Penny Forward

Penny Forward Podcast Episode 5 The Avenue To Success

October 10, 2021 Chris Peterson Season 2 Episode 5
Penny Forward
Penny Forward Podcast Episode 5 The Avenue To Success
Show Notes Transcript

We want to know how to make, keep, and grow money on the Penny Forward podcast, and making money usually involves finding a job, or starting a business. Ron Brooks has done both, and we invited him on to learn how he did it, and what he thinks it takes for other blind people to achieve the same success.

Learn more about Ron’s company, Accessible Avenue, by visiting his web site at https://www.accessibleavenue.net A full text transcript of this episode can be found at  https://pennyforward.com/penny-forward-transcript-s2e5-the-avenue-to-success/transcript-s2e4-healing-through-healing/ The Penny Forward podcast is about blind people building bright futures one penny at a time. Subscribe by searching for “Penny Forward” using your favorite podcast app, ask your smart speaker to play the podcast, “Penny Forward”, check out the Penny Forward YouTube channel, or listen to all of our past episodes or read transcripts at https://pennyforward.com Continue the conversation in our private Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/819788175135724

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Ron: Experience is more important than knowledge, because experience teaches knowledge. And there's too many people, and this is a bias in the rehab system, and it's a bias that people of my generation, I'm generation X, we in the rehab system have this bias for education. And education is fine, but education doesn't give you experience. It gives you knowledge, and the quickest way to get knowledge is to get experience. So, I'm not saying don't get educated, because there's value in learning how to think and how to problem solve and ... I don't know, who went around the world first or whatever. There's value there, but there's also value in doing. And doing, in my opinion, is more important. cause it teaches you how to succeed, and it teaches you how to fail, and how to learn from failure.

 



 

 

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Chris: This is the Penny Forward podcast, a show about blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time.

 

Liz: I'm Liz Botner.

 

Chris: And I'm Chris Peterson.

 

Liz: We are blind people, learning what it takes to be successful in our personal, professional, and financial lives.

 

Chris: We want to know how to make, keep, and grow money on the Penny Forward podcast, and making money usually involves finding a job, or starting a business. Ron Brooks has done both, and we invited him on to learn how he did it, and what he thinks it might take for someone else to do it. Before we start, I want to tell you about Taylor's Accessibility Services. Taylor Arndt can provide you with web hosting, but she can also provide you with so much more. She can help you to build a website from the ground up that is completely accessible to people with disabilities, or, she can help you to modify your existing website so that it's accessible. To find out more about what Taylor might be able to do for you, visit her website at

tayloraccess.com

 

Now, let's get started.

 

 

Chris: Ron, thanks for being here. I'm excited to have you.

 

Ron: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

 

Chris: Tell me about yourself and your blindness.

 

Ron: Yeah. I am 53, I was born in 1967 in rural Indiana, and one of the cool things for me personally, I know that when I was born, the number 1 song in the country was "Incense And Peppermint" by Strawberry Alarm Clock, which is a point of pride, so, kind of a fun fact. I grew up in small town Indiana, we moved around a lot, my parents were blue collar, and they did not know much about blindness. I was born with congenital glaucoma, totally blind. I had a surgery at the time, probably about five months into my life, that was experimental at the time and restored some of my eye sight, but I went through my life, up until I was about 14, as a kid with very low vision. So, my parents being who they were, I spent a lot of time trying to pretend that I could see just fine. Thank you very much. My mom believed that if I didn't use the sight I had, I would lose it, so I was pushed really hard to excel in school, to read, to be outside, to do all the things that kids do, and as result of that, I did all the stuff that kids did. I rode bikes, now, when I rode bikes, they tended to run into things, but I rode bikes, and I played baseball, and basketball, and, and all of that. And, in fact it was a basketball that was kind of the precursor for my permanent blindness, which came along when I was 13, almost 14. I was playing basketball and took a hit in the face because I was going for a rebound, in a street pick-up game. And it ... Yeah, it didn't go well. So that's kind of where I came from, and, you know, from there, it was to high school, and learning braille, and learning how to use a cane, and all the things that blind kids at that time were taught, kind of as a matter of course, and it took me about a year to get through all that kind of transition and get to the point where I was kind of back on track. I went to high school, went to college, graduated from Indiana University, went out to graduate school in California, and ended up going from international relations and Latin American studies, to public transit. Which is a story all by itself. I ended up working in that industry for 28 years. Lots of different jobs throughout the industry, all in the accessible transit and paratransit space. And about a year ago, I founded a company called Accessible Avenue, which is what I'm doing today. Running a company that exists to help the transit industry, and, what I would call the mobility industry, which is basically everything from pedestrian accessibility to transportation be more accessible and usable for folks with disabilities.

