Bizstarters, Jeff Williams
Jeff Williams has started a business helping people do what he has done: Bizstarters helps people – mostly people in their 50s and older – start small businesses that can provide a respectable source of income, though likely not a full-time one.
Bizstarters could almost be viewed as a micro accelerator or incubator. While the company’s targeted clientele isn’t people looking to start a multi-million dollar – or bigger – company, he and the three coaches he employes helping folks acquire the knowledge and the toolkit to take a skill, interest, or hobby and turn it into an operational, income-generating business. The timeline is usually less than 90 days, with costs typically ranging from $3500 to $6000.
Williams’ own experience when he left his corporate marketing job helped inform his decisions about his own potential sweet spot in the market. He realized that the people he was most qualified to help were those ready to leave corporate life whose motivation was passion rather than making a lot of money, which primarily translates into a clientele in their 50s and older. Most of his clients are content to make in the neighborhood of $30,000 – $40,000 a year, and their primary interest is in consulting.
THE WHOLE PACKAGE
Bizstarters’ full coaching package helps people do everything from creating a logo, a website, and a presence on LinkedIn to teaching them marketing techniques using web-based tools like constant contact and how to create content to sell their idea. He says the success rate among people committed to doing the work is around 80%, which is helped by the fact that Bizstarters is selective about whom they work with.
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POC: Welcome to This is Capitalism. I’m Patricia O’Connell and today I’m joined with Jeff Williams who is the founder of Bizstarters. Jeff, thanks so much for joining us today on the This is Capitalism podcast.
JW: Thank you, Patricia, for having me.
POC: Well Jeff, Bizstarters on one hand sounds like a very self-descriptive business name but let’s go into it in a little more detail. Tell me exactly what it is that you do at Bizstarters?
JW: We help people take a skill, interest or a hobby and turn it into a fully functioning, revenue- generating business typically in less than 90 days.
POC: So, what are the steps that you take people through in those 90 days?
JW: The first thing I want to know is what your business idea is, and what your experience is in the idea. Every now and then I’ll get somebody who I run across someone who basically says, “I want to do this idea because I understand you can make a lot of money from doing it.”
That typically does not work out well for us because there is no passion there. It’s a straight financial play. So, I’m trying to kind of weed people out right from the get-go, so I figure out what’s driving them.
POC: kay so passion for starters has to be a key ingredient.
POC: And would it be fair to say, Jeff, you are not necessarily working with the people who want to start the next big Silicon Valley tech company?
JW: Right, that’s correct. Most of our clients are very realistic about how much time they want to put into this, they want to keep working once they leave corporate and some may have looked at doing volunteer work or getting a part-time job somewhere and that’s fine for some people but other people want something a little bit more ambitious. They want to take an idea or a skill and they want to turn it into something bigger but they are generally realistic. I would say most of our clients would be very happy to make $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
POC: So, I’m guessing if that’s the income that they are shooting for, that perhaps you are not working with people who are on the younger side, you’re not working with people who are in the early stages of a career.
JW: Right. Yeah, you’re absolutely right. When I started, I started almost 30 years ago. I was in my forties and was primarily dealing with people in the same age group. Well time moved on and suddenly, around 2000, as a matter of fact right after 9/11, we started getting more and more inquiries from people who were 55 years old or older. And I started wondering to myself, “Why is this happening?”
And then I realized that one possible reason was that the oldest boomers were starting to turn 55 years old in the early two thousands and they had kind of gotten to a point where they thought, “If I want to be entrepreneurial, I’ve got to do it soon because I’m kind of running out of time.”
POC: Well, it’s also hard to remember, Jeff, that there was a time when 55 was a respectable corporate age for retirement depending on the kind of profession you were in.
JW: Oh yeah, absolutely, right. As a matter of fact, even today, according to government statistics, the typical retirement age is 62. I mean it’s still not – I mean, there are more and more people over 65 working. They estimate that about 30 percent of people over 65 are still working, which is the highest number that we’ve ever measured.
But anyway, starting around the early two thousands we recalculated our marketing message to specifically go after people over 50. And I set a goal for myself back in the early two thousands to become known as the No. 1 guy for starting a business after 50 in the United States and I’ve had some success doing that.
