Helping Small Business Owners Succeed with Guest Doris Symonds

Doris Symonds a leader in her community and helps small business owners succeed


Show Notes for Episode 4:

Doris is a spunky and wonderful active woman in her community in Peoria Illinois and in the surrounding areas of central IL!  As a retiree, she wanted to make a difference and has personal passion to help women create and sustain small business, and network thru referrals to help them foster their business growth. I interview Doris Symonds and she talks about confidence, why she started her business and the mentors that helped her. Doris is an author, a serial entrepreneur, a community connector and a business owner.


[Music intro]

This podcast is about our experiences with being self-employed, entrepreneurship, and bootstrapping it. Sometimes I have a spectacular guest that join me and share their stories. Also, it’s about connecting to our soul, our inner selves to unwind and chill. My name is Lourdes, and I hope you enjoy this episode!

Hi, and thanks for tuning in to today’s episode! I have a special guest today. Her name is Doris Symonds. Doris is an author, a serial entrepreneur, a community-connector, and a business owner. She has a master’s degree in education, and taught at a local high school, and later worked at Illinois Central College in Peoria for 26 years before she retired as an Assistant Director for Human Resources.

And in 2003 she started her own business, T.A.L.K.

T.A.L.K stands for “Teaching and Learning for Knowledge.” Also in 2003, she was interviewed by CNN Money and listed her company as “valuable resource for individuals to launch their business in Peoria, IL.” She also self-published her first book, How I saved $10,500 with Only 4 Quarters a Day!

In 2011, she launched “Ladies Who ‘Lunch’ Their Business to Success” conference. This conference is where women can gather, connect, and collaborate, and resolve business challenges. In that same year, she was elected to sit as the Vice President of Public Relations at the National Association of Women Business Owners. She was named Women in Business Champion of the Year for the state of Illinois and Region Five by the small business administration. She created one of the largest women’s conferences in East Peoria. “Women in Business Networking Conferences”. The mission of this conference is to address the pressing issues for women business owners and entrepreneurs, by featuring successful talented local business owners, and high-caliber technology trainers as keynote speakers.
Doris is a spunky and wonderful, active woman in her community in Peoria, Illinois, and in the surrounding areas of Central Illinois. As a retiree, she wanted to make a difference, and has personal passion to help women create and sustain small business, and network through referrals to help foster their business growth.

Lourdes: And that’s a lot of accomplishment Doris! And welcome, thanks so much for taking the time to do my podcast today! How are you?

Doris: I am fine, Lourdes, thank you so much for asking!

Lourdes: Yes, so let’s go ahead and start. So, tell me Doris, why did you decide to start your business after you retired?

Doris: Because I felt there was a need in the community for women. Well, it all started with the Illinois Central College. Women did not negotiate their salaries, they just really started to accept the money that was given or offered, and I decided that when I retired, I was going to teach salary negotiations. But then I changed my mind and started helping women with all the things I can think of that they needed. And so, it started a business, and there I was.

Lourdes: With you starting your business, did you start off creating conferences at first, or how did you start your business?

Doris: Well initially you start asking people questions, so women start asking questions. Pretty much, I decided that “Oh my goodness, they askin’ these questions, someone needs to do something,” and I didn’t find a conference in the community that provided information for them on starting their business. Y’know, like the Small Business Development Center, or 1Million Cups, etc. So, I decided that’s what I will do, I will bring in the experts in the community, the resources that’re out there, and give women an opportunity to take part in and participate in what’s available to them.

Lourdes: Ok, you mentioned 1Million Cups, can you tell our audience what that is?

Doris: 1 Million Cups provides an opportunity for individuals and entrepreneurs who’re interested in starting a business, and they would like to see a real established business owner talk about their business. Or a person starting out for the very first time are given an opportunity to address an audience for about 6 minutes and share what they want to do in regards to their new business. And so we meet on Wednesday from 8 to 9 o’clock, and 1 Million Cups is an opportunity where everyone in the United States on this particular day have a cup of coffee and address the needs and concerns for entrepreneurs.

Lourdes: Wow, that sounds really cool! So, you also mentioned Small Business Administration. What is that, and can you tell the audience what that is about?

Doris: The SBDC, Illinois Small Business Development Center, is an organization that provides an opportunity for individuals to learn how to start correctly a business. And so they walk you through the process, it’s a workshop that you take in the beginning, and it shares with you how to register your business, how to structure your business. It’s a host of entities that will help you as a new business owner. And it’s free! It’s free!
Lourdes: Oh, that’s awesome! So you guys, check those places out. 1 Million Cups, and the Small Business Development Center. Great! Do you ever find that you have any difficult clients? Have you had any difficult clients, Doris?

