BCW: First, we would like to get to know you personally, a little bit better, what would you like our readers to know about you?
Jennifer: I originally connected with BCW because of the faith-oriented blog that I started recently (at http://biscuitswithjam.com
). But now I’m grateful to also have a chance to share a little about my book, “The Mosaic Economy,” and about my professional work and about me personally.
The basics about me: I live in Boston and attend a great small neighborhood church. I’m involved in urban community gardening and other creative projects. I’m a single mother, now empty-nester. I am a self-employed business owner and I love writing.
I just celebrated a birthday (and feeling very middle-aged!) and was reflecting with a friend who has a birthday close to mine. We both share some of the same background: we’ve been active Christians since our early teens, we both love math, we both love art and drawing. And we both grew up to love writing, teaching and doing whatever we can to make a positive difference in the world. So when you ask me to say something about myself personally, I thought of this conversation. Like a lot of BCW readers and writers, there are a lot of elements to who we are as Christians and we put them together to make interesting lives.
BCW: What would you like our readers to know about your business?
Jennifer: I have my own business that I named “The Skills Library” with a description “software and resources for education and career development programs.” My projects are a mix of technical and non-technical work. For an example of the technical side of my work, I designed a database that is used by summer jobs programs and high school internship programs. The staff and participants in the programs go online to use the database to keep track of where students are placed and what employers are involved, to write job descriptions and to do an assessment of the skills students are learning. As an example of the non-technical “human side” of the work, I run workshops and write program guides for the staff in these programs. I help staff to identify the skills that students will learn in their jobs and internships, and help program managers look at data to see how their programs are doing.
I always have several projects going on at once. I’m also working on a database for an adult education diploma program, another database for a church-based after school program, and on curriculum for a middle school career exploration program.
Most of my projects focus on the theme of skill development, reflecting the name “The Skills Library.”
I am a “solo” business owner – mostly working on my own, but teaming up with other people on various projects and occasionally hiring part-time staff when I have projects that others can help me with.
BCW: What sparked an interest in you to start your own business?
Jennifer: I saw it as a chance to work on projects and issues that I care about. All my life, I’ve wanted to find ways to play a leadership role in community issues. I’m a quiet person and never a take-charge sort of leader. And early in my career I found that I didn’t enjoy the struggles of working directly in local politics or in highly political organizations. Over time, I found that the type of work I am doing now “fits” me. I am supporting a large number of organizations and individual staff who are doing good work with students and communities.
BCW: How do you tie Christian values in to your business?
Jennifer: The first is to let faith be visible in small ways when I talk to groups, write, and share information. For example, when I write or speak about careers, I mention careers in ministry and faith-based organizations. When I write about career values I include faith as one of the values that people bring to their work.
The second is more subtle and challenging. I try to focus on a gentler approach to “doing good works” and to help others to do the same. Sometimes, educational and social programs get into the rut of viewing youth and families and communities mechanically, sort of like a collection of objects that need to be fixed. I think it is better when program leaders and staff believe in the natural strengths of people and communities, and let “grace” flow through the work.
Lots of people working in secular settings in education and nonprofit work are motivated by faith and religious values. When I talk about some of these values I often see people’s eyes light up, glad to have a chance to think about how their work reflects their own Christian values.
BCW: Being a business owner is not an easy gig, what advice would you give a young woman looking to start their own career in business management?
Jennifer: The advice that I’ve given to people who are starting a business is to look thoughtfully at all aspects of the business plan: the product or service, the customer base, the financial plan. Look for the positive energy that develops when you have: 1) a base of customers who you care about, 2) a product or service that you enjoy providing, and 3) earning potential that is aligned with your efforts, expenses and financial goals.
For women who are idealistic, it is easy to get immersed in some of the fun, creative, idealistic aspects of a new business. But balance is important. You want to build a strong foundation for your business, paying attention to the practical side of business as well as the creative and idealistic side.
One important aspect of business is to be really good at what you do. Some of your background will come from formal education and some from self-study. I was originally an economics major in college and was always interested in job markets and community development. But database design is something I started working on after college. I started working on databases in one of my first jobs, and since then, have spent uncountable hours reading and experimenting to continue to build database design skills. And I also spend lots of time reading and studying to continue to build my understanding of careers, jobs, communities and other issues that I focus on in my work.
When you provide a quality product or service and when you have a strong customer base, you can start to see how your work fits into and enhances the larger community. For example, think of a fabric and yarn store where people find things that help them explore their passions for creativity; a real estate office that invests in housing in the local community; a hair salon that helps people feel connected to the neighborhood; or a sports-oriented business that has a positive impact on youth, families and communities.
BCW: Tell us about a particular program/organization your services helped. What was the outcome?
Jennifer: OK! A good example is a summer jobs program for students in special needs programs that I work with. They started using the summer jobs database that I designed, and there has been a visible impact on the quality of the work the students do during the summer. The program staff are developing job descriptions and identifying skills that are very career-oriented, very respectful of the strengths these students bring to their work. This approach helps students see themselves in a more professional light, not restricted by disabilities, but instead able to start identifying strengths and interests that they will use in building their future careers.
Jennifer is giving away a paperback copy of her book, “The Mosaic Economy”.
The book is about the mosaic of jobs and opportunities in today’s economy. Like a mosaic, each time you look at the economy, a different picture emerges. I see some positive themes and patterns: entrepreneurship, technology, building community, creating healthy personal environments.
The book is an outgrowth of my Skills Library work — through my work I have gathered lots of stories and information and insights about job markets and about real people and their careers.
There is more detail about the book on my website — http://skillslibrary.com/
mosaiceconomy. The best place to order the paperback online is the Harvard Bookstore at http://www.harvard.com/book/ the_mosaic_economy/. And the best place to buy the e-book is on amazon.com.
Thank you! I’m glad the advice feels right!!
Carolyn M Williams says
Jennifer: Thanks for the great advice. Took special note to be remain in balance and be good at what I do. Both are biblical principles for us to follow. Thanks for the inspiration!
Love the concept of letting the grace flow through the work Jennifer!
Minttu Karjalainen says
I’ve always dreamed about owning my own business, so I liked reading Jennifer’s advice.