Pinellas County, Florida
My Employment Options helps companies find qualified people with disabilities who can and want to work. Our free employment screenings help guide individuals in the right direction. With our skills and ability testing, and employer matching services, meeting diversity goals has never been easier.
17% increase from 2018 – 2022
109% increase from 2018 – 2022
Tell us a bit about your background. What led you to start your company?
I lived in France for a long time in my early adult years and when I moved back to the United States, I was finishing up my degree and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. To try and find some answers, I went to a staffing service and I did some temp work with them. One day, the company said they’d like to offer me a full-time position and I knew by the second day on the job that I had found my calling. I just love helping people get back to work!
Before long, I was working as a rehab counselor in Workers’ Compensation and became a Nationally Certified Vocational Evaluator. When the Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program was launched, I made a shift to this outcome-based program and started the company. I knew I could do it well because job placement has always been a strength of mine. Since 1993, My Employment Options has grown significantly. I now have 25+ employees, most of who have come through our Ticket to Work Program. We have an extremely low turnover and had over 450 job placements in 2022.
The ‘aha moment’ for me was when I started helping people get back to work and realizing that someone helped my mom the same way. After a difficult time, I was always comforted knowing that my mom had a chance to return to work. I knew I had the ability to help others like my mom. That’s what helped me start my own business and that’s what’s kept me going. The staffing service has helped me get into the field but my own personal inspiration – my mom- has kept me here.
Did you know you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I think I’ve always been interested in business, starting when I joined the Junior Achievement Club in 8th grade. I started my own business at 16 driving an ice cream truck. I rented the truck and bought my ice cream at a lower rate. For a few hours every day after school, I had my route that I’d drive along. When I moved to France, I started my second company making marionettes and putting on puppet shows. Especially with my father having his own business, an entrepreneur wasn’t necessarily something I knew I always wanted to be, but it was really the only thing I knew – it was in my blood.
What is the value you provide your clients?
I’ll give you a couple of examples that best describe the value we provide to our clients. First, I had this one gentleman that I was helping who used to be an auto painter, doing fine detail work like painting the stripes on cars. Unfortunately, he hurt his back and could no longer stand for more than a couple of hours a day which this work required. He came to me and after assessing his skills, I asked if he had ever thought about making dental bridges or dentures, which would require that same precision to detail and color matching. He agreed that he might be a good fit for a job as a dental lab tech. I sent him to an interview and they loved him. Suddenly, he had a new career! In my role as a vocational evaluator, I have talked and tested thousands of different people and can easily assess transferable skills. In my role, I learn about the physical, intellectual, and emotional requirements of a position to ensure any referred candidates are a good match for the employer.
Secondly, I had one of our clients call me wondering if I could help him out financially as he was about to get evicted from his apartment with two teenagers. We always try to help our clients out where we can and send resources, so we did. He called me back a week later saying he landed a job and was so excited. He had stage 4 bone cancer and was bedridden, but a company we had set him up with previously called him back for more work. It’s the people like that who genuinely want to work, but who got dealt a bad set of cards that inspire me. Despite it all, our clients want to be out there continuing to do the things they love to do.
What are some of the challenges you faced while growing your company?
As we grow the company, I’m going into areas that I haven’t been to before. I didn’t go from running a big company to running another big company. I started this company from scratch so there’s always something to learn as we go. Hiring is my expertise and we’ve had a very low turnover in general among our staff. I think the greatest challenge we have is getting the word out about what we do and how we can help. Additionally, we went virtual way back in 2006, so we’ve grown up in the computer industry, but technology is always changing. Twenty years ago, we created our own method of managing clients based on the unique characteristics of how we help and retain clients over many years. We’ve refined these client management systems and kept up with technological changes to ensure our clients are well cared for and our systems are robust enough to manage.
When faced with growing pains and the challenges that came with that, what made you stick it out?
Actually, it’s a funny story. I was doing some contract work for the State of Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation and there was a counselor there that I would work with virtually. Her name was Nan. Nan was a great person. She referred people to me and I really respected what she did. Even though I’d never met her in person, when she passed, I traveled to her celebration of life at her home. When I was there, I couldn’t believe the stories people shared about how she too influenced their lives. It was truly very amazing.
The entire time I was there, there was this little white dog that was following me around everywhere. Finally, I asked whose dog it was. Jokingly, they responded that he was now mine, having first belonged to Nan. That is how we got Muffin. This dog kept me going. Starting your own business is not for the weak-spirited. You’re going to have ups and downs and times when you want to quit. During those moments, I’d look at Muffin and think of Nan and keep going. Muffin was my supervisor, emotional support dog, and therapist all in one without ever saying a word.