Doris: To be honest with you, not really. I call them “difficult.” They may be difficult for themselves, but for me, my motto or my vision for them would be to find the resource that would be able to help them in our community. And so, I try to go as many places as I possibly can to find out what is it that they do, and what are the benefits and how someone can receive benefits from that organization starting out as a new entrepreneur or an existing business owner.

Lourdes: Where do they even start? How do they come up with ideas? Is that something you help them with?

Doris: Well, generally a person that is really curious about something and want to do [it], but I would say when you start a business it’s based on a need. It’s a vision that they have, and it’s in their head and it has to be brought out to be beneficial to someone.

Lourdes: And have you ever heard any ideas that are in their head that is not good?

Doris: [Laughter] Yes, yes! But I do not crush your ideas. That’s their ideas, and they think that it’s gonna be a great idea. And perhaps it is, and maybe it would prove an existing business that’s already in the market space, cause everybody is different. And if you see something where there’s a need and it can be better, by all means develop it! Run with it, talk to someone in the Small Business Development Center. Find out the resources that’re available to you. The internet provides lots of resources for entrepreneurs. And then talk to someone, talk to an existing business owner.

Lourdes: Ok, so you won’t crush their ideas.

Doris: No, not at all.
Lourdes: But how do you steer them away, or do you allow them to go ahead and try their ideas and fail, or do you go ahead and ask them or somehow gently tell them it may not work, and provide them with other assistance?

Doris: I wouldn’t tell them that it’s not going to work, I’m not going to do that. [Laughter] But I may think it! But generally starting out, if they do not have the capital… You’d be surprised, they think that starting a business is easy. It’s not, it’s not easy at all. Because you have to think, do you have the capital, did you think about this in the beginning 3 years before you wanted to start? When you go to talk to someone at the bank, they want you to have money, they call it “skin in the game” right? And so there’s a lot of things that you need to do before you start your business. That’s why it’s very important to start out right, starting with the Small Business Development Center. And then after you finish that free workshop, it will help you to decide whether you want to continue.

Lourdes: Lemme ask you this. Who are the three people who have been most influential to you when you began your business journey?

Doris: Oh gosh… There’s a lot I can give credit to. Because you know, I ask questions and I get good answers. But the three people would be… My first person would be, I asked this person to be my mentor. And he was the Director of the Small Business Development Center at that time, and his name was Ken Klotz. And Ken Klotz took me aside and mentored me very very, well, and of course I listened.

Another person would be Jerry. Jerry Hall was an older gentleman, who was the President of Excalibur Seasoning, and I heard him give a presentation at The Chamber. And I said to myself, “That guy, I want him to be my mentor.” So, I went to him after he finished speaking, and asked him if I could take him out to lunch on my dime. He said “yes.” [Laughter]

And of course, the third person was Ross Miller. Ross Miller was the person who helped me with my confidence, to say “you can do it!” And that’s all I needed, someone to say “yes” and to provide some type of encouragement. And of course, my husband, who stayed out of my way and allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do. He would argue with me and opening my mind with various questions to think about. So, I guess those are four people.

Lourdes: You mentioned confidence, I think there’s a lot of women, and probably men too, who especially when you start a business you start to doubt yourself, then you start losing confidence. At first, you’re all gung ho, it’s like “oh I’m gonna start a business,” and then the more you do research into your business and then getting ready to launch, people all of a sudden lose their confidence. What do you do to encourage women or men to have the confidence to move forward with their business journey?

Doris: I think you need someone to believe in you. I had lost my confidence, to give you an example, I was very successful the first year, the second year, the third year, and I lost it when it kept moving, I was making lots of money, and I kept saying I can’t keep doubling the money, I can’t continue to do this. So that’s when Jerry Hall told me that “if you lose any money, I will give you all the money back.” I said, “are you kidding?” I took him out to lunch, that’s the person I took out to lunch on my dime, and he proceeded to take every dime out of his pocket and place it on the table at the restaurant, and said to me – It was like $300 just in change – And he said “I would give you every dime that you will make it, and you will be successful. And if you don’t, I will give you every dollar back.” And I said, “Well I don’t need the money, people are lookin, you don’t have to–” and he says “No, it’s yours,” and he pushed it toward me. And he told me to go forward. And then after that he told me all about his stories of failure, and they were worse than I’d ever heard in my life, and today his company still exists. He’s no longer with me, he passed away about 5 years ago. His company is still in existence, and it’s about 35 years old. And he is a premier seasoning, the name of his company is Excalibur Seasoning, and that company still exists today after 35 years.

Lourdes: He sounds like a very successful entrepreneur, and also sounds like a wonderful mentor.

Doris: Oh he was. He was about say, 75 years of age. And he just loved me and came to my conference and brought all the seasonings for all of the attendees. It was really nice. And that’s how I got my confidence back.

