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Small Business Success: From inspiration to cash in the time of COVID

Make a difference to the elderly at a hinge point in their lives. Found, own, and run a business, fulfilling a dream. Create jobs.

Those were Jennifer Murillo’s goals when she opened PorchLight Move Management in Madison. The company’s mission: Serve the relocation needs of the elderly across Connecticut.

The pandemic struck virtually on opening day in 2020, but fortunately, PorchLight Move Management earned “essential business” designation, allowing operations to continue.

“The state did not shut us down because folks in their 70s and 80s were not about to stop relocating,” Murillo said. “Nor did they stop selling their homes, generally to downsize their living space. Condo complexes, retirement homes, and assisted-living facilities require less attention, less hassle, and often less expense.”

Those benefits bring tremendous stress, however, Murillo said. You must part with furniture, furnishings, collections, and treasured mementos, that have often been accumulated over a half-century. They occupy emotional space, but in the new home there will not be the physical space for them.

Enter PorchLight’s professional move manager, who assists with planning and oversees all details. The staff helps sort through belongings and coordinates donations, shipments, resale or disposal. One nearly universal obstacle is overvaluing possessions’ material value.

PorchLight Move Management helps clients understand, accept, and move beyond this tendency.

“We help our clients look forward to the next phase of their lives, letting go of objects while treasuring and retaining memories,” Murillo said.

The firm’s professional packing cares for belongings and prepares them for placement in the new home – the bed made, furniture arranged, and even pictures hung.

At the outset, Murillo and her husband Ed searched not for a move-management businesses to purchase, but for one that would fit well with Murillo’s career as a health and wellness coach. They met with their banker to arrange financing, and he recommended they connect with SCORE, a nationwide, nonprofit association and resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that offers free, confidential advice to small-business owners.

At one of the initial meetings, the idea was raised about purchasing a senior-move management business, but Sandra Beckman of SCORE Southeastern Connecticut suggested that they consider starting one from scratch.

“That was all it took,” Murillo said. “It just checked off a lot of boxes regarding what I wanted our business to be about, serving others, and I knew it was the right move.”

Launching the company in the face of COVID-19 required a business plan, putting finances in order, and assembling an advisory team, plus a solid marketing strategy. Ed’s business background is in finance, so he watches the money and keeps her updated her on cash flow and reserves at evening mini-business reviews, which the couple still conducts.

Outreach lies within Murillo’s purview.

She made contact with retirement communities for referrals to people moving in. She attended sales-lead receptions and consulted a social-media marketing maven to launch Google, Facebook, and Instagram campaigns.

The company draws about half of its customers from referrals, 25 percent from the National Association of Senior Move Managers, and 25 percent from Google advertising.

The trickle of customers became a stream as the outreach gained regional momentum.

With control of our COVID nightmare seemingly in sight, Murillo and her husband feel poised to capitalize on opportunities to come.

Hugh M. Ryan is a certified mentor for the Southeastern Connecticut chapter of SCORE. He can be reached at hugh.ryan@scorevolunteer.org.

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