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The most successful women entrepreneurs join multiple, diverse networks to learn from their industry contacts and develop connections to expertise. Having a critical mass of women in these networks helps us all gain credibility. Brooklyn Cupcake thrives to help small women-owned businesses by trying to move them into a place where they have the vision and the confidence to catapult to a whole new level.

This month’s featured small women-owned business is: EPC Associates

Name: Joan Clifford

Title: President

Company Name: EPC Associates

Years in Business: 30 Years

Employees: 20

Interviewer: Cynthia Clifford of Brooklyn Cupcake

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Cynthia: Tell us about your business. What product or service do you provide and who is your target audience?

Joan: EPC has been in the health insurance business for over 30 years. We sell health insurance to corporations for their employees. We have been selling high deductible plans since 1982; way ahead of the current trend. Our clients do not pass those high deductibles along to their employees. The corporation decides the dollar amount of the deductible that the employee will be responsible for. I.e.: They purchase a $2,000 deductible from the carrier; which lowers their premiums considerably. They then elect to make their employees responsible for $500 deductible. This is where EPC takes over. EPC will pay providers on the difference between the $500 that the employee is responsible for; and the $2,000 deductible that was purchased. EPC, in this case, will be paying claims amounting to $1,500 from an escrow account that is funded by the corporation. This is a simplified version of what and how EPC handles claims. Every EPC client has a customized version of this. In addition, EPC fully services our corporate clients and their employees. Corporations and employees do NOT call their carrier with questions, problems, claims issues, etc. EPC does this for them, saving man hours and resolving all issues. We are the patient’s advocate with the carrier and their providers.

Cynthia: It takes a certain mind-set and bravado for anyone to start their own business and succeed, but it’s even more difficult for women in business. Please tell us what being a business owner means to you personally. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Joan: EPC Associates was founded by my husband, Edward Patrick Clifford (hence EPC Associates). He was originally a life insurance agent who became more involved in health insurance as that industry changed drastically. It was not a business to him; it was passion. Because of his own health issues, he was determined that his clients have the best possible health care for the least possible cost. When my husband passed away 10 years ago, I became the President; along with a partner, Lourdes Gisbert, who is EPC’s CEO. Prior to his passing, we had many discussions about how to proceed and the manner in which we would run the company. Selling the business was not an option. We have been extremely successful due to the fact that Ed’s passion became ours. It is very important to me to fulfill his dreams and carry on his legacy. I do not consider it a job. It is a life style that flows into every aspect of my life.

Cynthia: There are observable differences in men and women entrepreneurs’ motivations, goals, preparation, organization, and strategic orientation. How do you perceive the various aspects of the experience of business? What skills do you believe women need in order to run a successful small business?

Joan: Prior to taking over EPC, I had 25 years of experience running many businesses for a remarkable female entrepreneur. What I learned in those 25 years from her and the varied businesses that she owned was invaluable. She allowed me to run those businesses as if they were my own; making decisions on a daily basis without having to consult her. I learned not to be afraid of change or decisions. Nothing is written in stone. If something doesn’t work, you come up with a new plan. You have to keep up with the trends, but be true to yourself and the basic tenets of the business. There are basic differences between how women run their business. However, men and women want the same end result- a successful, money maker. After all, not every man or every woman runs their business the same as their counterparts.

Cynthia: Most women-owned businesses do not meet the traditional business standards. Women do not have access to the same capital necessary to grow a business. They do not have the same access to contracting and procurement opportunities that may help them to build their business. Women do not have the same access to resources. What barriers and obstacles have you confronted as a women entrepreneur?

Joan: We do have the same access. We just need a good mentor; whether that mentor be male or female. Men have been doing this for centuries. Women are finally learning how to do it. You need to talk to other business owners; bankers; people in your same business. In general, keep your eyes and ears open at all times. What doesn’t seem pertinent now, may be in 6 months or a year.

