Welcome to Trading Places, a small-business series which takes a look at entrepreneurs who have successfully transitioned from working in the corporate world to founding their own business. If you have such a story you'd like to share, please email me.
For the first 20 years of her career, Lynn Toomey jumped from one high-tech start-up to another, gradually taking on more and more responsibility in the networking space and eventually landing the role of marketing director at
As director, Toomey pulled together different teams to launch various technologies. She had a $50 million annual budget and ran the marketing for three business units, where she became known as the launch guru.
"That was probably the highlight of my career," Toomey says. "It was tremendously exciting and I learned a lot and met a lot of people."
The whole high-tech environment was a little stifling, though, she says. To get away from all the talk of technical products, Toomey immersed herself in night and weekend art classes. "That was my creative outlet," she says.
In time, Toomey says she began to feel uneasy about her work lifestyle. "I was there in my cube, making a significant amount of money, having all kinds of stock and all I longed for was to have my own start-up," she says. "I wanted to be the one doing these start-ups. I wanted to be an entrepreneur."
Although the money was great at her job, Toomey says she wasn't totally satisfied or happy. After giving birth to twins, she finally decided that the corporate world was not for her and in August 2006, Toomey launched
Art to Gogh, a creative enrichment services company for children.
: Marketing representative
: Founder and owner of Art to Gogh
: "The transition came very naturally," Toomey says. "I am a very motivated self-starter." One positive difference, she says, was that she was calling the shots. However, what she missed was the camaraderie of working with a team and learning from those people.
: Toomey says she initially spent about $25,000 on her business. The money went into materials, legal and marketing costs, getting her business set up and trademarking her services. Basically, "all the foundational things that you need to do," she says.
Her company's edge
: "First and foremost is the fact that
our services encompass both education and entertainment, so we have a very broad market," Toomey says. "Whether we're doing a birthday party or an art class, we're educating and giving children exposure to creativity. That's huge."
Secondly, Toomey says her business fills a need. "About 50% of schools don't have a fulltime art teacher, so there's a big demand for that," she says. "It's a big issue going across the country. From my high-tech career I learned to look for trends, and that's a really big trend that we've jumped on. There are lots of kids home alone after school, and that's where we come in."
What she wishes she knew before
: "I probably would have spent a little more time preparing myself for the sales process," Toomey says. "In my career I didn't do a lot of sales."
To educate herself on the topic, she says she read Michael Port's
Book Yourself Solid
, which was "an incredible resource as far as selling goes and how to be efficient at it."
: Toomey says her primary target is mothers between the age of 25 and 40. "They could be moms who have their own children, or moms who own their own daycare centers or are librarians," she says.
Toomey says she's also done corporate events and worked with big companies like
Some product favorites
: Toomey says she loves working on curriculums where everything ties together because "that's how the kids learn."
As part of her back-to-school program, she has a class called creative kids, in which the children engage in all types of different activities ranging from making and painting their own clocks to creating a Picasso-style acrylic painting. "It's a mix of fine art and three-dimensional projects, and is really popular," she says.
There is also a popular program for preschool children called story art, Toomey adds. It's a literacy art class where a story is read to the children, and then there's an art project followed by some type of game, music or dance activity, she explains. "The whole idea is really to improve reading comprehension."
: "Get out there and meet other people," Toomey says. "Tell them about your idea." In the beginning she says she told many people about what she was doing and in turn they gave her all kinds of feedback.
"Talk about your idea, whatever it is, as much as you can," Toomey advises. "One, talking about it makes it more real. Two, it gets you really enthusiastic about it and helps you solidify the idea, if you're really not sure what it is."
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