In 1995, a frightened novice began her financial services career selling insurance door to door.
Sixteen years later, Debi Tiell has boxes of awards and more than 1,000 clients to show for her hard work.
"I started going to door to door with no clients," she said. "There was a lot of rejection and a lot of hours. It was tough. I spent times crying on the drive home."
Back then she worked from her home as a "captive agent" for the now-defunct GE Financial, selling insurance and Medicaid supplements.
Tiell persevered and soon was winning national top producer awards.
"I was just so motivated," she said. "I got lots of rejections, but I would just get up the next day and do it all over again."
She loved competing with her peers to win contests and trips.
"I just had to go after everything they offered," she said. "I don't think it was ever the money that drove me. It was the competition. It was fun for me."
Today, her office in Bascom employs her oldest son and three other employees.
"I now manage over $200 million in people's investments," she said. "I hit a major milestone last year."
And her business continues to thrive.
"I mainly grow 100 percent from referrals now," she said. "I don't have to risk rejections anymore. Anybody who comes in here called me."
She commends her staff on their excellent work.
"I could not do what I do without them," she said.
Tiell's most recent award was the Chairman's Award for the second straight year from the Learning Institute for Financial Executives. The award is given to the most outstanding financial adviser who has graduated from the institute, based on professional service, technical knowledge, clients helped with distribution planning and community support.
She first attended a weeklong course from the institute because she was interested in the school's financial techniques and views about tax-efficient retirement planning.
"Its educating you," she said. "It was so interesting and so new to me that I went back three months later and took it again."
Every year, she takes a three-day refresher "just to keep up with the tax- law changes," she said.
"The award is based on production and how many clients you help," she said. "I did the most in production two years in a row among people who attended this course."
She said her approach to financial advising assumes taxes are going to be much higher in the future.
"Hey, look at what shape our government's in," she said. People forget taxes right now are the lowest they've been in 40 years.
"Maybe we want to start getting (money) taxed now and reinvest it in something that will be tax-free for them later on," she said. "If their retirement accounts start getting taxed at 50 percent, they have half of what they thought they had saved for retirement.
"Look at what's going on," she said. "I don't see how tax rates can stay the same as they are now."
As she was growing up near Bascom, Tiell said she always enjoyed working with numbers.
When she was 12 years old, she reviewed the numbers in the electrician business ledger book belonging to her parents, Charles and Mary Ellen Kessler.
"I always had an affinity for numbers," she said.
She took a bookkeeping class in high school.
"When you would do those practice sessions and it would all come out right, that would be a high for me," she said.
After graduating in 1979 from Hopewell-Loudon High School, she went to work for H&R Block doing taxes.
Later, she went to work for another company until her life changed in 1995.
In addition to her full-time job, she sold Longaberger Baskets at the time. And she won a national award for basket sales.
She had two first cousins working with GE Financial.
"I babysat for their kids while they went on trips that they won," she said.
"Gosh, I could do that," she remembers thinking.
In 1995, she was offered a buy-out package at her job and she had to decide whether or not to take it.
At the same time, she had a surprise pregnancy and thought maybe it would be best to spend more time at home.
She stopped at a relative's house on her way home for advice.
The relative said, "Ask God to help you. Tell God to light up the sky if you're supposed to quit tomorrow."
Tiell said she laughed, but made the request to God.
Before she went home, she stopped at a friend's house. And when she walked out the door to leave, the sky was lit with the strangest kind of lightening she had ever seen.
"So I turned in my paperwork to take the buyout package," she said.
"I carried that baby full term and she passed away the first day," Tiell said. "Then I didn't have a job or a new baby."
In October 1995 she contacted her cousin and started working for GE Financial as a "captive agent."
"I went two counties away and went door to door, so nobody would know me in case I failed," she said. "It's really hard work going door to door. I did that for three or four years, until I had enough clients where I didn't have to anymore."
The very first year she started with the company she won her first contest as top producer.
"Whatever the contest was, I would figure out what I had to do per week to do that (amount of business)," she said.
For example, if it was $500 a week she worked until she made $500 that week.
"If I had a week where I did $4,000, I would only count that as $500," she said. "And I would begin again the next week."
In her first full year with the company she was awarded as Ohio Rookie of the Year.
"My second full year is when I became the top producer in the nation for GE Financial," she said.
At the same time, she learned new products to provide for her clients, learned about sales and setting goals. And she consistently worked to increase her skills.
In 1999, she earned her certification to sell securities (investments).
When GE sold its financial arm, Tiell was left with a problem. Where did she go next? Could she leave the business?
"I had lots of people who had trusted with me with everything they saved all their life," she said. "I'd made too much of a commitment."
She decided to open her own business.
"It was an opportunity for me to become independent," she said. "What I thought was a problem became the biggest blessing for my company."
Tiell said she came from a family of self-employed people, so a business was not new to her.
"I always just wanted to improve my business by 10 percent a year, but I would have some years where I would improve 50 percent," she said. "I had one flat year in 2008. Other than that I've always grown by at least 10 percent."
By the time 2006 rolled around, Tiell said she decided to open an office and rented a building in Bascom.
"I'd say we've probably doubled since we opened the offices to the public," she said. "It makes people feel confident that you have a building and they can come in and talk to a person at any time. They feel you're stable in the community."
Last year, Tiell and her husband, Tom, bought the brick house in Bascom that now houses her offices and Tom remodeled it.
"I like working out of this house," she said. "It's a homey atmosphere."
From the early days of rejection through today, she said Tom has been supportive of her efforts.
Today, he manages their properties.
They have three sons and three grandchildren.
As the business grew, so did Tiell's community involvement.
"That's one of the best things about having a successful business," she said. "Now you can give back. It's spiritually rewarding."
She is president of Financial Assistance for Cancer Treatment, an organization that collects donations and provides money to families dealing with cancer. She and her staff have dunked themselves in a pond during the annual Polar Bear Jump for the past three or four years, and raised $22,600 for FACT.
"We write to clients and ask if they'll sponsor us," she said. "Everybody on staff has done it at least once."
She's volunteers to teach one day at Hopewell-Loudon and one day at Sentinel Career Center, talking to students about budgeting the life insurance.
She's also involved through donations of time and money to Y Wives, her church, NAMI, First Step, Pheasants Forever, and "tons of things" at Hopewell-Loudon school.
In the future, Tiell said she plans to form a foundation, so she can continue to give to community projects after she leaves this world.
She never plans to fully retire.
"I have a staff that runs the operation," she said. "I don't plan to ever stop seeing my clients. I'll just have staff to do all the work behind the scenes."
For now, she loves to work every day and loves the people she helps.
She's thankful she no longer has to make cold calls or be involved in door-to-door sales.
And her business continues to grow.
"We follow through with the clients and stay in contact with them," she said. "It's through referrals. We don't market in any other way.
"I just keep adding more and more services," she said. "Now we do financial planning for many different families.
"I love it. I can work tons of hours and still love it."