 

Male Announcer: We'll get back to our interview in just a moment. But first, ...

 

Male Announcer: When it comes to money, do you feel a little lost? When you're in an unfamiliar financial environment and need a hand understanding the lay of the land, Penny Forward is here to help. We provide affordable one on one and group financial education programs that give you the confidence to get out there and achieve your goals. Visit

pennyforward.com

to learn more about who we are, and what we do.

 

Male Announcer: Do you have a short success story that you would like to share on the air? Leave us a message at 952-856-0313. If you missed that number, you can always find it at

pennyforward.com/podcast

 

 

Chris: I want to talk about your business, but before we get there, do you want to talk about your family a little bit real quick?

 

Ron: Yeah. Absolutely. I have a great family. Everybody says that. I mean it. I have a great family. I've been married to Lisa for 25 years and counting, and we have three kids. They are all teenagers. Our eldest is about to head off to college, and we've got a couple in high school still to go. And we live in Phoenix, and we've got a pet dog, and sometimes I've got a guide dog, although I'm between guide dogs right now. My wife helps me with Accessible Avenue. My daughter has helped me a little bit, the one who's headed off to college, and, you know, we're, we're just doing our thing. I mean our kids live pretty normal, typical high school lives. They're getting ready to go back to school as we speak.

 

Chris: Awesome. Your company is called Accessible Avenue, and I think that's a very cool name. You have had a long history in transportation. I would love to hear how you got the idea for it, and what it took to get it spun up.

 

Ron: Yeah. So, Accessible Avenue, I'll start with the name. That name was actually a name I blogged under for a long time. And I've been in the industry, working in accessible transit and paratransit for my whole career, and I've always been one of those people who kind of thinks about, like the "why" of what we do. It's not just the what, it's the why, and if the why didn't make sense, it always created challenges for me to just stick with it. So, I would blog under Accessible Avenue, really as a catharsis. Like, just to process things that were going on, and things that were important to me in a transportation space, so when I started thinking about a business, and this really comes back to, it was just at the start of the pandemic, we were all in lockdown, I was in a business development sales roll for a private transportation company that was trying to get on demand transportation into the transit industry, and I wasn't very busy, because sales, especially the sales work that I was doing, was taking quite a hit in the pandemic. And I started thinking, "You know, this might be a good time to get that business started that we've always talked about." And I had always wanted to help my industry, because I felt like the transit industry has good intentions, but there's a lot of people who don't know how to address accessibility very well. There's a lot happening in the industry that could be leveraged to make accessibility better, and I thought, "You know, this is a great time. I know a lot of people, I know a lot of stuff about how to help people with accessibility, I'm not super busy, I blogged under this name Accessible Avenue, let's just repurpose it and turn it into a business, and spin this thing up, and …" You know, that's really where we started. And I mean I can go deeper into that journey if you want, but that's really where it came from.

 

Chris: Before we do that, who are your customers then?

