From No Business to New Business

NewBusiness

Forsyth Tech Small Business Center Helps Woman Reach Her Dream

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

Kathy Shoaf had a dream. As she worked at her job, she would daydream about what she would rather be doing. “Working the night shift,” Kathy commented, “there was plenty of time to think about what I wanted to do. There was so much I wanted to see.” She loved to travel and enjoyed spur-of-the-moment adventures. In her daydreams, she would see herself driving a bus, taking people along on those adventures.

Then in September 2014, Kathy lost her job and she began to think more seriously about how to make that dream come true. She wanted to run a tour bus company, but she didn’t share her dreams with anyone because she was afraid of the naysayers who would tell her all the reasons she could never do this. “I told my mother I was working on my photography and craft business,” Kathy admitted, “something I had done as a hobby for years.”

Kathy started visiting the King Public Library to read all she could about setting up a business and especially about tour buses. There she saw a brochure about the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center, which is located @525 Vine in downtown Winston-Salem. She immediately called Allan Younger, the director, and he encouraged her to stop by and check out their classes for entrepreneurs.

In November Kathy took her first class and soon she was a regular, taking every class they offered about small business start-ups. “Allan kidded me because I was there all day,” Kathy admitted.

Kathy filled notebooks of printouts of class materials and information she found online. She approached starting a business like she would working toward an MBA. She enjoyed meeting all the other new business owners and talking with them about their ideas. She found that networking was an integral part of building a business.

Kathy begun with classes such as “So You Want to Start your Own Business?” which covered things like business licenses, accounting and bookkeeping, setting up a Facebook page and LinkedIn page. The first thing she was told was “Get a business card!” The more classes she took, the deeper they delved into small business ownership, such as creating a business and marketing plan, or getting grants. She enjoyed the roundtable discussions with other entrepreneurs who shared their success stories. She developed her “business pitch.”

Early on, she spoke with someone about the classes she was taking at the Small Business Center, and was told, “Allan Younger at FTCC is the best in the state!” With that positive encouragement, she pushed on.

Kathy set up a website through GoDaddy and named her company “Gracy Goose Touring (Gracy after her dog, who often goes on trips with her). Through the start-up process, Kathy also learned about the many hurdles she would have to face: regulations, insurance ($5 million liability required for her business), state safety inspections, physical and drug test, federal inspections. It seemed when she found one answer, it just led to another question! She has spent hours on the Internet and making phone calls to find the right answers.

Finally, Kathy confessed to her mother that she was going to start her own tour bus company and that the next, big step was finding a bus. After searching Craig’s list and other online sites, she found the perfect bus and with her mother’s help, purchased the first Gracy Goose Touring bus, a 16-passenger bus with space for two wheelchairs. She designed her logo, had the logo wrapped on the side of the bus, gassed it up, and she was ready to go.

All she needed was some itineraries to places she would like to visit and, most important, fellow travelers! She is still working on finalizing day trips around North Carolina and has had a few groups use her services. So far, her dream is coming true.

Allan Younger, the director of Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center, said, “It has been a great privilege working with Kathy. One of the things that I admire is her willingness to change her plans as she learned more about business ownership. She did her research, participated in educational events, talked to other business owners, and continued to assess herself to determine the best fit for her. Now, she has a business well-suited for her and much needed in the marketplace.”

Kathy’s advice to others who are thinking about changing careers or starting a new business:

  • No matter how much research you do, things will pop up that you didn’t expect. Don’t let it get you down.
  • Network! The Chamber of Commerce offers plenty of opportunities to do this, but wherever you go, meet people and exchange business cards.
  • Never be afraid to ask questions.
  • Talk to other entrepreneurs. They are your best source of inspiration.
  • Don’t be afraid to try.
  • Look ahead, don’t look back. When you look back, you focus on what you’ve done and not on what you’re going to do.
  • Don’t be shy about talking about your business.
  • Follow your instincts.

But her most important advice to seniors is this: No matter what your age, don’t be afraid to start something new!

For more information about Gracy Goose Touring, visit www.gracygoosetouringllc.com or email kathyshoaf@nullgracygoosetouringllc.com.

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