Makeover Gives Young Entrepreneur Professional Polish

This is a newspaper article written about me from the Commercial Appeal DeSoto on August 28, 2011, that is no longer listed in their archives. This is for informational purposes only.

A Lakeland, Tenn., woman who’d had her share of hard knocks in life is getting a boost in the form of a professional business makeover, with a big assist from a DeSoto County group.

“It’s crazy — I wasn’t expecting all this,” Lois Riley Durham said. “I’m so grateful.”

She was getting a hair and makeup lesson at Belle Ross Spa and Salon in Southaven from BeautiControl representative Michael Ann Dillinger of Hernando.

Durham, 27, who’s started her own business, is getting the donated makeover from members and friends of Business Over Coffee, a networking group founded on social media. The makeover is a hand up, not a handout, for someone slapped down in life but trying to rise to her potential and then help others.

“We’ve all been there,” said photographer Tina Bailey of DeSoto Image. “This is something that tugs my heart because every woman should feel empowered.”

Durham felt some hard knocks with illness, disfiguring injuries and esteem-sapping ridicule in her youth in Memphis.

“I’d like to think my life is a normal one,” said Durham, but she has been in and out of the hospital since she was born: “Let’s just say Le Bonheur was my second home.”

She was diagnosed with a rare gastric disorder and put on a strict diet along with medication for a year. Two months before she turned 13, she was riding with her mother when a drunk driver collided with their auto.

“It left me with my teeth busted, a plate in my head and emotionally scarred. Going to school was hard.”

She was sick again and her parents had moved her from public to a private Christian school.

“I tried to make it work when I was there, but people didn’t like the fact that I was different from all the rest. … I think because of that they were threatened by the ‘new girl’ because I didn’t want to be a part of any of the cliques.”

When she was 15 or 16, she recalled, “my dad talked to me about getting my teeth fixed and I was up for it.

“We went to the appointment and the doctor checked me out. He then called another doctor and they talked right in front of me and started laughing. After that day, I never went back. I’d rather deal with it then have to be laughed at by doctors.”

Durham got her first job at 18. She worked in retail for two years, then at a hotel for some three years and then back to retail for another 21/2 years. But her summers spent with her dad as he worked on computers and fixed printers stayed with her, as did her mom’s work on data entry.

“I think that could be the reason why I like messing with computers so much,” Durham said.

By now she was married, “and I talked with my husband, William, about this crazy idea I had.

“I told him I thought about doing a virtual business that offers administrative and technical services. I told him how I’d been doing years of research on this, and I showed him the website I’d been working on.

“He was impressed and told me to go for it,” Durham said of the idea that became LRD Virtual Administrative Service.

She won a technical course with Alicia Rittenhouse, “and I learned a lot from it. I started looking for places that needed virtual assistants to gain experience.”

This stirred a Web search that led to Business Over Coffee and founder Sherri Henley, a Memphian who’s formerly of DeSoto County. The network arose from Henley’s other business, Imagine Your Celebration, an event-planner serving the Mid-South.

“I was impressed with the quality of Lois’ online work and wanted to meet her,” Henley said.

When Durham came to her office earlier this year, Henley was startled. Durham looked younger than her 27 years but was unpolished and awkward — a raw stone that cloaked a diamond. She took on Durham as an aide and was moved to personal action by her story — and promise.

“Her abilities and potential in launching this virtual clerical business are excellent,” said Henley, a pastor’s daughter who grew up helping others out. “I told Lois, ‘I believe in you and what you’re doing. I’m going to be mama. We want to see you become the dynamic businesswoman outside that you are inside.’

Henley’s Business Over Coffee was only launched in April, but the Memphis area network rallied to help Durham. The effort from the DeSoto members stands out: hair and makeup at the Southaven spa owned by Jessica Marx, “before and after” photography by Bailey, beauty tips from Dillinger, plus some sparkle with jewelry coming from Vickie Spell’s Premier Designs. Spell is from Hernando, as are Bailey and Dillinger.

“She’s very receptive,” Dillinger said of Durham. “It’s easier to work with people who don’t know a lot as opposed to people who think they know everything.”

“It’s amazing how the business community has come together for this girl,” Henley said. “The big shebang of all this is to help her in business. I was formerly of DeSoto County, and I think that’s why we all connected so well.”

Durham said the group also intends to help her get dental work this fall. She’ll be telling her story on the air at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Henley, she said, “has helped me in many ways, from exposure for my business to show off what I can do, to trust me to handle her own business.

“I just want to say to her and everyone else: Thank you.”

— Henry Bailey: (901) 333-2012

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