 

Ron: So my customers primarily are ... We're B to B, primarily, so business to business, and who I'm looking to connect with are public transit agencies, cities, towns, counties, instruments of government, and contractors for those agencies. So contractors who work for governments. And the contractors and governments that I'm looking to work with are responsible for transportation, pedestrian, and mobility spaces and services. If you're a city and you want to build a pedestrian mall, you're my client. If you're a transit agency and you want to improve your paratransit, or you want to make your light rails more accessible, you're my client. If you're an architecture and engineering firm that's got a contract to design an accessible rail station, you're my client. So, those are the kind of people we're reaching to. We're also starting to recognize that we have a customer base with other kinds of organizations who manage pedestrian spaces and/or transportation. Such as, hotels who have shuttles, or who are designing big, open spaces that maybe need help with way finding, or how to design accessibility. It could be universities. It could be ... Heck, it could be theme parks, although I haven't gone there yet. Hospitals. Any space that's large, and that needs accessibility, we can work with the people who manage that space.

 

Chris: All right. Well that seems very ... very promising. So then how did you get started?

 

Ron: I got started, like so many people during the pandemic, at my kitchen table, with my laptop, on the state of Arizona, got on their website, looked up the name, saw that it was available, submitted an application, it's really easy to incorporate in Arizona, so I just decided "I'm gonna do it." No more excuses, I incorporated. And then, there were things I felt like I needed to do before I started marketing. Because I know my industry, I know where people go, I know where I need to have a presence, what I need to look like. So, you know, my initial tasks were developing a website. Developing a logo. Developing some contract documents so I could work with clients. Building some cash reserve so that I could pay the person to develop the website, and pay the lawyer to write the contracts. So I really started with a lot of kind of building blocks, putting those together, I still had a job at that point, which is kind of a story unto itself 'cause I lost that job. But because I had taken the time during the pandemic to build the building blocks, right at the very end of the pandemic, the company that I was working for made an exit from the transit industry, because of Covid and the loss of revenue, and since I was managing their transit, basically I was responsible for moving them into transit, that left me outside of the tent. So, fortunately, because I had taken the time to build the building blocks, as soon as that happened, my plan B became my plan A, and Accessible Avenue literally launched immediately. So that's kind of what happened.

 

Chris: Those building blocks are pretty diverse. Putting together a website, designing a logo, I can't understand how you would do that as a blind person. Were those all things that you knew how to do, or how did you approach those things?

 

Ron: One of my philosophies is "never try to be good at something that there's somebody else who can be better at it, and who can do it faster and cheaper. Because my time valuable, and I don't want to waste my time. It's my best and only asset along with my experience and relationships, so my approach has always been to find people who can do the thing I need, as good as I can pay for. And I am a person who builds and maintains relationships. Having been in this industry for a long time, I know lots of people, so, when I needed a logo, I went to a friend of mine who's a marketing person who's really good at design. And we talked through the graphics, you know, "What might a logo look like? What are the things that are important?” And she went off and really we worked through a typical marketing process, so she built the logo. I did the same thing with my website. I found somebody who works as a web designer on the side, who does professional marketing as his day job and who's very successful, and he helped me build a website. I found somebody else who is an attorney who is really good with intellectual property, and she's really good with contract law. And she wrote my initial contract that I use for independent consultants that I hire to work with us on projects for clients that I want to partner with. So, my approach has always been to bring people in who are really good, and, you know, let me be expert at what I'm expert at, let's let them be good at what they're good at, and I do what I'm good at, and there's synergy there.

 

Chris: Where do you provide services? Are you limited to Arizona?

 

Ron: No. I'm ... Right now I have clients from the east coast to the west coast. I don't have a lot of clients, but I have a few, and they're all over the country. I consider my primary market to be continental US, but I certainly would not be opposed to working with folks, or agencies, outside of the US, particularly Canada and Western Europe. There's nothing about what I do that's limited by, you know, state or national boundaries.

Chris: Why is your company unique?

 

Ron: We are unique because there are lots of people who have my expertise around accessibility. And there's lots of blind people, that can tell a story similar to mine. There are no people that I know of who can tell the combined story of my experience as a blind person and my expertise as a transit professional who has worked in accessible transit and paratransit for their whole career. What I think I bring is that mix of experience, and a really good ability to make relationships with people, connect people together, and communicate pretty effectively.