Lourdes: Well, lemme ask you this. How did you lose your confidence? You said the first few years you were successful, what made you lose your confidence?

Doris: Well, what happened was I kept growing. Let’s say you start up with 50 people, the next time you double it to 150 people, then the next time you double it to 200 people and exhibitors. You know you can’t keep going like that. You just can’t, at least I couldn’t. And then the next opportunity was to move into the Civic Center, which is the largest place you can have a venue. And I said, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” I kept saying “I can’t,” but, in reality, I could, I just made sure that my strategies were in place. And the question that he asked me, he said “Were you successful the first year?” And I said, “Yes Jerry.”

“Were you successful the second year?” And I said, “Yes Jerry.”

“What about the third year?”

“Yes Jerry.”

“What makes you think you’re not gonna be successful the next year?” I go, “Because… It’s bigger.” He says, “No. Continue to use the same strategies, and continue to work hard, and stay focused.”

Lourdes: Now that we’re talking about this, can you think about your biggest failure? And what do you think you learned from it?

Doris: Well, [Laughter] I don’t consider them “failure,” I consider them “learning opportunities.” I don’t use “failure” in my vocabulary. To eliminate failure is a good plan, I feel. You must define what is it that you want to do, establish the strategies, and then implement. And of course, set your goals, but don’t set crazy crazy goals. So, my biggest failure was, I had promised more than I could deliver. For an example, I had made my profit, I think the second year. I thought I had lots of money because the money was coming in. But I wasn’t keeping good records, and at the very end of the net profit line, the revenue minus the expenses, I came out with $800, and I couldn’t believe it! When I had promised the Center for Prevention of Abuse that I was gonna write them a check for $500. And so, when my husband told me, he says “So how much you think you made?” I said, “I made a lot of money,” cause I had about five, six thousand dollars, I know I made some money. He says “Doris, you were spending too. So, your net profit is $300.” I said, “For all that work, are you kidding me?” And that’s when I decided for my failure, do not promise what you can’t deliver. You wait until you get the final dollar first, then you decide what percent you’re going to give to the community.

Lourdes: That’s a good lesson, and a great tip. When you’re not networking or doing conferences, what do you do for relaxation or for fun Doris?

Doris: Well, right now my focus is centered on my grandchildren. I have four grandchildren, so now family is first, and then things. And so, to relax I exercise. And when I exercise, I get new ideas, and then I write them down, and I say I will get to this, when I can get to this, when I finish. But I try to work on one or two projects very well, and not take on six or seven different projects. It causes a lot of stress in your life.

Lourdes: I agree. Some of us have a lot of stress in our lives with that big, long To-Do List. So, you wrote a book a while back, for the $10,500 book.

Doris: How to save $10,500.
Lourdes: Yes, How I saved $10,500 with Only 4 Quarters a Day! What inspired you to write that book?

Doris: One was to prove to my two daughters, Dawn and Raquel, that if you put your mind to something and you want to do it, you can do this. And so, I said “I’m gonna go write this book.” My grandmother gave me an idea a long time ago that for each child you have, you should save $1 from the day that they’re born until high school. And I said “Oh sure Grandma, I can save $1. I can save $3!” And she said “No, just save $1 every day for each child that you have. Get their Social Security Number, and then start saving for them.” I didn’t know about compounding interest, and how it will multiply, and that was a good lesson for me, and then for my children. And so, I saved, I think it came out to about $8000, and I gave it to them as a gift for high school.

Lourdes: Did they spend it, or did they save it?
Doris: I think they spent it on something. I said, “You can save it for your wedding,” but they spent it on their education.

Lourdes: So, Doris, what’re you working on now?

Doris: I’m so glad you asked me that question! I’m always working on something Lourdes. What I’m working on now is, I see the need when people say, “Go and support the small businesses,” “Go and support Small Business Saturday.” So, the question is, what businesses am I supporting that are small businesses? And so, I saw the need out there, since I focus with women and women’s small businesses, I decided that I would start with, this is gonna be my first booklet, is Women of Color. And Women of Color consists of Asian women, Black women, Native American women, Hispanic women… And that I would come up with 100 women of color, and to identify them, how to get in touch with them for individuals to support their business. Now the goal was to come up with 100 businesses by December 31st.

Lourdes: That’s coming up in about 2 weeks or so, so how many do you have?
Doris: I have about 85.

Lourdes: Oh wow! And when did you start this goal?

Doris: I’d say about a month and a half ago. But what I found, to my surprise, is that I didn’t know that these women existed in the community. I did not know that we have women who were construction workers, own their own business as construction workers.

Lourdes: Wow! So do you put out a shout-out in the community to contact you? How did you find them?