POC: Okay. And how did you get the word out? Social media was still in its infancy in the early two thousands. How did you become known as that guy?
JW: I was a marketing executive in a corporate world and part of our portfolio was how to get PR. So, I kind of knew how to figure out who was the appropriate person inside of a publication and approach them.
Well, I was fortunate enough to make some strong connections back in the early two thousands and one of them was Kiplinger’s personal finance magazine. They selected our company, Bizstarters, in, oh, let me think, about 2005 as the best source for a business starter for people over 50. And that designation in the magazine got us a lot of inquiries and we really started to shoot forward.
POC: What kinds of businesses do you see people interested in starting?
JW: No. 1 is consulting, selling your industry experience. The second most popular thing we see is selling some kind of service either to corporations or to consumers. And the third most common business we see are people who have something they make, a craft-oriented business.
POC: Is there an opportunity for people who are younger who are also recognizing that they want the safety net of a second, if not third, income stream? Is there an opportunity for people like that to work with you?
JW: Oh yes. We don’t discriminate. It’s just that marketing quite often has to do with focus and staying focused and our focus is the 50 and over but we certainly don’t turn down anybody.
POC: Provided they show the passion, the interest and the dedication and the drive?
JW: Right. And the willingness to be coached.
POC: Without giving away your secret sauce, Jeff, can you talk a little bit about the coaching aspect of it? First of all, are you the primary coach, are you the sole coach, do you have other people working with you on this?
JW: I currently have three coaches in addition to me.
POC: Do you see expanding the business further?
JW: I could really accelerate bringing on more coaches if I wanted to. I’m trying to decide what I want to do right now because I’m kind of at the point in my life where I’m not really semi-retired, but I don’t work as many hours as I used to. And this is partly because my wife has been retired for 20 years. I still work. And more and more my wife wants to do things that retired people do. So, for example, in December…
JW: Right. Travel and do things around the local area. So, during the summer I take every Friday off. This is a concession to what my wife needs because I love her, and I want her to be happy. So, I have kind of pulled back here a bit from where I used to be. So, I could probably continue to be where I am if I hired some more coaches. So yeah, definitely.
I mean, we have not gotten to the point yet where we have done 100 clients in a year. It’s very possible to do it. And if we did 100 clients a year, this would be about a $700,000 a year business, which is pretty significant. Because I have thought about okay, can I build it over the next couple years and then sell it? Because I have thought about selling it. So yeah, that is still in my mind. I had somebody come to me recently who is interested in being a coach. So, I might be inspired to get back on that track again and get out there and really start recruiting coaches.
I’ll just tell you a couple things about our coaches. First of all, you’ve got to be over 50 to be a coach, for us. You’ve got to walk the walk and talk the talk. No. 2, you have to already have a successful business. It’s a nice side income. Maybe you can do $40,000 a year from it but it’s not $100,000 a year.
And the third thing you’ve got to have to be a coach is that you have to have some experience in coaching. So those are the three things we’re looking for in coaches and there’s a lot of people out there who have those three things.
POC: So, you’re setting a high bar, which I’m going to hope translates into a high rate of success for you. What would you say your success rate is in client satisfaction and people achieving what they want – clients, your customers – achieving what they wanted to achieve in terms of their business goals?
JW: For our clients who show determination, we have a very high level of satisfaction and we have a high level of success. And I still deal with clients that they launched 12 years ago, 13 years ago.
POC: Could you put that into numbers? What percentage of people who start the Bizstarters coaching program succeed, if you will, and go on to meet their goals? And again, that’s dependent upon them doing the work and being committed.
JW: I’d say at least three quarters or more, maybe 80 percent. So, one of the reasons we have such a high success rate is we are careful about how we work with to start with. So that’s one of the reasons we have a high success rate. We find people who have the right motivation and then we give them the tools they need to go from an idea to a fully functioning business.
POC: And as you pointed out, this is indeed a business, Jeff. What is the average cost for someone who wants to start a business?
JW: Our fee ranges from about $3,500 for someone who has already done some work to $6,000 for a complete scratch startup where they come to me and say, “Jeff, I need everything from you, A to Z.” That’s $6,000. We do it in three payments so you don’t have to pay it all at one time. Because I am a firm believer that when you are charging someone, they should see a tangible benefit from paying you.