 

Chris: It certainly seems that way to me. What are your future plans?

 

Ron: We're still in our first full year of existence as far as like, doing work, so my goal for this year is to build out the infrastructure so that we can scale, because right now we're still primarily a business of me, with my wife helping me, and occasionally I'll pick up a consultant to help a little bit with a side project that is kind of a one off. For this business to grow beyond where it is now, I need to scale it, and scaling means that there's skills I need to learn. There's structures that I need to learn. I need to do a little bit more work around building some contractual spaces. There's a little bit more work around exactly what kind of projects am I able to take on, because what I can take on is driven by what kind of consulting I can bring on to support what we do. So, I'd say that's my focus for the next year, is to really figure out, "How much do I want to grow? Or do I want to stay kind of a one-person shop?" And assuming I want to grow, then it's figuring out, "Where do I want that growth to take place, and how do I find the people that can help scale that growth up?

 

Male Announcer: We'll continue our interview in a moment. But first, ...

 

Byron: So, you want to start a podcast, but you're not sure where to start. Here are some tips for creating a successful podcast. Keep your podcast focused. While it might be tempting to create a podcast that's all things to all listeners, successful shows tend to have a narrow, focused topic. 2. Be consistent. If you're gonna do a show, do it once a week, twice a week, once a month. But whatever that time frame is, make sure you are consistent. And finally, use music segments to break up the show. However, don't use copyrighted music. Use royalty free music, or music that you have written permission to use. For more tips like this, and podcast coaching, check out

superblink.org

We're here to help.

 

Male Announcer: Do you have a tip or trick you've discovered that makes managing your finances easier? Tell us about it at 952-856-0313. If you missed that number, you can always find us at

pennyforward.com/podcast

 

 

Chris: Do you have any advice for younger blind people, or maybe less experienced blind people that are coming up in the world, that you'd like to offer to help them to be successful?

 

Ron: Yeah, so, and I think it gets easier as you get older, but I'm gonna start with what has been the most helpful for me, which I learned late. And that was to really get clear on the why you exist. Get to the question of, what is your why? What's the thing you want to leave the world with, that isn't here unless you create it? Because there's a lot of work that goes into building a business or starting something, and a lot of it's hard, and a lot of it requires you to do things that you may not be comfortable doing, or you may not know how to do, which means you have to go learn it. And if you have a really strong sense of why it matters, it makes that work easier, and it helps tie things together better. And I mean I literally learned this in May of 2020. I mean I can tell you, almost to the day and time, when I figured out what my true "why" is. And I didn't know it in twenty-eight years of working in the public transit industry. I sensed it, but I didn't really get it, and I now get it, and it makes the process easier. I think the other piece of advice I would give is experience is more important than knowledge, because experience teaches knowledge. And there's too many people, and this is a bias in the rehab system, and it's a bias that people of my generation, I'm generation X, we in the rehab system have this bias for education. And education is fine, but education doesn't give you experience. It gives you knowledge, and the quickest way to get knowledge is to get experience. So, I'm not saying don't get educated, because there's value in learning how to think and how to problem solve and ... I don't know, who went around the world first or whatever. There's value there, but there's also value in doing. And doing, in my opinion, is more important. cause it teaches you how to succeed, and it teaches you how to fail, and how to learn from failure. And by the way, I don't ... the word "failure" is a bad word. I actually would say that failure is just ... To me, that's like tuition. That's like, it's a lesson you pay for, but it's still a lesson.

 

Chris: You aren't the first person that I've talked to that has talked about the power of building relationships. What do you think is the best way for somebody to begin to do that and to develop that skill?

