You never know where your next business idea will come from or whom you are going to meet that may change your company’s future. Be open to the opportunities you come across, but be smart and cautious about them too.
The daughter of a Croatian immigrant, Laura Marenco is the founder of the Washington, D.C.-based organization, Golden Beacon USA. The mission of Golden Beacon USA is to help immigrants and refugees to the United States integrate into American society and thrive socially, economically, and civically. Through educational videos, career coaching, and workshops, newcomers learn about life in America and the resources available to help them succeed and become self-sufficient here.
A TESOL-certified ESL teacher in her spare time, Laura holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Texas, an M.S. in Adult Education from Johns Hopkins University, and a Graduate Certificate in Leadership Coaching from George Mason University. In 2014, she left her job as a Training Specialist and Career Coach with the federal government to pursue her entrepreneurial aspirations. Her volunteer positions at Catholic Charities helped inform her work on Golden Beacon USA.
In her free time, Laura likes to daydream about where her next international travel destination will be, spend time with family and friends, and catch up on the latest celebrity gossip. Laura lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband and young daughter.
Where did the idea for Golden Beacon USA come from?
In 2012, as part of a graduate school internship, I was required to create and teach a class for adult students. I contacted Catholic Charities Hogar Immigrant Services in Manassas, Virginia and offered to teach one of their English as a Second Language or citizenship classes. During our meeting, the staff mentioned that many of their clients ask them for advice on everyday processes and resources, such as enrolling their child in school or public transportation options in the area.
This conversation led to my developing and teaching a ‘Welcome to Washington, D.C.’ resources course to fulfill the internship requirement, which in turn fueled the idea for Golden Beacon USA. My graduate program was focused on Adult Education, teaching in both a classroom format and online. Transportation is often an issue for newcomer clients so I decided to make this information more accessible by utilizing the short e-learning video format. This way, customers have all of the information in one place which they can view from anywhere at any time. The workshops and career coaching services were added as I have prior work experience in these areas and wanted to offer individual assistance to customers. In my final year of graduate school, I wrote the business plan for Golden Beacon USA.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In addition to running Golden Beacon USA, I teach English as a Second Language online to students in China, so many mornings start with a few 25-minute classes. Afterwards, I usually read the news, check Golden Beacon USA’s social media, and respond to e-mails. Some days are devoted to planning and scheduling social media posts for the coming week while others are devoted to meetings and researching and contacting potential partner organizations. Finally, I spend a significant amount of time brainstorming and researching ways to expand my business, such as licensing my video content.
I believe in the power of short breaks and taking a hint when I find I am forcing myself to complete something (unless, of course, I’m under a deadline). If writer’s block or procrastination hits, I usually move on to another task or even take a 15-minute break to watch TV or do a quick errand. The time away from the computer clears my head and allows me to be more productive when I return to my desk.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A lot of research and experimentation. My undergraduate degree is in sociology so this has been my approach to almost everything. I’m the type of person who likes to know all of her options and their pros and cons before proceeding.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The mission of Golden Beacon USA focuses on a very controversial topic – immigrants – which seems to be covered in the media in some shape or form every single day. The overall theme emanating from our country is that immigrants are unwelcome and are such a burden. In response to today’s hate-filled political climate, it’s very refreshing to see the amount of people and organizations that have popped up to help immigrants and refugees. It makes me excited for the future of our country.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
To be productive, I brain dump everything into a notebook and organize items into categories and to-do lists. There’s nothing more satisfying than writing down the numerous ideas running around in my mind in one place. This allows me to focus on what needs to be done now versus the immediate future.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s OK not knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life. Life will help you out. In college, I majored in sociology, a general liberal arts discipline that doesn’t necessarily have a direct career path like nursing or accounting. I was always envious of those people who knew and pursued their passions early on because I had no idea what mine were when I graduated. I had inklings of what I was interested in, but it didn’t all come together until the age of 26, thanks to work and life experience. If I could go back, I would tell myself not to be in such a rush to have everything decided at a young age.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Every problem is not a crisis. If your business or whatever else going on in your life doesn’t work out as you expected, you will live through it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Remind yourself repeatedly that something good is coming your way. You need to believe that wholeheartedly. It may not be tomorrow or next week, but your ‘big break’ is eventually coming. I found this to be the best motivator when facing rejection or obstacles. It reminds me of my favorite Instagram meme, which shows Jeff Bezos working at his computer in a small room, alone, at the start of Amazon. The text reads “Jeff Bezos in 1999. Next time you want to give up, think of this.” It’s very inspiring.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Say yes to (almost) everything* (discretion and prior research is advised). You never know what one person or opportunity could lead to next. I have met with organizations who were not necessarily the right fit for collaborating but who in turn introduced me to their connections, thereby broadening my networking circle and growing my business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I wouldn’t classify it as a failure, but more of a lesson learned: my first attempt at hiring didn’t turn out well. After the fact, I realized that the only applicant for the job does not mean the person is the right applicant for the job. Positive self-talk helped me realize that I was just starting out and mistakes are expected. But moving forward, I now know how to make better hiring decisions.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This was another idea from my time in graduate school before developing the idea for Golden Beacon USA: Start an educational consulting company that partners with colleges and universities to develop and teach a mandatory seminar course for college students called “Transition to the Workplace” as part of the university’s general degree requirements. Going beyond what university career centers provide students, the purpose of the seminar is to ease undergraduates’ anxieties about securing a job once they graduate, help them manage their post-college lives, and provide employers with highly qualified college graduates to hire into their companies. Today’s schools often overlook teaching these skills in favor of focusing on academics and by making this seminar mandatory, students do not have to seek out this knowledge on their own.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m decorating my house at the moment, so I recently bought a very bright, colorful painting to dress up our white kitchen. I couldn’t handle the stark white and needed color in my living space. It makes me happy every time I look at it!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Zoho Social has been really useful in taking the stress out of managing my business’ social media channels, especially since I’m a one-woman show. Every Monday, I create ideas for posts and schedule them for the coming week(s). This saves me time by having one less task on my to-do list every day. It’s also convenient to monitor comments and other follower interactions all in one place.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m currently reading Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright by Sara Solovitch. The author is a classical pianist whose professional aspirations got derailed during her youth because of her intense performance anxiety. The book explores the history of such anxiety while intermingling Solovitch’s attempts at conquering it, such as through meditation and cognitive therapy. Public speaking is notoriously listed as one of Americans’ top fears, and this skill is something with which I struggle. However, since my chosen career path is based on talking in front of groups of people, reading this book felt necessary and beneficial to me. Though this book explores public speaking in terms of the performing arts, its principles about conquering fear are applicable to any one in any type of profession.
What is your favorite quote?
“It ain’t over till it’s over.” — Yogi Berra. I recited this quote to myself many times during my five-year journey developing Golden Beacon USA. It perfectly expresses one of the many lessons I’ve learned so far: the success or failure of the business is all up to me and the effort I want to put into it. I’m solely responsible for deciding how long I persist at making this business work.
• You never know where your next business idea will come from or whom you are going to meet that may change your company’s future. Be open to the opportunities you come across, but be smart and cautious about them too.
• Even if you have a team behind you, it is really up to you and the amount of effort you want to put in that determines the success or failure of your business. If one path isn’t working, there’s always another undiscovered path that will.
• Devote a notebook solely to your business where you can brainstorm and organize all of your thoughts and ideas. When you feel overwhelmed, write down everything going on in your head in order to clear your mind – don’t leave anything out.
• Chalk up your entrepreneurial ‘failures’ to mistakes and lessons learned using positive self-talk to ease any pain or embarrassment you may feel about these experiences.