By Lorrie DeFrank
Michelle Chance-Sangthong is pleased they called. Renee Wyden and Valerie Brink are glad they listened. Pat Blanchard knows that’s how it works. With the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center (JWBC), it’s all about making business connections.
Poised to dive into their business venture last year, Renee and Valerie are thankful they took Pat’s advice to slow down. Now, when SWIM Educational Services launches next summer, the partners are confident it will have the strong foundation it needs to be successful. Making business connections through JWBC has been key to the development of the 16-week course to provide high school students with academic and social skills needed to navigate college life. Renee and Valerie are experts in the fields of personal development and life-long learning.
Michelle, online marketing consultant and JWBC volunteer, referred Renee and Valerie to Pat, JWBC director. “This was a tremendous opportunity for this new business to have the expertise of the JWBC, which is invaluable,” Michelle said. “They had a good grip on their service delivery, but that’s a small portion of actually running a business.”
As Pat does for every client, she assessed Renee and Valerie’s short- and long-term goals to determine how the JWBC could best help. “A variety of resources—from the JAX Chamber to networking groups of other women business owners to JWBC programs—provide ways to learn as well as make business connections,” Pat said.
When Renee and Valerie met with Pat in February 2012, they planned to develop a curriculum, market their program and sign up students by the following summer. “Although Pat was very supportive of our idea and vision for SWIM, she also knew that we had a tremendous amount to learn before we could make it a reality. Pat kindly discussed with us how important the research and development phase is to starting a business, especially one that provides a new kind of service people may not know they need…yet,” Renee said. “She also discussed the need to write a business plan, form a business entity, think about capital, develop a website, identify our market and create a marketing plan. Yes, we probably could have ‘slapped something together’ to launch our program last summer, but we’re really glad we didn’t. The effort we put into thoughtfully constructing SWIM over the past year has resulted in a program we’re confident in and a brand we’re excited to build.”
Renee said they plan to participate in JWBC’s Marketing Matters mentoring program and hope that one day they can give back more than they have received to help other women entrepreneurs. “The JWBC has already impacted us,” Valerie added. “In that one meeting, we gathered validation, momentum and courage to start, knowing that a complete support system was available to us.” For more information about SWIM Education Services, or to enroll in classes, visit http://www.swimedu.com.
About the author:
Lorrie is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Pennsylvania and Florida, including Jacksonville magazine. She formerly was a reporter and managing editor of Public Opinion, a daily newspaper in Chambersburg, PA. Subsequent positions with the City of Jacksonville and University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville included writing columns, profiles and other stories for city and UF publications and websites. Lorrie is a member of the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center’s Marketing and Communications Task Force.