What are some of the goals you have for your company?
I think we provide an essential service that’s especially needed in today’s job market. Many people are coming out of the pandemic needing help and guidance – both employers and job hunters. I have always wanted to see our types of services much more widespread, because just like mental health counseling, vocational counseling is a specialty. Not everybody knows about all the jobs available to people as we do. My hope is to see vocational services become available to people on a larger scale. Personally, I would like to have partnerships with other similar-minded organizations that also help people with disabilities.
On the growth side, I’d like to quadruple our staff and quadruple our placements. Our staffing side is picking up and we have been forming many strong alliances. We’ve had a few features on TV and every time we do, our telephone line rings off the hook. It proves that people just don’t know that this is a resource that’s out there or they hadn’t heard about the Social Security Ticket to Work Program. I’d love to be a household name and let people know there are employment options out there for them.
Can you tell us about your company culture? What makes it unique?
Most of my employees have a disability or have a family member with a disability. As a result, there is already a strong foundation of our staff being passionate and dedicated to helping people with disabilities get back to work. Because a lot of my staff have their own disabilities, they can relate to our clients in a unique way. They understand what people are going through because they went through it themselves.
When I hire, I look for people that want to make a difference and I always try to hire people smarter than me. It’s important to me to bring out my staff’s strengths and tailor their job duties to accommodate their abilities, which may be a bit different than the other employers hiring for a set job description. Then if the person doesn’t fit that job description, they get rid of them. At our company, if someone doesn’t quite fit the mold they were placed in, we rewrite a different job description that would work better for them. It’s more difficult to do that, but I have practically zero turnovers. The team knows that we’re going to take care of them and that we’re going to help them do the best that they can.
What is your competition like? How do you set yourself apart?
The market itself is huge with over 14 million Americans with disabilities. However, the number of companies that help people get back to work is more so in the thousands, so there’s plenty of opportunity. There’s plenty of work for all of us. Only about 3% of the SSI/SSDI population are receiving employment services. What differentiates us is that we were one of the first companies to become a vendor when the
program first started and that we have been completely virtual since 2006. We were the only company that was placing people in remote jobs. Of course, we are no longer the only one, but we’ve been doing it a long time, have a great reputation and often receive referrals from our competition who do not place persons in remote positions.
At My Employment Options, we have a systematic methodology that we’ve used with every client since 1995. In our practice, we take the time to understand the person’s skills, abilities, values, and their strengths. Our approach is very personal. We want to know more about their needs first before we try to help them get back to work. I think this systematic methodology that we use makes us unique.
Do you have a proudest moment so far as CEO?
Most recently, it’s a huge honor to make it into GrowFL’s 50 Companies to Watch. We are very thrilled about that. This recognition is going to open so many opportunities by meeting all these different people across the state and getting our name out there. But, back in 2005, I got a call from Washington D.C. about the new Ticket to Work Program. At the time, we were in the top 5 largest companies serving this population, despite it only being myself and an administrative employee. When I got the call, they were congratulating us on how good my company was doing. After that, they flew me up to D.C. to talk with them in person about the growth of this program. It was such a cool, surreal moment. On top of that, I had a client that was invited to testify before Congress when they were considering getting rid of the program. Being involved in our national government and advocating and lobbying for our mission was so rewarding. Since then, every year I try to go to D.C. and share with the Social Security Ways and Means Committee what we’re doing and if we’re facing any challenges. It’s exciting and a big honor to be invited to Congress.
What does it mean to you to be selected as a GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Honoree?
We are thrilled that through this award, we can teach more people about what we do. Everybody knows someone with a disability. The exposure we get being recognized on a statewide level will help us to get the word out there even more.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I have to thank my dad. He also had his own business and I have used his advice. I still think about his words often, like “Make sure you run the business. Don’t let the business run you,” and “Keep an eye on your financials. Don’t just turn that over to somebody else.” Apart from him, there have been so many people that have helped our company grow, but nobody more than the staff. My team believes in what we do. It’s personal for them. I must thank them because they’re the ones behind the scenes coming up with so many ideas and taking initiative to help grow the company.
Do your research, start small, and build it as you’re going. Don’t hire a whole sales staff if you’ve never made a sale on your own. Become part of the different communities and networks like GrowFL. I have gotten so much from being involved in professional organizations where I’ve met other people who have done it before me and can guide me. Additionally, through these organizations, I’ve had opportunities to speak at various events and get to know a lot of different people along the way which has been influential to me.