How do you define success? Dictionary.com states that success is “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.” But there are as many definitions for success as there are people in the world. The Mercer Chapter of NJAWBO (New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners) will kick off its new season by hearing three of those definitions.
“Stories of Success” is the title of the program, which will feature three successful women business owners. The meeting will be Thursday, September 16, at 6 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel at Ridge Road and Route One in Princeton. Cost of the meeting is $39 for NJAWBO members and $45 for non-members. Register online at www.NJAWBOMercer.org.
The three guest speakers will be Kathie Moralda, Rebecca Lynn, and Lela Klejman. Moralda is the owner of the Cranbury Station art gallery in Princeton. An artist and entrepreneur, she opened her first gallery, the Cranbury Station Gallery and Picture Frame Shop, in a renovated blacksmith shop behind her home in Monroe Township in the mid-1980s. In 1992 she opened her second gallery on Palmer Square.
While working as a visiting nurse in Mercer and other Counties in New Jersey, Lynn, founder of Ewing Independent Living, Lynn Developers, and Rely Properties, saw the need for affordable assisted living in her home town. It took almost a decade, but her vision finally became reality when Ewing Independent Living, a sustainable, “green,” accessible, affordable, supportive apartment complex for residents over age 55 and developmentally disabled adults, opened last year.
Serve a need. “Success to me is finding something that I like to do that serves an obvious need for my customers,” says Klejman, who as the owner of Beacon Industrial Services has found her success in industrial cleaning, a field where most other business owners and her clients are men.
Located in Trenton, Beacon specializes in cleaning for manufacturing and process plants that need to maintain optimal efficiency, production and operation. The company provides complete cleaning and preventive maintenance services for all types of manufacturing process equipment, mechanical systems, and plant facilities. “If you’re talking dirty, talk to me,” she jokes.
“We are unimportant until our customers need us. Then we are their best friends. Without us they will lose time, money, and customers,” adds Klejman, who has been in the cleaning business for over 20 years. “I really got into this business by accident,” she says. Klejman came to this country from Poland when she was in the fourth grade. A “proud graduate” of Irvington High School, she attended Rutgers University in the 1970s. She was working as a representative for a janitorial service when she decided that she was tired of working for other people and wanted to open her own business. She went to her current clients and told them that she would handle any of their cleaning needs that her former employer wasn’t able to do. “I asked them to give me the opportunity and they did,” she says.
One of her first jobs was cleaning a cooling tower. The customer’s own employees were not cleaning it to his satisfaction, so he decided to try Beacon. “Each time we got a new job I had to educate myself on how to handle the cleaning. My customers became my mentors. They taught me,” she says.
She learned first that the most important thing to her customers was to show up when she said she would and complete the project on time and on budget. On time and on budget is still her motto.
Ignorance is bliss. “If I’d known what I was getting myself into, I wouldn’t have gone into business for myself,” Klejman says. “I knew nothing. I didn’t know how much trouble it would be, how much time it would take, or how much money I would need. I knew nothing, but ignorance is bliss.”
She doesn’t recommend that approach for other prospective business owners. Instead, she advises that new business owners find out as much as possible before going into business. “I didn’t even have a van. What was I thinking? Two weeks after going into business I found myself at the auto dealer’s leasing a van to take my people to the job site.”
Have a back-up income. Another item on Klejman’s list of things she did wrong was to be the sole breadwinner. “Don’t start a business if you don’t have someone else with another income,” she says. She also has several other tips for start-up entrepreneurs.
Work for someone else first. Learn as much as possible about the business you plan to enter. “Find out if you are a good fit for the business before you put your money into it,” she says.
Be flexible. People change things. They call up and tell they need you, then they call 24 hours before you are to arrive and cancel. That’s the nature of business. You have to be extremely flexible.”
Get a commitment. Make sure your customers are committed — preferably with a purchase order and some money up front, Klejman advises. The bigger the job, the bigger the risk, and if the customer needs to cancel or postpone, he doesn’t care if you have turned down other business to handle his. “If the customer has a financial stake he is less likely to cancel,” she notes. That can save a lot of grief, particularly if you must put out money for supplies before the job begins.
“I’ve been caught with $1,800 in supplies that can’t be used for any other purpose and then they just sit there for 18 months until the client is ready to get back to the job,” she says. “You want to help your customers by being prepared and ready when they need you, but you also want to make sure you help yourself, too.”
Her final piece of advice is to “never take it personally.” Clients may cancel a job, or even go with your competition. “For every 10 proposals you make you are lucky if you get three,” Klejman says. “Just don’t take it personally. Go out and make a new proposal.”