Bizstarters Helps People Start Over by Starting Up

When Jeff Williams, founder of Chicago-based Bizstarters, first heard the drumbeat of Jim Glay’s idea, Williams immediately sensed the viability of Glay’s business. Glay, now CEO of  Crash Boom Bam, a vintage-drum business based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, was able to turn his passion for collecting drums into a successful small business with Williams’ help.

“For any successful business, you need a good idea,” says Williams, 75. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a unique idea, but you have to figure out a unique way to deliver it even if it’s just slightly different.”

While Glay could have sold some of his drums piecemeal, his decades of experience playing and buying drums are the foundation of a business in which he can provide insight and advice to other musicians.

Bizstarters provides legal, financial, and marketing support such as social media and web services, along with coaching to solidify a business plan.

If your New Year’s Resolution is to turn your hobby into a business, Williams has decades of experience to share.

Williams, who started his own business more than 30 years ago, has nurtured more than 300 small business owners, 90% of them first-time entrepreneurs. For the past 20 years, his clients have primarily been baby boomers.

Booming Business

“I started getting more calls from people in their mid-50s who wanted to start a business, many of them like Jim, who had been unexpectedly laid off or who had corporate experience and weren’t ready to retire,” says Williams. “Age discrimination is real in the corporate world.”

Baby boomers are Williams’ preferred demographic to work with. Approximately 40% of small businesses are owned by baby boomers, 75% of which are profitable businesses, according to Guidant Financial, a small business financing company. Bizstarters offers both in-person and virtual incubator programs with the goal of participants launching a business within 90 days. Fees vary according to the level of support required, ranging from approximately $3,000 to $6,000.

“We provide a transition from a successful career to becoming a successful entrepreneur,” Williams says.

Williams started in corporate marketing before starting his marketing consulting business.

“A government agency in Chicago asked me to do self-employment training for managers who were being downsized in the 1990s and that became the basis for Bizstarters,” Williams says. “My corporate background included experience in finance, human resources, and operations as well as marketing, all of which you need when you’re an entrepreneur.”

Approximately 70% of Williams’ clients have business skills to develop into a consulting, consumer services, or training business. The rest are people like Glay, who have a hobby that becomes a business. Some become serial entrepreneurs with multiple streams of income.

Coaching and Crafting a Business

When most people reach their 80s, they’re ready to rest on their laurels, especially if they’ve successfully run multiple businesses. Not Norene Thomas. The 84-year-old business and life coach will launch sales of her custom-made tote bags in July. Thomas, owner of New York City-based Renew Life with Norene, says she has “transitioned her life 100 times.” Her professional incarnations include being a registered nurse; owner of a group of day-care centers;  founder of medical training programs based on her nursing experience; and  author of two books on business and life coaching.

“I was born in a little town and not expected to succeed in life, but I earned my nursing degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and an income over $100,000,” says Thomas. “I started my online training course  and one-on-one coaching because I know a lot of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s want to do something to be useful and sustain themselves but they don’t know how.”

Her work as director of nursing at Riker’s Island Prison System in New York City connected her with many physically wounded and emotionally troubled people, which led her to get more education and share her expertise through coaching. Thomas credits Bizstarters for the support she needed to start her coaching course and publish two books.

“Jeff doesn’t spoon feed you; he feeds you,” Thomas says. “He’s an encouraging person and will help you start a business, but he also is a no-nonsense person who keeps you on track and gives you things to think about and take care of every week.”

Drumming for Success 

While Thomas seems to have been born with an entrepreneurial gene, Glay, 73, fell into business after losing his job during the Great Recession.

“I’ve always loved playing the drums and I had amassed thousands of dollars’ worth of drums in my two-bedroom condo that I’d been collecting for 40 years,” Glay says. “Jeff helped me set up the business and a website and everything snowballed from there, including being featured on Japan’s version of the Today show and on the cover of AARP magazine.”

Starting his business changed his life completely, first by helping him survive unemployment.

“The business catapulted me into getting jobs playing drums, and a local music store hired me as a drum teacher,” Glay says. “I’m still selling drums all over the world.”

Glay also works part-time in the music department at Barnes & Noble because he likes to keep up with new music.

“My drum students are ages 7 to 55 and they’re amazing,” Glay says. “I had never thought about teaching, and I was skeptical because I don’t have kids, but I love it.”

Glay says he never would have started his drum business if he hadn’t met Williams at a session he presented at a local library.

“You need someone with experience to help you set up a business and a website and figure out the marketing,” Glay says.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

For Glay, it was important to ignore the fear that everyone has when starting a business.

“If you think something might work, just do it,” Glay says. “What’s the worst thing that could happen? There’s no chance of success if you don’t at least try.”

Most of Williams’ clients start and run their business for less than $10,000 for the first year, so they typically self-finance it, Williams says.

“Most work from home, so the business doesn’t cost that much,” Williams says. “We like businesses that have a low startup cost because that usually means they get higher profits later.”

For Williams’ clients, money is typically third on their list of what’s important to them after the flexibility of managing their own time and adding joy to their work life.

Thomas is a big proponent of owning your own business, even if it can seem challenging at first. “The important thing is just to start where you are,” Thomas says. “There’s no exact beginning or end and you’ll definitely have hiccups. But if you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it.”

Thomas, who worked full-time and started her family while she earned her degrees, believes paying for knowledge and support is worthwhile.

“For my tote bag business, I studied products on Amazon and I’m taking sewing classes to improve the quality of the bags,” she says. “I made a few for fun and got so many compliments that it seemed like I should do it as a business. You can always find a way to finance the education you need to get your business going.”

For people who want to convert a hobby to a business, Williams has some special advice.

From Hobby to Business

“Be careful to understand that a hobby is fun, but once it’s a business, some hard decisions must be made,” Williams says. “You have to hassle with a bank, go after people who owe you money, and maybe have legal challenges. Will you lose the joy of your hobby? If so, maybe you don’t want to turn it into a business.”

Whether it’s a hobby or business skills that you think could generate income, Williams recommends writing down the idea and what makes it – or you – different from similar services or products.

“There are tremendous opportunities for people over 50,” Williams says. “Your wisdom and experience are highly valuable in the consumer and commercial marketplace. Most people can’t stop working financially, so if you need money in retirement, you can either create a business or work at a retail site for $12 an hour. I think most people would prefer to work for themselves.”