Now we do ask for an advance deposit so there is some faith upfront but the second and third payments only occur after we have done tangible things for you. For example, in the first 30 days, we get you a name, a domain registration, a logo, business cards, a website and social media sites set up all in 30 days. So, by the time you have to pay us a second payment you already see all these tangible results. And I think that’s a pretty fair exchange.
POC: I’m going to guess, Jeff, that maybe some of the people that you work with aren’t as savvy about social media, which, like it or not, is an important form of marketing these days. How much do you focus on social media as a way of helping folks market themselves?
JW: We have discovered that a lot of our clients, even if they were corporate marketing, do not understand certain parts of small business marketing. Our typical client is 57 years old so they have extensive experience in the corporate world.
I have outside experts who build various pieces of their marketing package so that they don’t have to really have in-depth knowledge and then we teach them through a series of short tutorials how to do things. For example, we teach them how to use constant contact, email marketing. Constant contact has a series of tutorials that are outstanding. And one of the things we know about our clients, they are very good at reading and learning. People of that age group are very much into that. They know how to read owners’ manuals.
So, we set this all up for them. For example, we will set up a LinkedIn business page, which is a way to promote yourself on LinkedIn. We put the logo in, we populate it, we show them how to do it, and then we set up a very simple formula for them to create content and publish it. They do not have to be super, super knowledgeable in social media, they just have to know how to sit down and write a short, maybe 200-word piece about something. And then we show them how to put it into the platform.
So, all they need to focus on is what is the story they want to sell for their particular business. We train them in how to create and communicate their selling story. And then I have my team fill out all these different pieces to promote that story but it’s all focused on the selling story.
POC: Jeff I’m going to ask; do you ever wish you had started this sooner or do you think you needed the life experience and also frankly the work experience that you had to make this successful?
JW: Looking back on my last corporate job, I do wish I had left a bit earlier. It became rather unsatisfying. And I’ll just tell you something about my perspective on career. I was like a lot of people; I thought early in my career you could trust and rely on the corporate HR department but I found out by the time I was in my late twenties that you pretty much have to be self-sufficient in your career planning. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help but you’ve got to pretty much be pretty clear on where you want to go. And I kind of had that in my mind.
But there was one thing that overarched my whole corporate career and that was when I was 10 years old, I became an accidental entrepreneur one summer, cutting lawns in Ohio where I grew up. I suddenly went from a few lawns to a lot of lawns, and I made $1,000 when I was 10 years old.
POC: That’s a lot of money for a kid.
JW: Yeah, it was in 1950s. Well, as I got older, in my thirties, I kept thinking about this. Every time I wasn’t very happy in my corporate career, I kept thinking oh, you know what, I’d like to do that again but as an adult. And so, when I think back on this now, I probably should have done it when I was 35 or 36 but I will tell you that one of the reasons that I waited until I was 40 was that I had gotten myself to a certain position on my annual bonus as Vice President of Marketing and I knew that I needed that money to start my first business. So, I held on for about a year and a half longer than I probably wanted to.
POC: Well, it also shows that planning is a key part of this process, or it can be a key part of this process for prospective entrepreneurs.
POC: Because you yourself were a prospective entrepreneur. You were exactly the people that you’ve ended up helping. Jeff, if we have anyone out there who wants to become a coach or wants to take advantage of the wisdom and experience of Bizstarters, how do they get in touch with you? How do they find you?
JW: A couple ways. One of them is they can go to, if they want to learn more about me and the program, go to Bizstarters.com and there is a link at the top of every page that says, “Start your business.” Click on that, it’ll tell you everything you need to know about Virtual Incubator.
POC: Jeff, it’s been a great pleasure talking to you today about Bizstarters and I wish you and all the people out there who you’re helping the best of luck and I look forward to catching up with you another time.
JW: Thank you very much, Patricia.
POC: And that was Jeff Williams from Bizstarters joining us today on This is Capitalism, the podcast.
About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.
About Patricia O’Connell: Patricia O’Connell serves as Editor in Chief of “This Is Capitalism,” a content site sponsored by Stephens Inc., and is host of the site’s podcast series, “CEO Stories.” Patricia, a former editor at BusinessWeek and a New York Times best-selling author, brings her experience as a journalist and her passion for storytelling to “This Is Capitalism.”