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New vision

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  • | 8:25 a.m. November 16, 2012
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Entrepreneurs can manage change in a way that most people can't fathom.

Consider Sandi Eveleth. A Fort Myers optometrist with 20 years of experience, she built a loyal following of patients who visited her for their eye care needs.

But today, she'd rather design websites.

If that sounds like a jarring contrast, it is. “It's more than a mid-life crisis,” laughs Eveleth, who launched a website-design business called in 2009.

How does a person who trained and practiced as an optometrist become a website designer?

Eveleth concedes that she felt guilty about giving up a profession for which she studied hard and a practice she built with thousands of patients. “Shame on me. How dare I think that after spending all that money?” she thought.

But friends encouraged her to launch her Web-design firm despite the fact that she now earns half of the low six figures she made as an optometrist. Also, a series of life-changing events, including divorce and the death of her mother, persuaded Eveleth that she needed to follow her desire to start a Web-design company. “I was so passionate about it,” she says. “Life is way too short.”

It started 15 years ago, when Eveleth developed an interest in scrapbooking. She discovered that she loved design. “It was a hobby,” she says.

Eveleth always loved computers and she became fascinated by Web design, spending off-hours learning how to create sites from books and the Internet. “I read everything I possibly could, anything I could get my hands on,” she recalls.

Eveleth had to learn this while running the optometrist practice, Fort Myers Eye Associates, that she owned with her husband. “I really enjoyed the business end,” she says.

Fort Myers Associates was a big investment. “All of our money went into that practice,” Eveleth says.

But ultimately the work of optometry was unfulfilling. Between patients, Eveleth designed a logo for a friend who runs a tutoring business in Fort Myers. That friend, Cammie McKenzie, owner of Learning in Motion, urged Eveleth to start The “kiss” in the name stands for “keeping Internet solutions simple,” she says.

Still, Eveleth needed income while she started her new company and still practices optometry twice a week. “Don't quit your day job,” she says.

But Eveleth is determined to shift fully to Web-design work, loaning herself $25,000 to launch the business. “It has the potential to make as much as an optometrist,” she says.

Her edge, Eveleth says, is that she is hands-on and answers questions more quickly than most tech people. That's why she opened an office and invites customers to visit her. “They love to come over and meet me,” she says.

Besides creating websites (they cost from $750 to $5,000), Eveleth also enjoys teaching. She'll spend time with a customer going through the whole process, from buying a Web domain name to designing the site, a service for which she charges $100 an hour. “I love teaching,” she says, noting it could take 10 to 15 hours to build a site with a customer.

Her optometry experience has been helpful, particularly because she has good bedside manners and can explain issues in plain English. “I don't talk tech jargon,” she says.

She doesn't hide the fact that she's an optometrist. She uses the doctor title and calls herself the “DigiDoc.” But she doesn't advertise the fact that she designs websites to her patients, unless they ask. “They think I'm semi-retired,” she smiles. “I feel a responsibility to my current patients.”


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