Dreams Coming True is a new Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
Welcome Jill Pfeiffer, founder of Jill Pfeiffer Etiquette School! Tell us a little about yourself:
Before my children were born, I earned a BA degree and worked in the Workers’ Compensation Insurance field. My short-lived insurance career provided a nice income in a fun locale in downtown SF while in my 20’s, but fell short of utilizing my social science degree, my creativity, and my passion for teaching. I gladly changed careers from insurance to full-time mommy. When my children were approaching their teens, I contemplated how I would like to return to the workforce, determined that round #2 was going to be more stimulating and fulfilling than round #1!
Not certain of what I wanted to do but certain that I wanted to teach in some capacity, I took a baby step and enrolled in an early childhood education class at my local community college. I was hooked. I loved being a student again, and I especially liked learning about children. I completed the four classes required by the State of California that would allow me to work as a pre-school teacher.
When did this creative dream begin?
Officially, the etiquette school dream began on January 1, 2013. I like the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I did not enroll at my community college in January of 2012, knowing my plan was to start an etiquette school. I just took a first step in the direction I wanted to go. Over the course of a year of taking classes, I was figuring out my next step. I thought about teaching etiquette, teaching pre-school, or getting my credential to teach a K-12 grade in school. I just took time to play out different scenarios in my head and really think about where my passion was before coming to my decision. My final class at community college ended several days before Christmas, and I already knew I wanted to teach etiquette. But I chose January 1st, 2013, as my self-imposed deadline to tell my family about my plan. Once I verbalized my plans, everything seemed so perfectly obvious, like, “Of course this is what I should do! This is the perfect career for me.”
How did this project/idea get started?
Learning about etiquette, even as a child, has always been something I have enjoyed and valued. I enrolled my children in an etiquette class when they were in elementary school, and I wanted to stay for the whole class. Their teacher was fun, engaging, and creative, so not surprisingly, my children enjoyed the class and retained the information. When my children reached middle school I looked online for cotillion classes and was disappointed to find there weren’t any in my community. These are the types of classes I would have liked to take when I was growing up and I want for my children now. I had my light-bulb moment and realized that if I am looking for these types of classes, then other parents may be, too. Some people find etiquette intimidating, but I love learning etiquette lessons and have a desire to share them with people in a way where they actually enjoy the lessons.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
I have the enthusiasm and passion for what I am doing, and I sought out training and expertise from people who are the pros in their field: Debra Lassiter, Cindy Haygood, and April McLean from The Etiquette and Leadership Institute, and Cotillion Instructor, Don O’Connell, who has taught social dance to more than 14,000 middle school students.
What are the goals and intentions of this project?
First and foremost, I hope to dispel the notion that etiquette is an endless list of rules about which utensil to use. Etiquette, at its core, is about kindness. Young people aren’t so interested in learning about table settings, but many are interested in being “that person” in a group who makes others feel welcome, introduces people and makes connections, remembers names, can start conversations and engage others, feels comfortable in social settings and, eventually, business settings.
How does your project create community?
On my website, I describe cotillion as a “fun community event that brings together young men and young women from area middle schools . . .”, so creating community is a top goal of mine. I received some good advice early on from Mollie Ricksen, a chairperson at the Orinda Cotillion, about making cotillion inclusive, not exclusive. Cotillion is not held at a private club or open to students only from certain schools. Cotillion is held at a community hall and open to students from all schools, public and private. It is located in the Diablo Valley, but there may be young people who attend school here and live in another community—they would, of course, be welcome as well. I hope to build community through cotillion and etiquette classes. Learning greetings, introductions, eye contact, making conversation, remembering names, being a respectful dance partner, being a good guest or a good host, writing thank you notes . . . these are all things that are simultaneously leadership skills and community building skills because they all have to do with making personal connections.
Many have creative ideas but have trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Tell people your plans. Ask for help. Involving other people is energizing, and it makes you accountable. It is motivating to keep going when people ask about your plans or offer encouragement and advice.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process? Does each contributer have a specific role?
As a newbie business owner, I ask for help, ideas, and suggestions from many people. I am a product of an amazing school in Athens, Georgia, called The Etiquette and Leadership Institute (E&LI). The three owners of The E&LI own Georgia’s #1 children’s etiquette school and have 800 students per week go through their program, so they really know their stuff. All of my curriculum comes from this school. Invaluable marketing advice came to me via a training course with Robert Hickey, Deputy Director of The Protocol School of Washington. I have ongoing contact with my trainers and ask them questions whenever I am stumped. I am also part of a network of Certified Etiquette Consultants who have trained at The E&LI, so we share ideas. And, close to home, I have received help from my husband who is in sales, my mom who has owned her own business and is an attorney, my friends who either spread the word or share their professional experience, Mollie Ricksen and Don O’Connell from the Orinda Cotillion, Debbie Parsons from Parsons Etiquette School in San Jose, and Suzanne Woods Fisher who asked to feature me in her blog. Starting a business is a way to build community! I have connected with some great people because of my new venture.
What’s been the hardest part about getting it off the ground?
Walking away from my computer. When you can work out of your home, it can be hard to turn off sometimes.
What have you learned?
More techy stuff than I care to know! I would rather be in a class, engaged with people, but to generate business I must do the marketing work with my website, business Facebook page, and email marketing. A wonderful lesson I have learned is that if I ask for help, people give generously with their time and share their expertise.
Have there been any unexpected surprises?
When you’re really passionate about what you are doing, it rarely feels like work.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about starting your project?
In general, I think there are misconceptions about the relevance of etiquette and social dance in today’s society. Etiquette is not about throwing dinner parties and napkin-folding; social etiquette is an essential leadership skill. When we know how to greet properly, make introductions (which name is said first), remember names, conduct ourselves at a meal, make a toast, participate in a receiving line, and know basic partner dances, it can only affect us positively in all relationships in our lives—social and business.
What are some ways you promote your project?
Talking it up in person is my favorite way to promote my business. To reach more people, I use email marketing campaigns and a website, and my business is on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. Being featured in this blog promotes my business. I have an advertisement scheduled to appear in the local newspapers next month. I am learning as I go and getting feedback and advice from others.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
I expected a large amount of marketing work for my first year, and it has proven to be true so far. The pleasant surprise is that I enjoy working with a graphic designer to create my marketing materials and labor over every minute detail.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I don’t know . . . yet. I started marketing my business just six weeks ago, so time will tell.
What social network has worked best for you?
The good, old-fashioned network of friends. Friends who know me and talk up my business to their friends. Information is transmitted via email and Facebook, but it starts with relationships.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Just start. You don’t have to start big, spend big, or even have a master plan (initially). I’d recommend to start by telling a few close confidants about your plans because plans become more real when they exist somewhere other than inside your head.
Where do you see this project in five years?
For the cotillion program, I want it to be an eagerly anticipated social event for middle schoolers. I would hope to expand the cotillion program to add classes for younger students, as well. For social and dining etiquette classes, I want to be busy teaching classes to children and adults. With cotillion and etiquette classes, I hope to be a part of confidence-building in people and sharing skills that encourage kindness and civility.
What has been easy about starting your own business?
It’s not all hard! The easiest part is believing in the services I have to offer. I have no doubt that young people can benefit from the classes and that the classes can be enjoyable.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
Please visit www.jillpfeiffer.com and www.diablovalleycotillion.com and share them with your friends. If you ‘LIKE’ my page, then you will receive tips, news stories, and studies pertaining to etiquette and skills that help people build confidence and engage with others.