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Mary, I thank you for the opportunity to ask you these questions. Please tell us a little about your background, experience, and current business.

I was raised in the Foreign Service, in the Middle East. Went to Chapel Hill and eventually ended up in the CIA. Got married to a Foreign Service Officer, lived in Caracas and London, had a baby, was stay-at-home mom. At 35 got divorced and got my MSW. In private practice as Clinical Social Worker for 15 years, then got inspired to be a coach. For last 2 years have worked on coaching credentials and developed a practice around leadership development, women at work, etc. Love working with entrepreneurs, professionals, executives, anyone in transition. SIS provides individual and group coaching, teleclasses, presentations.

Were you the founder of the company?


What is the legal structure of your company?

Sole Proprietorship

How many employees does your business employ?

Me and some part-time contracts.

How was the business model of the company developed?

Hit or Miss!!! Copying other coaches!! Then read the E-Myth Revisited.

Was your company financed by venture capital, private investment, loans, or personal funds?

Personal funds.

Do you feel your company has a distinct corporate culture? If so, would you describe it?

Casual, high energy, creative, people=oriented.

Describe some of the obstacles you have encountered along the course of building your company? How were these overcome?

Marketing, networking, building credibility. Overcome by getting out there meeting people, established women’s lead share group, writing and publishing articles, alliances with others

How important do you feel the proper advisors are in ensuring an young entrepreneurs success?

They are extremely important.

Have there been any organizations that have helped your business grow? If so, what are they?

Some women’s organizations. NAWBO, Leading Ladies, BNI

How have you kept your edge over competitors fresh?

My slant is a systems approach, focused on personal development rather than techniques or information-collection.

What are the marketing methods you have used with the most success?

Personal contacts.

What books and resources would you recommend for young entrepreneurs?

The E-Myth Revisited. Leadership and Self-Deception. What’s Holding You Back? Internet searches for good articles from HBR, Fast Co, etc.

How important do you consider networking and building contacts to be for an entrepreneur’s success?

Networking is fundamental to success.

If you could pin it down to just one thing, what is the one most important thing you have learned about business?

It’s fun, scary, hard work, lonely at times, you really need a support group.

Any final advice for young entrepreneurs or businessmen just getting started?

Find a mentor. Look into your local Small Business Development Office. Network.

This Distinguished Entrepreneur Interview Series article was written by Mary Symmes, interviewed by Ryan Allis on 2/28/2005

Mary Symmes is a professional coach and the founder of Alexandria, Virginia based Self-Investment Strategies. She can be reached via and 703-535-3221.
Her website is