years, lucky again in the fact that what they made from me was not their primary income. During the slower seasons, they could work fewer hours and would still be able to cover their expenses.
Time to Choose
Five years into the business, I knew I had to decide to go full time with either the nonprofit or TCG as I started calling The Contained Gardener. It was an agonizing decision but I never looked back after choosing TCG.
With this 'all in' decision, I knew I needed to bring my brand, i.e., my logo and collateral up to the scale of whom I was serving. To increase awareness of this service and add to my gaining credibility, I needed to advertise in the glossy magazines available in Tucson.
The same year, I moved out of my home office and hired an office assistant and first full-time field staff member. These additional staff members allowed me to spend most of my time on sales and design.
A Door Opening Realization
I had an epiphany moment around this time, wondering if my business was one that someday I could sell. I did some research on how to prepare a business to sell. I had more than just a client base and goodwill. I had created systems for every aspect of the sale from estimating to installation and maintenance.
I continued to grow the business, keeping this knowledge in focus creating the systems required to run the business efficiently and profitably.
Growth was not always an easy goal. Economic downturns, staff challenges, and growing pains all took a toll on me and the business. But I was committed to see it through and do what was necessary to be 'successful.'
What Else Would I Do?
A colleague questioned my plan to continue growing my business until I might sell it a decade later. I had not allowed myself to think about anything differently. When I asked, “What else would I do?” She responded that I needed to help other business owners grow their companies as I had.
This business shift immediately resonated with me as years ago I had thought I would move into a consulting role in my retirement years. Why not ten years ahead of time?
3 Year Plan to Sell Completed in 1
In 2011 I decided it was time to position the business to sell. I put together a three-year plan and made my A-List of potential companies that I thought would align well with my niche. I also mapped out what I wanted for the sale. Not just financial goals, but transition contracts, ongoing consulting and positions for my staff.
In December of the same year, I heard a presentation made by the President of one of my A-List companies about the planned growth for his family-owned business. Hearing his plans, I said to myself, "He's the One!" I invited him for coffee in January 2012 and the rest is history. Sonoran Gardens bought The Contained Gardener in August 2012 and met all of my sales goals. They continue to grow this new arm of their company and my two key staff remain with them today.
The year of the sale, I donned my Coach’s hat so that I had an income through the sale process and while I was under contract as a consultant to the purchasing company. My coaching practice took off.
Also at this time, I published my first book based on the expertise I gained in my first business. Getting Potted in the Desert, A Month by Month Guide to Successful Container Gardens in Hot and Dry Climates. That book was eight years in the making and only after selling my company, I finally was able to complete it. At this writing, over 1750 copies have sold and the book is available on Amazon in print and Kindle formats as well as some Tucson, Arizona locations.
The Dream of a Five-Year-Old
Fast forward 60 years from that magical age of 5 to a successful sale of my business and a new venture in business coaching, I feel like I made it. I’m not one of these entrepreneurs looking for 7-figure stardom. I’m happy relating to a manageable group of clients and publishing blogs and books that help other women running small service businesses and turning them into something we can take into semiretirement.
What Disturbs Me the Most
Youthful Baby Boomers like me can be put off by words that say we are old. We often talk about how old we feel. Right now I claim 45.
We lived in an era of labels. As the U.S. culture had to figure out where to put the burgeoning population classified as Baby Boomers, we quickly rejected words used to describe us; old, senior citizens and even retired. Assisted living homes, senior living, and retirement communities are renamed - but still, nothing fits.
Women I networked with through the years rarely talk about what will happen as they reach “the age of retirement.” It’s okay not to want to talk about age, but I always expected someone would present information on the options we have in the future or exit strategy of our businesses.
Few discuss this. No exit strategies, no workshops on selling a business. No honest discussions about money.
Ever the Change Agent
Believe me; I have tried to change this. While still living in Tucson, I proposed workshops, speakers, discussion groups. It took the sale of my company for an organization’s leadership to start listening to me. I was asked to do presentations about business owners’ options for their company’s future and planning their “What’s Next.”
Figuring It Out Again
Our move to Kauai came about four years before we expected. A part-time job offer came to my partner who was a successful attorney in Arizona. Knowing my business was mobile and can travel with me, we closed her practice and rapidly moved a couple of months after she received the offer.
The experience from that momentous day at lunch with my colleague through our move to Kauai shaped my plans to work with other business owners in their own “What’s Next.”
Still with the Side Hustle
Meanwhile, I still have my hand in container gardens. Retaining the educational and publishing rights in the non-compete clause of the business sale document, I’ve continued building an email list in the Potted Desert. I needed these rights to publish my book.
Against my advice, I’m still running two businesses in semiretirement hours. I’ve always thought I would eventually give up the gardening business.
However, my book still sells, clubs and organizations still want me to speak and desert dwellers contact me to do a remote consultation and design for them. What business owner can turn their back on a need?
Remember at the beginning of this story; I said that I LOVE BUSINESS? In the same way, I can’t seem to let go of the Potted Desert.
This is a never-ending story. I start every day I can at the beach to greet the day with the sunrise. I write my journal and usually follow any inspiration that hits me to lead it gently into a blog post. I sort out my ideas, let them rest and come back to see what fits in my focus.
Stick with me here and you'll see my struggles with selecting my niche, staying true to myself with hours worked and remaining clear in my focus. In fact, I have an idea……
Believe in Yourself
For all humans but especially for women; life, family and work priorities clash fiercely. I believe business owners balancing our priorities is like walking a tightrope over a raging river. I believe this is what holds us back from success in our business.
Believe in yourself
Many women I’ve networked with and coached can’t get over the hurdle of working their business 24/7.
They cannot take a day off or even think about a long weekend or a vacation. Or at least not easily.
My intention is to guide you on a course to transition your business to one where you take that day off, have fun, think about the possibilities.
I did it. I believe you can too.
My Job is to Coach you along a journey to leverage your talents, passion and desire to do meaningful work so that you gain financial freedom to live a lifestyle of your own design.
Are you torn between retiring and your job?
You are in the right place if you ever say:
I don't have a life
All I do is work
I am tired of working for someone else
My work is not as fun as it used to be
I want less work, more money and more fun.
I'm thinking about retiring but I can't give up my income.
I bring my "in your shoes" business background, my tactical Business Coach approach and my ability to rapidly see the big picture on a step-by-step path to
- Choose your "what's next?
- Create a strong business foundation
- Make your financial goals
- Have a great time living your dream