August 12, 2010 | by Colleen Dermody
Lesbian entrepreneur defying slow economy

As the country’s economy stalls and the District’s unemployment numbers hover at 9.5 percent, a local lesbian entrepreneur may have just the ticket to help some of the unemployed find a new path to work.

Nancy Wigal is a certified advanced search engine optimization (SEO) trainer and owner of the Search Engine Academy-D.C. Wigal is tapping into the Washington trend of advanced technology certifications and her search engine optimization classes are helping individuals and companies acquire an edge in Washington’s competitive IT market.

After a career in the U.S. Army and as a civilian employee of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) where she restored National Airspace Systems (NAS) for air traffic control and prototyped remote monitoring systems, Wigal is now using her computer and IT knowledge to help people increase their technology skills to find employment or, if they are already employed, to help their employers land government and corporate contracts.

“I started the Search Engine Academy because so many people, even those with lots of IT experience, are mystified and stumped by SEO,” said Wigal, a lesbian who was one of a team of FAA personnel who shut down the National Airspace System on Sept. 11, 2001 to prevent further terrorism in U.S. airspace.

“While search engine optimization is not rocket science, it has technical elements that tend to scare the non-technically oriented. But those elements still have to be addressed if companies want to stay competitive. Most optimization does not involve coding or programming so course-takers are immediately certified to apply the SEO techniques on their current employer’s website or to pitch their skill to a potential employer.”

Wigal discovered there were multiple Search Engine Academies in the U.S. and around the world but none in her home city of Washington, D.C. In 2009 she purchased the franchise and established the Search Engine Academy-D.C. to help Washington-area businesses, non-profits and government agencies attract and convert more traffic to their websites.

“I’ve always known that I love to instruct,” said Wigal. “The thought of training others to do their own SEO was very appealing. I love SEO, and I really enjoy teaching, so it seemed like a natural combination for me.”

When asked what advice she would give to other LGBT entrepreneurs trying to energize small start-ups, Wigal suggested finding friends and business colleagues who can lend support.

“Find people who will support you, but who are realists with their own areas of expertise,” said Wigal. “Starting a business is hard work. You have to provide the motivation and initiative to get things done on a daily basis. It helps if you have friends who have applied their ideas for getting a small business underway, and have found success.”

“Additionally, I would say you have to do your homework to determine if there is actually a need for your business solution,” added Wigal. “And, if you can’t, or don’t want to do something, or are weak in an area of managing your business, either hire someone to do the work for you in-house, or outsource it.”

“Taking my own advice, I now have a colleague working with me,” said Wigal. “I am teaming with Melissa Ward, also a lesbian small business owner, to help provide the SEO trainings. Her wide and diverse training background in the public and private sector including the UN, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Military helps both our businesses since we can utilize our combined skill sets. Small business teaming is the smart business model of the future.”

“Search Engine Academy-DC is working because we are able to identify problem websites that are not performing for their owners. Their websites are not found by Internet search engines,” said Wigal. “The solution is to apply search engine optimization so the business sites come up higher in search engine results. As more and more businesses become virtual — and many bricks and mortar businesses now realize how much they need a competitive Internet presence — they must do everything they can to make their website visible to as many targeted prospects as possible.”

When not teaching Search Engine Academy-DC courses or providing SEO consulting for clients, Wigal can be found skippering her 20-foot sailboat, “Baydream,” on the Chesapeake Bay. She is also an active long-time member of the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC).

Colleen Dermody is a freelance writer and owner of Out to Market Communications. Reach her at cdermody@outtomarket.com.

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