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She Should Settle Direction Before Pursuing Solo Path


Sharyn Yonkman jokingly insists that California's balmy climate costs her $20,000 a year. That's the pay cut she has endured since moving West from New Jersey in 1993.

The 50-year-old Ventura resident earns about $40,000 a year as accounting manager of a Santa Barbara women's clinic. It's a modest wage for a woman with nearly three decades' experience in the field, but Yonkman says it's the best salary she can muster without becoming a certified public accountant.

"I was surprised at how low the salaries are out here, especially because the cost of living is about the same," she said.

Yonkman estimates that she needs at least $60,000 a year to live comfortably. But how can she boost her earnings?

Yonkman isn't interested in toiling in a corporate cubicle until retirement or becoming a CPA. Nor is Yonkman interested in returning East, so she is considering entrepreneurship. Yonkman says she's willing to put in the time and effort to make her dream come true.

The problem is, she has tried going solo before, with inauspicious results. She invested about $20,000 in a private-label skin-care line for mature women that she has been marketing part-time since 1996; she briefly ran a wardrobe consultation business in the late '90s; and most recently has began giving speeches on such topics as workplace diversity, baby-boomer challenges and wellness at work.

None of these endeavors have generated much income. So Yonkman wonders whether self-employment is even feasible.

She consulted Thomas J. Leonard, founder of Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based Coach University and the International Coach Federation, about her career dilemma.

Leonard commended Yonkman for her industriousness, but urged her to sharpen her focus. Paying down her substantial credit card debt also would give her more freedom to take steps toward full-time self-employment, Leonard said. She might do this by taking a part-time evening job, such as teaching adult education classes.

Leonard encouraged Yonkman to be realistic about the length of time it may take her to start a new business. Developing full-time consulting and public speaking practices, two fields she would like to pursue, can take up to five years, he said. If she decides to develop her skin-care line, that too could take a substantial investment of time before it becomes profitable.

Leonard and other experts offered these additional tips:

* Create a unified company. "It's hard enough to run one business and stay on track, but it sounds like you've picked two or three," Marcia Rosen, author of "Woman's Business Therapist: Eliminate the Mindblocks & Roadblocks to Success," (Chandler House Press, 2000), told Yonkman.

Rosen suggested that Yonkman choose a single venture about which she's passionate. Then she should construct a "road map"--a business plan--to bring it to fruition, a step she has neglected in the past. Yonkman can further define her goals in a mission statement, said Rebecca Hart, a Florida-based publicist, who has written a tip sheet for aspiring entrepreneurs.

* Gather knowledge before opening shop. "The Boy Scouts have said for years that preparation is the key to good scouting," said Marilynn Mobley, founder of Acorn Consulting Group in Marietta, Ga. "So it is with planning your life and work."

Once Yonkman decides on a direction, she should scout the competition to analyze their products and services, noted Linda Gilkerson, author of the workbook "Self-Employment: From Dream to Reality" (Jist Works Inc., 1998). Have they left any untapped niches that Yonkman might exploit? This knowledge may help Yonkman devise marketing strategies for her business.

Yonkman should carefully estimate her cost of doing business, Hart said. How much would office space, equipment, telecommunications, supplies and other administrative expenses cost in her first year of operation? Yonkman should add to this the minimum salary she would be able to live on. The total of these two sums is the figure she would need to make for the year.

While still at her accounting job, Yonkman should practice living on her anticipated first-year salary to see if it's doable, said Kay R. Shirley, president of Financial Development Corp. in Atlanta and author of "The Baby Boomer Financial Wake-Up Call: It's Not Too Late to Be Financially Secure" (Dearborn Trade, 1999). After paying off her debt, Yonkman also should try to put away about six months' worth of emergency savings, Shirley said.

* Create a support team. Building a stable of advisors is extremely important for a first-time entrepreneur, said Jeff Zbar, author of "Home Office Know-How" (Upstart Publishing, 1998).

Family members and friends could become personal cheerleaders for Yonkman, encouraging her when times get tough. Established entrepreneurs in her targeted business could offer her tips about getting started.

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