Cec Ortiz was a political appointment for the governor of Colorado, heading his small business development centers around the country and later spearheading the state’s Minority Women’s Business Outreach Program. Late in 1998 she was downsized, and left without work. It was time to make some decisions. A 9 to 5 job? Or was it time to expand upon her skill at getting community leaders to the discussion table to a new level? Just six months ago, Ortiz decided to start her own business.
How did you know what to do?
I didn’t. I always knew I was going to be leaving [the governor’s office] because I was an appointment, so there was never a question of me staying so much. But it was more so, “Oh, I can always find a job.” But then I sat down and began to evaluate what was important to me. I was, at that point, forty years old and I got a whole lot of coaching from a lot of folks. I am very blessed to have a lot of great friends in this field. So I just sat with them and said, “What do you think about me being an entrepreneur?”
I did a lot of informational interviews with business owners. And that’s when people said, “You should do this. You’re really good with people and you’re really good at bringing people together, so you can build coalitions where maybe others can’t.” I had two questions that I always asked people: One, “Could I generate business?” And two, “Who are my competitors?”
Talk to me a little bit about your first year. What have been some of the hardest and most rewarding parts?
The good news is that I’m driven, the bad news is that I’m driven, so it’s hard to figure out how to balance work and home, especially when I’m home. I had heard that it’s easy to not want to do work. My problem is it’s hard for me to close the store and go back into my house.
And what have been some of the most rewarding parts of the first year?
It’s liberating to think entrepreneurially – not only with your heart, but also with your mind regarding what kinds of things you could do with this business. Secondly, I’ve met some wonderful entrepreneurs who have been so helpful that they’re always going to be in my life, no matter what. They’re kind of like me. Some of them are three years old, some are five years old, and some I’ve known forever. I think the other thing that I really loved is being at home and creating my own space. That has been an interesting fun opportunity. And I’ve just really loved the money. I was real concerned about money.
How has it been going?
It’s been great. Unfortunately, I underestimated the time it would take me to do a project. But my colleagues were like, “Well OK, everybody does that. What did you learn?” The money has been great in that there is this part of me that was real apprehensive to ask for things. I remember saying, “God that’s a lot of money.”
But the money is important because it’s going to provide me with independence. I don’t think anybody is guaranteed a traditional job anymore. It has become clear to me that this isn’t any different. It’s just that you have to be a little bit stronger. I said to one of the consultants, “You know it’s a little different than being in the system.” He goes, “That’s right. You eat what you kill.” It was true.
Do you think forging your own business was more difficult at the age of 40 than it would have been had you done it right out of school? What are the advantages of doing it when you decided to do it?
The advantage is that I think I know what I want, which is probably not what I would have said at 25. I think for sure that my networks are very important to me. I don’t think I had those networks at that point of the game. Would it have been easier? Maybe just because I would have been more naïve and maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much. I think more pride is involved now.
What three pieces of advice would you give to women who are heading down the entrepreneur path?
Know thyself. Can you do this with all the issues of working on your own and knowing your demons? Also, know your competitors. That’s a critical one that I’ve learned a lot from.
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