Subscribe to The Detroit News

Hot Careers














Monday, March 27, 2006

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

Linda Patroske, left, gets tips from longtime interior designer Millie Pastor. Patroske, who spent years as an executive assistant in several fields, says her new career is giving her an extensive course in operating a small business.

Career Makeover

Designs on a new career

Decor franchise inspires Commerce Twp. woman

Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News


Linda Patroske go See full image

Linda Patroske

Home: Lives in Commerce Township with her husband, and has one grown daughter and two grandchildren.
Born: Detroit
Education: Detroit Cody High School, 1969; attended Henry Ford Community College
Old career: More than 25 years as an executive assistant, including stints with an automotive supplier, a television station, a real estate developer and an outdoor furniture manufacturer.
New career: Owns and operates Decor and You franchise in Commerce Township.

Work tips

When a job or career is not working, the choice is to stay with it or to find something better -- to stay stuck or move forward, says career coach Prudence Cole of Grosse Pointe, who runs the Web site and is the author of "Finding Power, Passion and Joy Being at Work." She suggests these action steps:
Set a goal: What is it you want? What is going to bring you the happiness you desire and joy in your work? Define your dream job and then look at what your work experiences, education and knowledge support in this new career direction. Don't throw away the past but use it to build on.
Make a plan: A goal without a plan is just a dream or wish: What steps do you need to take to get to your goal? Start from where you are today and list all the actions you need to take to realize your dream. Use your networking to connect with people who can support your goal.
Work the plan: Most goals are not reached overnight: They take time and effort. Keep at it. Celebrate your successes and learn from the missteps, just keep your eye on the goal. Most importantly, don't stop yourself with doubts or second-guessing.


    Linda Patroske started out to be a teacher, only to wind up with a business career. Now, nearly 40 years later, she's finally teaching -- all about decor as an interior designer.

    But many of the lessons being learned are on her part, she says, and add to her knowledge of just how much is involved in creating, launching and operating your own small business.

    "You always have that thought in the back of your head that 'I'll be my own boss and set my own hours,' " she explains. "But when you look at it, you're doing everything."

    Where she came from: After graduating from high school in 1969, Patroske planned to study teaching, only to be warned away by a college counselor who predicted a glut of teachers. Instead, he steered her into a business program.

    After her first year, she married, had a daughter and stayed home, heading back to work in 1975 after a divorce.

    She started with clerical jobs, then worked her way up to executive assistant to the president of an auto supplier, and on to several other firms.

    What changed: The work wasn't bad, but it wasn't what she wanted. Instead, Patroske conjured ideas for her own business, including a bookstore and a store specializing in golf equipment and clothing for children.

    Her second husband, a CPA, would work with her on business plans, and none seemed to be quite right.

    Moment of truth: It was leafing through a magazine that gave Patroske her inspiration, when she found an article about Decor and You, a home decorating franchise operation.

    "My other passion was design and color and decorating," she recalls. "My thought was, 'If you're doing something you love, how can you not be happy and make money?' "

    With $30,000 from a home equity loan, she signed up for the franchise and training and went to work. From the beginning, she's been breaking even, Patroske notes, though the recent downturn in the southwest Michigan economy has hurt business.

    Stumbling blocks: Even though she's still working toward a profit, some of her biggest hurdles have been balancing operating the business with selling and completing the designs.

    Patroske says another challenge is educating potential customers about all that's involved in custom decorating.

    "You can't possibly show them what a room is going to look like when it's complete," she sighs. "They watch too much HGTV. They think it's 'Trading Spaces' -- one day and it's all done for $1,000."

    Words of wisdom: Doing a business plan with the help of her husband ("He is my right arm," she says) was important in understanding the business, Patroske notes, and something she suggests for all prospective business owners. That includes estimating how much money to invest in the business, including cash flow needs when things are slow.

    Another key has been networking to build her business. Advertising is expensive, and requires repetition. Networking saves cash, but demands time and effort.

    "Don't just sit there and then pass out your business card -- that doesn't work. "You need to get involved. And then just watch the difference because people begin to know your name."

    And, for someone who wanted to be a teacher, educating clients is a big part of the process.

    "Decorating is kind of a thing that you can put off, it's not something you have to have," she admits. "You have to find that certain client who says, 'I don't know how to do it and I don't have the time to run around and pull it all together.' "