Doris: I did research on the computer, and I asked around. So, when I asked, who do you know? And then you would give me a couple names. And then I would record them, provide all the information, go out and research them and see if it’s a legitimate business. And then I just kept asking and asking. I found 5 women in a house here in my local community that had different businesses. One woman found this house and turned it into office space. And she invited 4 other women to join her, and that’s how they had their 5 businesswomen in that space. And someone gave me her name, and I found her, and so I had 5 in one day. And they were all different businesses, Lourdes! One lady was a consultant for helping small business owners get started. The other one has a nail salon that was in that house. Each room had a woman that was a marketer for products. The other one was a seamstress, a revamping seamstress. A revamping seamstress, I’m learning this, is someone who can take a coat or a jacket and turn it into a dress.

Lourdes: Oh cool, huh!

Doris: Yes, so that was five! And then there was one lady that I knew about who was a construction worker. She was a residential and commercial construction business. And so, she gave me one person, then I found another person, then I found another person, and now in Peoria, we have 5 women who own their business as a construction business. Dentists, we have 6 dentists!

Lourdes: My God, I had no idea a lot of women business owners that’re in these different industries, that’s crazy!

Doris: Well, but no one has ever decided to take this idea and coordinate it all together, and put it into space and say “Look at the jewels that we have!” So, when you ask that question, support small businesses, I would say “here’s a directory identifying small businesses [run by] women of color.” And it’s gonna be awesome! It’s gonna be really awesome!

Lourdes: So, it’s gonna be a booklet, and I can’t wait for that booklet to come out, that sounds like a lot of work researching about 100 women you said. Will you be featuring them in this new booklet?

Doris: Yes, yes. I’m gonna turn it into a directory, and also, I’m going to include a form that other women who would like to be in this book for next year to grow the book. And then I’m going to put in Women of Influence. A picture and a story, a paragraph about them, Women of Influence in the community that women did not know, of color. As like a centerfold, throughout the booklet.

Lourdes: Ok, and we’re not talking about that kind of centerfold folks, we’re talking about booklets of business centerfold.

Doris: [Laughter] A business centerfold of the mayor, a business centerfold of the Superintendent, a business centerfold of Women of Influence. President of, let’s say, the Urban League. I’ve yet to find, I have to work a little harder to find a Native American woman.

Lourdes: That’s gonna be a challenge then?

Doris: No, not for Doris! I’m going to go to the nearby church in East Peoria up the hill, and I’m going to go to their service, and then I’m going to come out with maybe five or six businesswomen.

Lourdes: And I believe that Doris because you are one energetic woman! I mean, my goodness, I can’t even keep up with you. And I’m sure you’re gonna find them because in Peoria, it seems like everywhere I went in Peoria, I mention your name to anyone – I talk to strangers sometimes, and I just say “Doris–” and they’re like, “Doris Symonds?” And I go “Oh my God you know her?” They seem to all know you. How did you become popular right when you started your business, and now you’re popular, so how did you start meeting people and then tell them what you do? And so now you’re super popular.

Doris: Well, I just say that if someone’s gonna help you, you will remember that person, right? So, if within 24 hours, if I meet you, within 24 hours I should be going home and writing a card or an e-mail, to tell you about you. So, I would say “Dear Lourdes, it was a pleasure and an honor to meet you today. And I am so excited that you are my new person for today! And if I can help you in any way, please let me know, and these are some of the things that I can do to help you. And so why don’t we get together for coffee or lunch so that I can get to know you better and find out what your needs are. So, can we meet on Monday for lunch at the Olive Garden at noon? Let me know, I am here for you!”

Lourdes: I can’t see anyone turning that down at all, with words like that! Wow, that’s wonderful, wonderful! Well, we are just about at the end of our podcast interview, but I always still like to ask a question that’s a funny or weird question, so I’m gonna ask you. If you could be a fly on the wall, who would you want to listen in on?

Doris: Oh gosh… You know who I would? Cause that’s who they call me. [Laughter] If I could be a fly on the wall I would love to listen to Oprah Winfrey.

Lourdes: Oh yes, that would be cool! She’s got so much knowledge and so much to say! Another powerful woman.

Doris: Oh, that would be an honor! Are you gonna that happen for me? I know you can!

Lourdes: [Laughter] I will try, but I can’t promise anything. Well, thank you so much Doris for taking the time to interview with me today. This was really fun, I truly enjoyed your answers, and I’m sure our listeners will also enjoy your answers. Can you tell us how we can connect with you, or how we can contact you?

Doris: To my surprise, I updated my website! It’s Not tomorrow! You need to talk to Doris now, so that’s what it is. And my e-mail is

Lourdes: Great, thank you! And for our listeners, we’ll have the show notes and link of Doris’ website and email address. Until then, thank you! I hope you liked our episode, bye!

[Music Outro]

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