Cynthia: Are you certified as a Women-Owned Business (WOB)? If so, how have you benefited by this? If not, why not?

Joan: I never heard of this certification before. I certainly would like to hear more about it.

Cynthia: Do you have a professional mentor or coach? If so, how has he/she helped you?

Joan: My first mentor was my Dad. He owned his own business; along with my Mom. The most important thing to him was to give his clients a great job for a fair price. He had enormous pride in his work. Mom did the books. If she asked him to raise his prices, his comment always was “I have to sleep at night”. They were not rich; but we were comfortably in the middle class. As I mentioned, my earlier female boss was invaluable to me. She was an extremely smart business woman who shared her thoughts, experience, and responsibilities with me. My husband was my next mentor. From him, I got the passion for our business. It is very personal to me. We are the advocates for all of our corporate clients and their employees. We help them when they are most vulnerable- illness has affected their lives and we enable them to navigate their health coverage to their best advantage. EPC employees are more like family than employees. We support and care for each other. Like our clients, they rarely leave. Currently, I have a coach that I see several times a month. We discuss personnel situations and changes that could be beneficial to me and them. The stress of this business is enormous. She is invaluable to me in handling the stress.

Cynthia: Advancements in technology have helped ease the movement of more women in business into leadership. What has been the most effective marketing and/or social media initiative or program you have used to promote your business?

Joan: Marketing is one of our weaknesses. We use email, mailings, print advertising, referrals, etc. The cost of advertising in print or other media, such as radio and TV is so expensive on Long Island that it is almost prohibitive. We have found that networking organizations are a fabulous source of info and new clients. We really do not have someone to handle a social media initiative. I wish that we did.

Cynthia: Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business? If yes, please describe (and include links if available).

Joan: Network, network, network!

Cynthia: What business goal do you plan to accomplish over the next year? Are you choosing to remain a small business? Do you desire to have a large enterprise either by revenue, number of employees or market share?

Joan: Our business goal is to add a minimum of two new clients per month. We are going into other areas of the industry providing clients with administrative services even if they obtain their health insurance elsewhere. I.e. this year we became the offsite HR Administrator for an international firm. We are also providing some of our services as stand-alone. I.e. COBRA Administration. Lourdes and I would like to continue to run our business with the same number of people. We do not wish to increase the size of our staff, nor the size of our physical operation. We wish to increase our market share by improving our technology in order to handle more clients, with the same number of staff. As every business owner knows, overhead is enormous. We want to keep the cost of overhead in check.

Cynthia: What one thing have you learned as a woman small business owner that has served you well over the years? What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

Joan: ALWAYS HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. YOU CAN DO IT! WE CAN DO IT! I CAN DO IT! Do not be afraid of change. Try things. If they don’t work, try something else.

Cynthia: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Joan: Taking my husband’s business and quintupling the revenues in five years. HOORAY!!!!

Cynthia: Do you have any new upcoming projects or reached a milestone? Are you involved in your community? If so, please tell us about it.

Joan: We have many new projects in the works. Some are just ideas; others are in the planning stage. On February 1, 2013, it will be 10 years that my partner, Lourdes and I have been running the business without my late husband’s assistance.

Cynthia: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Joan: If you have a passion, a dream, follow it. Don’t give up! No matter your age or circumstances. From the time I was a little girl, I always wanted to own my own business. Mom and Dad taught me well. They were excellent examples of how to run a business and how to run your life. Be honest to yourself and others.

Cynthia: What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you (feel free to include the links to your social networks and websites)?

Joan: EPC Associates is located in Suffolk County; 85 West Main Street, Bay Shore, NY 11706. Phone: 631.666.2616 or 800.462.4104; Fax: 631.666.1505; Website: www.epcassociates.com; my email address is jclifford@epcassociates.com

In Memory of Edward Patrick Clifford

I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU SO MUCH, Uncle Eddie! Love, Cynthia

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