After Joseph Brakefield retired from a long career as a railroad conductor with CSX, he was looking for something to occupy his time. He took a couple of continuing education courses at the University of South Alabama. One was a real estate class and the other was on how to start and run a small business, which was taught by Thomas Tucker, then director of the Small Business Development Center at USA.
Joe soon discovered that selling real estate wasn’t his thing, but the idea of having his own business intrigued him. The small business course, “really opened my eyes about getting into a small business.”
His first venture into entrepreneurship was as an independent agent for a prepaid legal services company. But that was not for him either.
Then, “I was looking for something part-time, and a pest control company hired me.” He discovered he enjoyed it. “I was learning his business and how he operated.” That led to an online entomology course through Auburn, which he said helped him better understand insects and how to control them. It also taught him many natural solutions to pest control, which he often uses now and freely shares with his customers. He said he found making people’s lives better through pest control rewarding and it became a passion.
Six months into the job, when the owner of the business learned Joe was working on certifications to run his own business, Joe was let go. However, the next day, two other pest control companies hired him as an independent contractor. Joe stayed with them for two years learning how their businesses operated and working on his certifications.
In the meantime, Joe had returned to the SBDC for assistance from counselor Gerald Dunlop with preparing a business plan, creating financial projections, and setting up a new company. On January 9, 2013, he took the plunge and opened PesTech Pest Control as a one-person operation.
Joe is part of a growing segment of small business owners called “encore entrepreneurs.” Those are people over 50, who’ve retired or left a long, successful career to start their own company. Sometimes it’s to fulfill a lifelong passion; sometimes it’s just to fill time. Sometimes it’s out of financial necessity; sometimes it’s just for fun. In Joe’s case, it began mostly to fill time.
“I started it to be a part-time business I could operate to stay busy and bring in a little extra income,” Joe said. But even with keeping his expenses to a minimum it was difficult initially. “My first month in business, I was my best client. I was knocking on doors all over town and it was hard to get in.” SBDC counselors Gerald Dunlop and Angela Mustin helped him develop a marketing strategy, and he also became active in a networking group, which helped him make contacts. “It’s been getting progressively better ever since.”
“As word got around, especially since this past March (2015), it hasn’t stopped growing,” Joe said. “I look at it this way: I worked it into a full-time job. Now I’m going to work it into a business where I can take it easy and have people working for me.” Joe hired his first two employees several months ago and is planning to hire two more soon.
Joe is also looking to expand his market to include government agencies and prime contractors. After several counseling sessions on what it takes to do business with the government, PesTech was registered in the System for Award Management, a database of government vendors, and was signed up to receive solicitation notices through the Alabama SBDC Network’s free bid-match system.
Joe has attended several workshops related to government procurement and the Gulf Coast Procurement Opportunities Matchmaker. “It opened my eyes on what I need – the certifications and licenses – to really make my business expand and grow.”
Joe said he probably would not have started a business without the help of the SBDC. “I can say the SBDC was the kick-starter in all this. When you've worked for a company for so long, you just work. You’re just an employee. I had no idea how to operate, start or do a small business at all.”
He went on to say about the help he received from the SBDC, “I can’t thank you enough because I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gone through the program. I definitely would not have been as successful.”