After losing her job last December, Luanne Brown knew right away that her next stop was going into business for herself. The next day she filed papers to form an LLC and began researching her options.
Her search led her to form eTool Developers, a small firm that develops training and instructional manuals and marketing presentations in digital formats using animation computer software for Web sites, CD-ROMs or personal-digital assistants.
“I’ve wanted to have a business my whole life. So it was like boom, boom, boom,” said Brown, a 45-year-old Spring Lake resident who launched eTool Developers in January, less than a month after losing her position with a West Michigan multimedia firm where she served as business manager and chief financial officer.
Starting her own business not only fulfilled a long-time goal for Brown but represented a way to test her own professional abilities, she said.
“To me it’s the ability to control your own fate,” Brown said. “There’s no one to blame but yourself. It’s a control thing — and it’s your success.”
Brown’s initial thoughts for a business centered around becoming a “Web broker” who connected companies seeking an e-commerce strategy with those that could produce a solution.
Her thinking eventually evolved into creating eTool Developers as a firm that produces “electronic business cards” that mix computer animation, graphics and sound to train workers or demonstrate a product or service in an electronic format that is easily updated based on the client’s needs.
“This is the new way to market your stuff,” Brown says as she shows off some of her work on her desktop computer. “From one product, I can deliver in all those different medias for those companies.”
A self-taught computer junky who has never hesitated to “rip open” the office copier or fax machine and fix it herself, Brown spent five years at her previous position with Media 1, a Nunica company she joined after a 10-year career break that started when she had her first child.
The mother of two, a 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, Brown grew up in Grand Haven and moved to California after her 1975 graduation from Grand Haven High School.
“California dreamin’,” she quips today when asked why she moved out west as a teen-ager.
While living in San Diego, she met her husband and held an assortment of jobs, including serving as office manager for a water treatment company. Other employers included Disney Studio, Clairol and ITT Sheraton Corp., where Brown initially worked as a hotel income auditor and later moved into accounting.
The work experience, particularly with ITT Sheraton, has made up for the lack of a college education, she said.
“That was kind of my schooling. I learned by doing,” said Brown, who came back home with her husband, Russ, an accountant who transferred to Teledyne’s Muskegon facility, in 1989 to raise their family in West Michigan.
Among her roles during her decade out of the workforce was serving as a Girl Scout leader.
“My daughter came home one day from kindergarten and said, ‘Mom, guess what? There’s this thing called Girl Scouts and you can be the leader.’ I said, ‘Why not?’” said Brown, who eventually felt the call to return to work and resume her career.
“The kids were getting older and I was getting brain dead,” she says. “I felt, hey, it’s time to take control and change your life.”
Brown’s new company is initially focusing on serving the automotive aftermarket and developing a national clientele.
A “car gal” whose father was an automotive patternmaker and who had three brothers who always had an engine project in the garage, Brown saw the automotive field as a natural starting point. She is now a member of the Special Equipment Market Association (SEMA), an automotive aftermarket trade group, and its affiliated Businesswomen’s Network, and is scheduled to give a presentation on marketing during the organization’s annual trade show this fall in Las Vegas.
“This is like a ball that’s started rolling and it’s just really taking off,” she said of the business.