ELDERSBURG — Francie M. Dalton bet her livelihood: She started her own company during a recession.
"Everything I own is being put on the line. You'd think that would keep me up at night. You'd think with this economy, it would scare me to death."
It hasn't yet.
Dalton, 38, is so confident her consulting business will succeed that she sees herself comfortable at age 65. Her house will be paid for, she'll have money to give nieces and nephews, and employees will be working across the country.
"I have envisioned everything I want to happen," she said. "I have seen me in gray hair."
Dalton is intense. She's bold and determined. She's also deeply in debt -- to the bank and the federal government.
In June, she quit her job as director of national marketing for an international floor company to open a consulting business, Dalton Alliances Inc., inher home.
She has no clients yet, but the U.S. Small Business Administration had enough confidence in her plan to lend her $100,000. She is the second woman in Maryland to receive SBA money earmarked forveterans of the Vietnam War era, an SBA spokesman said.
"To get adirect loan from the SBA, you've got to have a really solid businessplan," spokesman Sam A. Reprogal said. "We don't make that many direct loans, and we're very picky and choosy."
So far this year, the SBA has issued four Vietnam-era veterans loans totaling $307,000 in Maryland, he said. Last year, the agency issued three totaling $396,000, he said.
At Tate Access Floors Inc. in Jessup, Dalton traveled the country attracting and keeping customers.
Of 10 managers at the directors level, she was the only woman. The company, where she worked for the last six years, showed about $125 million in sales last year.
Today, her office is a 10-by-12 room off the living room of afour-bedroom house in the quiet suburban neighborhood where she's lived for three years. From it, she plans to write a quarterly newsletter aimed at executives and to plan training and development seminars.She wants to use her experience to train workers to be better speakers, salesmen and team players.
She also plans to write a book of advice for business speakers called "American Business at the Podium."The outline is already finished.
Her goals for the next 12 monthsare to publish four newsletters, speak at eight meetings and conduct12 training seminars.
Dalton's days are as ordered and busy now as they were when she traveled to an office every day, except she has a view of the woods behind her house and the birds and squirrels thatfeast on seeds she leaves for them.
On a wall calendar is a breakdown of how she spent her time in July: 72 percent administrative, 9 percent networking, 9 percent interviewing, 4 percent writing and 6 percent "downtime."
"I'm going to sink or swim and lose everything I own based on my productivity," she said.
The West Virginia native, the second of three children, long has relied on herself. Her mother died when she was 10, and, she said, she didn't get along well with her father.
At 16, she dropped out of school and ran away, living in parks and with friends. She returned to school after a year and finished her last two years in one year's time.
After graduation in 1971, she enlisted in the Army and served 4 1/2 years.
"It was the only way I could get to college," she said.
She wasn't called to Vietnam, but qualified for the SBA loan because she served during the war.
Dalton earned a bachelor's degree in business administration at the University of Baltimore in 1982 and a master's in the same field at the Johns Hopkins University in 1988.
"The fact that I was on my own since a young age made me strong. I don't regret it," shesaid. "Maybe I didn't have a close family life, but I learned a lot.
"It's given me a reliance on myself. I'm comfortable relying on me because I know I'll deliver.
"That's why I want to run my own business, because I'll do what it takes to get the job done and then some. I'm intense, and therefore, don't fit in a corporate environment.
"My whole life is my work," she added.
Dalton was married for nine months about eight years ago; she has no children. She calls herfive dogs -- Blackie, Spanky, Sasha, Hal and Scruffy -- her family.
Victor A. Sainato, corporate vice president of sales and contracting at Tate, said he thinks Dalton's business will succeed because of her experience and personality.
"She has good charisma with people. She can draw people in because she shows sincerity," he said.
Michael G. Fish, an SBA business consultant who helped Dalton obtain the loan, said, "She realizes what's going to be required to make it work. Sometimes she can be too pushy, but it's better to be too pushy than not pushy enough."