Hearing loss currently affects an estimated 48 million people in the United States
alone. The World Health Organization projects that by 2050, 2.5 billion people in
the world will have some degree of hearing loss. At least 700 million people—that’s
one in ten of us—will require hearing rehabilitation. Debbie Lawrence, founder of
Easy Signing, knows these statistics all too well. In fact, for a while, she was one
of those statistics. At the age of twenty-seven, Debbie was temporarily blind and
deaf from the results of viral encephalitis and meningitis. This gave her a unique
perspective of living without sight and sound, fueling her passion to create innovative
ways of developing communication without barriers.
Tell us a little about your business and what makes it unique.
I was first introduced to the world of American Sign Language by a visiting missionary at my home church in Philadelphia. Using my hands to communicate was such an intriguing concept to me and, later that summer, I taught my first signing class. This visual language has not only inspired my profession, but has been integral in my personal life as well. Thus, I’m able to couple my life experiences along with my dual Deaf Culture Studies and Master of Ministry degrees to bridge the gap of communication between the Deaf and hearing people.
At Easy Signing, as a Communications Coach, I develop programs tailored to the needs of my students, including a fun and interactive C.L.A.P. curriculum, staff training in Deaf Awareness, and custom corporate training to meet Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) needs. Regardless of age, background or learning goal, I offer an engaging program that builds my students’ confidence to communicate in one-on-one, group, conference, virtual, or face-to-face settings. From my students’ first class, they learn to communicate in basic ASL to have a conversation with a Deaf person. Teaching ASL is my passion and it’s truly an amazing feeling to impact so many lives, elevating communication with peers and loved ones. It’s a joy every time I say, "Come on, put your hands up, sign with me!"
What was the problem you were facing when you decided to contact the Illinois SBDC at Harper College?
As a conference speaker, trainer, and trade show participant, I had lots of interaction with people that led to business. When the pandemic eliminated my public-facing opportunities, I had to learn new ways to reach out to grow my business. After years of teaching and charitable pursuits, I wanted to devote time to really build a business and generate revenue from multiple sources. Though I was an expert in my field, I needed help with the business side of my business.
How did the Illinois SBDC at Harper College help with the problems you were having?
The advisors helped me with many business aspects. I learned terms like scaling, pipeline, validation, and discovery calls, and how to effectively use them in planning.
Marge Johnsson worked with me to develop my business plan and financial forecasts. She also helped me prepare my presentation for the 2022 Harper Foundation Dream Big Angel Grant opportunity, which I was awarded. This grant has helped tremendously to be able to put together my online program and produce my first sample video.
Cherie Kretsinger helped me identify the local child daycare market and narrow the focus of my initial outreach effort to local centers. Cherie, along with Dennis LaPorta, gave me the tools for marketing and for developing more customers in the pipeline to meet my numbers.
Dennis worked with me to fine-tune my elevator statement and to develop phone scripts for a cold-call telephone campaign. He critiqued my script drafts to help reach and secure sales appointments with early child development environments. He also helped me identify common challenges to clients and how to market my solutions to them.
Would you recommend small business owners use the services of the Illinois SBDC at Harper College?
Absolutely. They helped put me on a right path, to put together projections that give me direction, so I now know where I’m headed. They have great workshops and are a great resource to learn all the communication and business tools. I love that it’s a quick place to say, “This is where I’m at, can you make a suggestion on how to proceed?”
What does the future look like for Easy Signing?
I have seen an increase in the number of people who need my service and who want my service, as well as expanding types of services needed. People are using ASL for hearing loss and other communication needs, including people who can hear but can’t speak. Also, I work with an increasing number of people who are losing their hearing in their forties and fifties.
It’s my plan that Easy Signing will continue to innovate solutions to help overcome communication obstacles, whatever the future brings. I’m proud to have helped establish the opening of the first Deaf Resource Training Center in Ndola, Zambia on International Deaf Awareness Day, September 11, 2021. Throughout the world, including in the U.S., a segment of children is secluded and language deprived, meaning they can’t even communicate their names or where they live. With my online training program, I plan to continue my company’s global reach in communication training with American Sign Language.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone just starting a small business, what would it be?
Visit and become friends with your local SBDC - that’s what they’re there for, to develop business. Make sure you write your business plan with projections and do a marketing plan. Mapping out your business on paper allows you to adjust from there, as well as become aware of potential issues, including having an exit plan.