The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 13, 2012

Donna Christopher builds State Farm business in city

Part 3, JARI local entrepreneurs series

JOHNSTOWN — According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Women in Business, female-owned businesses make up 28 percent of all privately owned businesses, employ 9.2 million workers, and contribute $2.38 trillion to the U.S. economy.

And it’s likely many of those entrepreneurs are nurturing both businesses and families.

Donna Christopher, 44, has been in the insurance business for 28 years. In November 2005, she launched her own State Farm agency in Johns­town. At the time, her son was 1 and her daughter was 4.

Her husband, Jeff, assumed the role of primary caregiver.

“I couldn’t have done this without his support,” said Christopher, who explained that the couple agreed before they had children that one of them would stay home when the kids were young.

Owning her own agency was a lifelong dream, and when the opportunity presented itself, the Christophers went for it.

But not without seeking plenty of guidance first.

“State Farm provides quite a bit of support in helping agents build their business plans,” Christopher said.

She also turned to the Small Business Administration, Johns­town Area Regional Industries, the city of Johnstown and local lenders when relocating from a rental property to an owner-occupied property. Christopher moved her agency to the former Burger King at 339 Main St. in downtown Johnstown in 2009. An advocate of the downtown, Christopher was happy to return a vacant structure to a fully functioning business, and the visibility was a plus.

“I really believe the location change made a difference for us. We have seen our business increase by 5 percent each year,” she said.

Christopher’s agency provides insurance and financial services.

Combined with her four employees, or team members, she boasts specialists in auto, fire and life-health insurances; banking, mutual funds and mortgages.

“We are one of the leading agencies in the northeast zone in terms of mutual funds and auto growth,” she said. “My team takes pride and ownership in that achievement.”

A micromanager Christopher is not. She joked that the office probably runs more smoothly when she’s not there.

And it doesn’t hurt that in today’s Wi-Fi age, a business owner has the flexibility to work from home.

“I can take my laptop home and work from there. Modern technology has given us the ability to be there for our clients and for our children and families as well,” Christopher said.

Her advice to anyone considering starting his or her own business?

“Don’t be afraid. It’s not an impossible thing to do,” she said. “Once you have a strong business plan and good people working for you, you can find the resources available to start your business. Just do it. Live your dream. I did.”

 

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