A few years ago, Deborah McLean began Maine Senior Guide, an online product and information resource for Maine seniors. She brought her marketing and writing skills into collaboration with Lynn Peel, a geriatric care manager who runs Beach Glass Transitions, and created a service that they thought was much needed. Maine Senior Guide offers information for seniors, from home care resources and organizations to restaurants and recreation, including a calendar of activities across the state. The site is free. “You don’t have to sign in or give us your blood type or your first-born child to get online,” says McLean.
Resources get a free listing on the site and companies can buy a profile that is more extensive if they would like to invest in having their business spread across social networks such as the Maine Senior Guide’s newsletters and blogs, Facebook page and Twitter.
With a journalism degree and the mind of a marketer, McLean has faith that her site is not only what people need now, but what people will need in the future.
“Social media has developed as a way to drive people to websites, which fits in really well with writers,” she says.
McLean once believed that she would always be a news reporter, but decided that Internet-based resources were the way of the future, for seniors, as well.
“Seniors are going online, especially with the advent of tablets, and [as an online demographic] will continue to grow in the next five years as more and more people retire and start having time to spend online,” she says. “There are a ton of people in the workforce now who are nearing retirement who have been using computers for 20 years. And nothing ever dies on the Internet, you still have everything that you’ve done before – the information just gets higher and deeper, and sometimes more detailed. The notion of live links that can take you all over the Internet for more information is really just a wonderful tool for writers to help expand the knowledge base.”
What were your most important needs in getting started?
I worked through Women, Work and Community, which is a program that the state has developed to help women entrepreneurs launch businesses [and] develop marketing plans. That was very helpful to me because I learned how to write a business plan. And it’s one thing to have a great idea but it’s another thing to implement all the different parts that make that a successful business. And for me, I’m a marketing person with several creative bones, but money sends me screaming into the night. I like the details but I don’t know the first thing about accounting. And if you haven’t figured out how to financially stabilize your business, you’re doomed. So getting the contacts and people who could help me think about developing a budget, what I really need to make a business successful, how long it takes to get on your feet. I really needed somebody with experience to say, “It’s OK, calm down, it’s going to happen, you just need to be patient.” Businesses take a long time to develop, and even stuff that hits big then takes a long time to stabilize.
What was there about your upbringing that gave you the courage to venture out on your own?
Well sometimes it’s not courage, it’s necessity. When you get to a certain age, especially in senior care, you see what happens to your senior loved ones, and you say, “Boy, I wish I’d had more information.” My mom fell and hit her head and she was on a blood thinner medication and she died. But she walked out of the house with the cat food on the floor and dishes in the sink; she never had to make a decision about going into senior care. My dad had COPD, which is a lung disease, and ended up in a nursing home for about three months. So he wasn’t there for very long, but I was very active in being at several rehabilitation centers and nursing homes and saw how important it was for people to ask questions. You know, what is the care plan? At least if you know what choices you’ve got, you maintain some level of control. And that’s mostly what people want as they age, to be in control. Even if they can’t be entirely independent, at least they’re in control of their decisions. Our site gives people information about their different options. You can’t hide your head in the sand about stuff, as much as people want to.
What do you think the advantages are of being a female entrepreneur?
Women are used to juggling stuff. They’re used to trying to get community service and taking care of kids and having a job or keeping the house or taking care of their folks, just a ton of stuff into a day, so I think that’s an advantage. Women tend to be more patient, I find them more collaborative. If you say, “This is something that will really benefit the community,” a lot of people are willing to work with you to give you info – that approach versus a competitive approach. Entrepreneurs in general have to decide that the product or service [we’re] offering is a real benefit, it solves a problem for somebody, and it’s information that you really need. You have to come at it from that angle, and then it’s worth something to people.
What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur?
I would certainly point them toward something like the New Ventures program (Women, Work and Community), because they’ll be surrounded by people who are supportive. They have to put their service or product to the test. They have to develop a business plan. There are a lot of people who have great ideas but it’s just not a product or service people want to pay for. You do have to have some eye on the bottom line. My advice would be to start the minute you think, “Oh, I’d like to go out on my own with this business idea.” There’s a ton of places to get help. I’d start immediately making appointments with people who can help you get your business plan in order. A lot of people need financing. You have to look at how you’re going to have enough momentum to keep pushing the business forward. Get advice. There’s so much information out there, it’s really irresponsible to think about starting a business without talking to people.
If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
A: Sure. We put the website out to bid, and one of the companies wanted to do a sort of preliminary test of whether or not people would buy onto the site. And I didn’t think that was a good idea. I felt that I knew people would want to buy onto the site. I think I could’ve gotten the amount of money they wanted to charge for valuable insight into the sales process for selling Maine Senior Guide. I mean, you learn stuff. That’s part of being in business. I wish that I had known how long the actual sales process would be because I would have been more patient in my approach. I would’ve liked to go back and say, “Deborah, it’s OK.” Just because they don’t sign a contract when you walk through the door, doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back to you in two months, or six months. Keep contacting them. Be patient. And don’t get discouraged. Nothing turns out exactly as you plan.
– Taryn Yudaken