Following your Entrepreneurial Dreams
By Leslie Dunnett
One thing I learned early in my military life is that military life requires patience, determination and relentless optimism. The same can be said for starting your own small business. This past month, I was fortunate enough to discuss with Josie Walsh, creator of the website, 101 Things To Do With the Kids – Summer Family Travel Guide, the challenges that come with taking on both these roles.
Walsh started her career as the manager of the Sales and Marketing department for a hotel in Kingston, ON. However, she was also interested in starting her own business. It wasn’t until she met another woman with the same drive and ambition that she decided to take the plunge. Together, in the mid 80’s, they recognized the growing need for the 50-plus market and decided to start their own magazine, along with another partner and dynamo, Pat, who happened to be in her 50’s and was a military wife as well. It was around this time that Walsh also married her husband, Wayne, and began her equally challenging journey as a military spouse.
“I knew that as the wife of a solider, it would mean being uprooted often and that developing my own career would be very difficult,” said Walsh.
She also wanted a career that would enable her to work from home once they started their family.
Fifty-Five Plus Magazine was launched, and with that came many new challenges. “One of the biggest battles we faced was our own doubts and insecurities.” Over the next six years, their courage and resolve generated a lively and upbeat publication celebrating life after fifty. They also produced trade shows to offer more information to their readers, all without the modern resources, like internet access, available to small businesses today.
“We were both thrilled as punch when we purchased our first Macintosh computer with 1GB of memory!”, said Walsh. The local newspaper even featured the company, profiling its successes in light of the fact that fax machines were just emerging as a business tool and both women worked from home. When the inevitable happened and Walsh’s husband was posted to Ottawa, the business continued to grow, despite the recession.
“You know the saying when it rains lemons, just make lemonade?” said Walsh. “Well, we purchased another publication in Ottawa and expanded into the Ottawa market.”
“One of my greatest strengths is that I married my best friend,” she explained. And with Wayne’s unflagging encouragement, in 1996, Walsh made the decision to make another career change, leaving the successful magazine to start another dream: 101 Things to do with the Kids Publishing. That same year, her family welcomed their first child, a son, Nicholas. Their daughter, Krista, followed, all while Walsh was breaking into the Toronto/Niagara market, having been posted again to Hamilton, ON. Walsh recognized that to succeed, her business was going to have to be portable.
“I was still new at this military wife thing and now with a toddler in tow, new business, new city, and an expanding family, away from all relatives, the lemons weren’t just raining, but pouring,” added Walsh.
True to form, however, Walsh threw herself into her business and family life. Today, her website is an excellent guide for family activities in Ontario.
“It’s been phenomenally challenging, but I think that can be said for any military spouse’s life,” she said. “Most that I have met are so incredibly resilient and they usually have a great sense of humour.”
When asked for advice on starting a new business, her best advice for other military spouses is this: don’t be afraid to work hard, meet new challenges and, most of all, have faith, believe that all things are possible. When you find things are getting you down, surround yourself with people of great faith and humour who will lift you up again. Take advantage of all the resources available to small businesses, while taking the time to plan and research carefully.
“If I was to do anything differently, I would have searched more diligently for those who had started similar ventures and I would have possibly saved myself much time, money and stress in the learning curve phase.”
Much has been accomplished but there is no slowing down for this entrepreneur. She still has plans for the future. “One of the focuses for 2012 is a revamping of our website and our sister publication, The Teacher’s Field Trip Guide.” (Readers interested in learning more can visit the website, www.101kidstravel.com, for ideas and website links.)
Fifty-Five Plus Magazine is still running as a bi-monthly publication, owned by another publishing company.
Also, Walsh, in collaboration with her colleague, Gabriele Schick, is working hard to launch the next endeavour, a communications company. Hoping to ignite in people a pursuit for their passions and cherished dreams, this communications company includes creating special events and initiatives that will help to inspire and inform. “After all these amazing experiences and the people I have met, I now want to build a company that will help others achieve the best version of themselves. In fact I’m just catching my breath again.