Our New Series: The First Year in the Life of a 50+ Entrepreneur
We're following Patricia Wynn launching her lifestyle assistant business. Here, she shares her excitement, concerns, startup efforts and thoughts on the road ahead.
Editor’s note: In this new series, Next Avenue will follow Patricia Wynn as she embarks on becoming an entrepreneur with her North Carolina lifestyle assistant business. Future installments will note her progress, with advice for her and for other midlife entrepreneurs.
The pandemic has motivated many people to reconsider their career paths. For Patricia Wynn, a single, 52-year-old in Hillsborough, N.C., it meant being open to the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur.
"My relatives encouraged me, as someone who suffers from coronary artery disease, to make a change from the pressures of managing a fast-food restaurant during a pandemic."
"I spent twenty-six years at McDonald's in Atlanta, rising up the ranks to become general manager. Then in 2015, I moved back home to Hillsborough to help care for my mother before she passed, and became a general manager at Wendy's," says Wynn.
The Wendy's job lasted five years. In April 2020, she quit and decided to pursue a path as an entrepreneur, becoming part of the growing national trend of minority entrepreneurship.
As I noted in my Next Avenue article, "The State of Minority Entrepreneurshp in America," according to the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation, 2020 produced a surge in the creation of Black-owned businesses; about one in 250 Black adults started a new venture during that pandemic year.
Changing Her Original Plan
In Wynn's case, "my relatives encouraged me, as someone who suffers from coronary artery disease, to make a change from the pressures of managing a fast-food restaurant during a pandemic," she says.
While reviewing her expertise — which included managing staff, being food-service certified and caring for older family members — Wynn first considered running a group home for older adults.
Wynn then began working part-time at a home health care agency to familiarize herself with what would be required to open a group home.
"While at the agency, my first client had mild dementia. He was a former professor. I would talk to him, do his laundry and cook for him. He liked soul food!" says Wynn. "Near this time, I found a person with a group home, and she suggested that I take required courses and shadow her."
But the cost of the education would have been about $13,000. "I didn't have that kind of money," Wynn recalls.
So, based on that and advice from her friend Cozze Staples, she shifted gears.
"I decided that it would be more cost effective to start a business as a lifestyle assistant — doing meal preparation, running errands, housekeeping and offering companionship for clients."
Wynn noticed that on the website Care.com, for $12.99 a month, you could create a business profile advertising the services you provide. That, she realized, would give her a chance to trumpet her lifestyle assistant skills.
Why People Hire Her as a Lifestyle Assistant
While working at the home health care agency, in February 2021, Wynn got her first response from her Care.com profile.
It was from a local couple in their early 80s, Virginia and Dr. Redford Williams. She's co-founder of a life skills company; he's a Duke University professor of psychiatry and psychology.
"After doing a background check on me, they hired me for eight hours, every Thursday. This couple wants to stay in their home and not go into a retirement home," says Wynn. "In addition to cleaning their house, I also walk through the property to see if there are any repairs needed that I should inform their maintenance person about."
The Williamses, Wynn says, "are my biggest fans."
Wynn mentioned to the home health care agency owner that she wanted to open her own business and the owner highly recommended seeking a free mentor through SCORE – the national organization of retired business executives affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Getting a SCORE mentor when starting a business in midlife is something Nakeisha S. Lewis, associate dean and diversity, equity and Inclusion ambassador at the Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., recommends. (EIX, the Entrepreneurship Innovation Exchange at the university's Schulze School of Entrepreneurship, is a funder of Next Avenue.)
Wynn began having Zoom meetings with her SCORE mentor, Maxine Stern, 78, a former Duke University CPA who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., not far from Wynn, and has been volunteering with SCORE for about 10 years.
Says Stern: "I think Patricia's management background at McDonald's and Wendy's helped her a lot. She's not afraid of collecting data. She is not hesitant about the things you need to do to build a business."
Smart Advice From Her SCORE Mentor
Wynn notes: "Ms. Stern really helped me. She was very motivational."
Stern sent Wynn notes on how to apply for an LLC — a limited liability company that would provide personal asset protection. Stern also provided advice on the requirements to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), in case Wynn wanted to work in a group home.
"We also talked about the rate I should charge as a lifestyle assistant," says Wynn. They decided that charging $20 an hour made the most sense, based on eventually working a 40- to 50-hour week.
"She wasn't afraid of the business, but there were things she didn't know."
"That was almost double what I made working part-time for the agency," says Wynn.
At each of their meetings, Wynn made sure she'd accomplished what the two of them had discussed the month before.
Stern said some would-be entrepreneurs come to SCORE with an idea, but then don't continue with the mentoring program when they find out all that's required to start a new venture.
"It can be overwhelming for some people," she says. But not for Wynn.
"She wasn't afraid of the business, but there were things she didn't know," Stern says. "She had to learn how to have her own business. It's a really different concept from being an employee."
Describing Wynn as a "smart, capable person," Stern said she and Wynn always discussed the "why" behind the monthly goals they agreed on.
Launching Patricia Services, LLC
In April 2021, Wynn officially launched Patricia Services, LLC, with an initial investment of less than $5,000 in her small stash of savings. "The business has to pay for itself," says Wynn.
She has three first-year goals for the business: "First, my ultimate goal is to get as much information, and more knowledgeable, about caregiving as possible," she says. That includes finding, and taking, free classes about caregiving and on how to speak to people suffering from dementia as well as getting caregiving certifications.
"Second, I'd like to be able to add two more staff members. Third, I want to increase my advertising by creating flyers that I can distribute among contacts in social services who specialize in elderly or disabled clients of various ages," says Wynn.
She began developing her client list while working part-time at the home health care agency until September 2021, when she quit that job to devote all her energy into her lifestyle assistant business.
Today, Wynn has a diverse client base of six people, ranging from older adults to busy college professors and other professionals who are Gen Xers and millennials. She also does some weekend cleaning at a local bed and breakfast.
"With all of my clients," she notes, "I set it up so they can hire me for a minimum of four hours per week. That can be spread out through one, two or more days."
One client is Katherine Bland, a Duke University professor who has hired Wynn to help with housekeeping and cleaning. Another, Jaya Kumar, even sends Wynn weekly meal recipes to prepare for her family, since her time is limited while also completing a doctorate.
"The younger professional people need you because they work all the time," says Wynn. "The senior citizens need assistance to remain independent with their everyday activities."
Her Plan for Growing the Business
Wynn now has her LLC designation, a website and a profile on Care.com. She recently decided to add decals on her car advertising Patricia Services, LLC.
In the spring, she qualified for a federal government PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan of $4,375. She used it to pay her nephew and brother when they occasionally did heavy furniture hauling for her business.
So far, Wynn is plowing most of her earnings from Patricia Services back into the business — to pay for things like its mobile phone bills, gasoline charges, the Care.com profile and the website.
"Looking toward 2022, I would like to add another staff member," Wynn says. "But I have to grow slowly because if that person is out sick, I'm the one that would have to service their clients."
And in the category of "long-term goals," Wynn is investigating expanding her client base by becoming a vendor with the North Carolina Client Assistance program, which helps state residents with disabilities live more independently.
But right now, she says — with a nod to the McDonald's slogan — "I'm loving it."
She adds: "I'm thrilled to not have to go back to managing Wendy's. I'm proud to be starting a new chapter in my life. I've helped make Wendy's and McDonald's owner operations millions over the years, so I'm looking at using the skills I developed there and making something of my own and working at my own pace."
Editor’s note: This article is part of America's Entrepreneurs, a Next Avenue initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur Innovation Exchange.