We know the thought of starting a business can be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it just starts with a skill, a passion, or a crazy idea. Or sometimes it’s the answer to a problem.
That’s the case for this Pepperlane member, Cheryl Kirkman. Her Concord, MA-based business, konnectme, hires teenagers as consultants to help adults get more from their smartphones, tablets, and computers. We interviewed Cheryl to learn more about her business and how she got it going. We hope this inspires you to develop that idea you've or keep your eyes open for that problem that could turn into a business.
Pepperlane: How did you get the idea for your business?
Cheryl: I have a 16-year-old son who struggled to find a job that would allow him flexibility to travel. Our family isn’t in one place for the whole summer so he was not able to commit to a seasonal job. His understanding of how to use his technology is so much greater than the average adult. In fact, most teenagers have this expertise because they grew up with these devices in their hands. I soon learned that my son was not alone in both his skillset and need for a flexible job.
The other side of it is I’m 49, and many people I know who are my age or older don’t always know how to get the most out of the smartphones they carry with them. We struggle with understanding which apps can make our lives easier, how to sync our devices, organize our photos and files, use the “cloud” effectively, or even understanding useful standard features on our smartphones. What seems foreign to us is second nature to the younger generations.
There are no affordable options for people to get help with using their technology more efficiently. Adults don’t necessarily know that they need help because they are not even aware of many of the amazing features on their smartphones. Konnectme offers an affordable solution to educate us. One session with a talented and personable konnectme consultant provides our customers with useful skills that make a difference in their everyday lives.
PL: How are you getting it off the ground?
Cheryl: I’m creating the need for people who don’t know they have this need yet. We do this one customer at a time. This is a community-based business so we are advertising locally and hoping that customers tell their friends about us. Our goal is to hire consultants in surrounding communities—supplying flexible, skilled work for students and empowering adults in those communities as well.
PL: How do you find your consultants?
Cheryl: My first five consultants are students I know who are smart, creative, and problem solvers. We have an application form online that needs to be completed and I meet with each consultant to train them before they see customers. I am looking for students who know how to ask questions in order to fully understand what the customer needs.
PL: What made you join Pepperlane?
Cheryl: I learned of Pepperlane through a friend. I was excited to learn of Pepperlane because I love the idea of a platform to share ideas with other moms who are in my situation. I am inspired by the women I meet through Pepperlane. I left my “career” when I had children and although I have had many jobs and started other small companies, I never had the support network that Pepperlane offers. I feel empowered and more confident about what I am doing since becoming a member at Pepperlane. When you’re starting a business there are lots of ups and downs and unknowns. The Pepperlane community reminds me that I can do this. Pepperlane is a perfect fit for konnectme because its members understand my customers and my consultants.
Pepperlane also has the element of “get my business out there;” it’s a good marketing tool for me. I like the idea that I could hire another mom. I eventually will need some help. My skillset is broad, but there are areas I don’t go deep enough in. I will need to hire or have somebody come onboard in some capacity to take it to whatever place I want it to go to.
PL: What made you take the leap into starting your business?
Cheryl: I knew there was a need for affordable technology consulting. I also knew teenagers needed flexible, skilled labor. I had the idea in my head for a while but one day I woke up with a sense of urgency to start this right away. The timing was right and I think I had all of my thoughts together in my head. When you work for yourself and by yourself, you need accountability for what you’re doing. It would be too easy to have an idea and not make it happen. So once I told people about my business, I felt accountable. Then, once I hired and trained consultants I did not want to let them down. They are excited to work! Talking to people about my business helps also helps shape my ideas, it helps me think of things I might not have thought of.
PL: What advice do you have for other mothers who are trying to start businesses?
Cheryl: My advice is don’t be afraid of failure. Know that you’re going make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. It takes lot of guts to take the leap from an idea to a business. My second piece of advice is to share your ideas with people you trust. You will learn more than you think from talking with people.
PL: How do you find the time to work on your business?
Cheryl: Starting my own business gives me flexibility. I try to set realistic goals and prioritize. My most important job is raising my two children. I do my best to not let my work get in the way of their needs. Balancing work, family, friendships, and finding time for myself is a constant struggle. I have learned that some things will just have to wait until tomorrow. I have also learned that just because I can do a task, doesn’t mean I should. I am getting better at asking for help—especially for the tasks that I don’t enjoy and are not so good at.
The balance of life is something I just laugh about. We are never 100% in balance. If you are in balance it’s going to change in an hour.
We hope this inspired you! Remember, if there’s a problem you see or a thing you’re good at, that’s the start of a business.
Do you have an idea that you need some help working through?