Mary Jacobs knows all about reinvention.
After working for 14 years in the Seattle airline industry, she was laid off at age 42. Jacobs then moved back to her home state of Minnesota and immersed herself in entrepreneurship.
Initially it was a passion project for her, but furthering women as independent business owners has become her full-time career as both a consultant and a college professor.
“My message to women is ‘It’s never too late. You can always reinvent yourself,’” Jacobs says. “I’ve developed this niche where I work with women who are transitioning from employee to entrepreneur. They wanted to go out and start their own business but didn’t know how.”
Her first, and most pressing, task, she says, is getting women comfortable with selling themselves. She has seen woman after woman underprice herself when it comes time to land their first client as a new entrepreneur.
“If you can’t sell yourself, you can’t build a sustainable company,” Jacobs said. “So first we focus on value proposition, their messaging—why should someone hire you for $500 an hour?”
“I’ve worked with women who have been executives at Fortune 500 companies, and they want to price themselves at $75 an hour,” she goes on. “What I get, whether it is in taking a class with me or working directly with them, is the chance to build that confidence in them.”
Jacobs focuses on what she calls the three Es: experience, expertise and education. “How can they leverage that in their own business?” she asks. “Most of the women I work with are in a professional service type of business. They aren’t usually selling products.”
“For me it’s about teaching people, especially women, how to sell themselves,” she says. “I’ll take them through exercises. I prepare women foundationally to start and be successful and grow their business. Most want to work for themselves. They really want to do something that’s meaningful in the last chapter of their work lives.”
Her focus is on the reality of starting a business versus the romance of it. She’s developed a robust training curriculum to help female entrepreneurs get started.
“The reality is it’s hard. It’s lonely. It takes more money than expected,” she says. “It takes longer than expected. I knew what that journey was like. I’ve never taken a class like the one I teach. I really embed my experience, and I think that’s so important.”
Jacobs’ CV is as assistant dean of graduate programs and MBA program director at St. Mary’s University, where she’s been for two years. Prior to that she was at St. Kate’s for eight years.
With her passion for working with female entrepreneurs at the forefront of her work, Jacobs has been teaching and consulting for 17 years. She founded The Women’s Excelerator 15 years ago, has reached 1,800 women and authored “Sales Strategies for New Women Entrepreneurs; Successfully Transitioning from Employee to Entrepreneur.”
She’s also taught classes for St. Mary’s and St. Kate’s Alumni Associations, SCORE and Women’s Health Leadership TRUST. Her biggest reward is seeing a “lightbulb moment.”
“You have to do the work,” she says. “Mapping it out on the back of a napkin, I don’t believe most people can be successful that way. You have to be thoughtful and strategic, write a business plan, and you have to be mindful of who your customers are.”