 

Ron: I think part of it's practice. I've done some training around just how to communicate with people, how to tell my story, how to listen, there's training. I mean there's like, just steps that you can take to learn how to be an effective communicator, and then it's practice. There's a friend of mine who says that roll play is real play. So find opportunities to practice. That could be going to a blindness organization and hanging out and just talking to people, it could be getting involved in something as a volunteer, it could be something that you do at the place where you worship, it could be ... night clubs, whatever. Just find ways to interact with people, practice, and learn, and get better at it. And then, once you're doing it strategically, it's like inside of a business, or inside of trying to build your career, it's thinking about, "Who are the people that I can learn from?" We tend to migrate to our comfort zones with relationships. We hang around people that make us feel good and make us feel relaxed. That's okay, for like when you're off time, but when you're trying to grow, and trying to challenge, and stretch yourself, find people that ... that know things that you don't, who can teach you things that you need, and surround yourself with those people and learn.

 

Chris: You talked about when you were building the building blocks of your business, finding people that were really good at the things that you didn't know how to do, and paying them to do that stuff.

 

Ron: Mhm.

 

Chris: Not everybody's able to do that, and yet, starting a business can be a way for someone to become gainfully employed if they're really having trouble entering the job market. Is there a way that someone can do some of those same things on a lower budget?

 

Ron: Yeah, I mean there are definitely things that you can do to cut your own costs. For example, you can go to Score, it's through the small business administration. They provide a lot of those kinds of services around business planning, and marketing, and maybe they do web development, I don't know. That's one avenue. If you're really persistent and clever, you can get help from the Department of Rehabilitation. It's got to tie to a career objective, so you have to be smart about how you approach it. If you have no money, one thing that you can do, I call this going sideways to go forward. You can get a job that pays you money, and save money so that you can do the thing you really want to do. And I hear a lot of blind people talk about how they wouldn't do this particular job 'cause it's not what they really want to do, it's beneath them, or it's ... That is not something that I think is very serving. There are jobs even right now that I take on as a company that are not specifically aligned with the work I want to do long term, but I take them on because they bring in revenue that I can then bank, and use for future investment, and I can build a cushion. So I can go after stuff that's maybe, you know, long term focused, but it all starts with, I mean honestly, you've got to have money, to run a business. And, I mean, you can do a lot for very little, but money makes it a lot easier. So, I would say start looking, talk to people, find people in your network who are passionate about the same things that you are, and through relationships, you can get connected to people that have some money that might want to invest or support, so I mean I think there's ways. I mean there's coaching classes on this very topic. So, I think, it's a big answer, but the bottom line is, if you really, really want to do it, there's ways, and it's just a matter of pursuing all of them until you get what you need.

 

Chris: Do you have any feelings, good or bad, about volunteer work?

 

Ron: I think volunteer work is important, but not for the reason that a lot of people say it is. Like people say you should volunteer 'cause it builds experience in your career. That's true, I think that the real reason you volunteer is to meet people, and make relationships that you can leverage, and, to get practice doing things. So if you're gonna volunteer, let's say you want to run a business. Find volunteer work that teaches you some of the same skills that you'll need to be successful in your business, because then it's practice. And, you can still build relationships.

 

Chris: I love that. How can people contact you directly if they want to hire your business, or are you open to having people contact you personally?

 

Ron: Yeah. So, a couple of things. You can go to

www.accessibleavenue.net

and we've got a contact form on our page, and we have calendar links. So you can actually book on to my calendar from the website, and you can also find me at

[email protected]

 

Chris: Wonderful. Ron, thanks again for being here.

 

Ron: Thank you again for having me. I appreciate it.

 

Chris: If you enjoy the Penny Forward podcast, please rate, review, and share it with your friends. We're supported by your donations. Please help us to continue producing Penny Forward by following the tip jar link in the show notes, or by visiting

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Liz: The Penny forward Podcast is produced by Liz Botner and Chris Peterson. Audio editing and postproduction is provided by Byron Lee, and transcription is provided by Anne Verduin. Music was composed and performed by Andre Loui, and web hosting is provided by Taylor's Accessibility Services.

 

Chris: Penny Forward is a community of blind people building bright futures, one penny at a time. Visit

pennyforward.com/about

to learn more about who we are, and what we do. Until next time, for all of us in the Penny Forward community, I'm Chris Peterson.

 

Liz: And I'm Liz Botner. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.