An “aha” moment on a country drive allowed Tammy to finally put her office job behind her and pursue her passions. She became one of only a handful of women Auctioneers in her state and has never looked back.
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in Toledo, Ohio with my parents and two brothers. After graduating from high school a semester early, I got married and moved to central Pennsylvania.
I started working when I was 15, most often working two jobs at a time. After 10 years of marriage, I became a single mom, raising two small children on very little income (despite two jobs) and going to college too.
Even though it took a rather long time, I completed a Bachelor’s degree in 1993, at the age of 34, then a Master’s in Speech Communication two years later, both from Penn State University. I pursued the Speech Communication degree because I felt it was general enough to be able to go in many different directions, which certainly turned out to be true. My focus was on interpersonal communication. While I have the degrees, I can easily say I learned more about the practical application of effective communication from my years in Toastmasters than I did in a degree program.
I have two beautiful daughters, a wonderful son-in-law, and two incredible grandchildren—luckily they all live nearby.
When did you start to think about making a change?
I have worked many jobs, including cake decorator, banking, insurance, general manager of a beer distributor, gift wrapper, retail, office manager, electronic cataloging, computer cabinet design, and corporate trainer.
When I survived breast cancer in my early 40s, I learned to take each moment as it comes and really look for what is important in life. During my treatment and recovery, I became increasingly involved in Toastmasters International, even serving a two-year term as an International Director. I had joined Toastmasters in my mid-30s and went from speaking during our club meetings to speaking about the organization outside the club setting. I was also doing training for a major insurance company at the time, so it all worked well together.
By my late 40s, I was using all my vacation time to speak professionally and also doing a lot of emcee work for events. At one of these events, I overheard two women talking. One woman (from the organizing committee) asked the other woman (a local television personality) if she would auction cakes at the event. I saw the sheer terror in the second woman’s face as she replied, “I don’t know how to auction anything.” I was just standing there, about 10 feet away, and thought to myself, I already speak professionally, I wonder what it would take to become an Auctioneer?
It reached a point where my full-time job—now as a corporate trainer for a Navy-related group at Penn State—and my passion for speaking started to clash. I really felt there was more of a life for me outside of a cubicle; I remember taking a Myers-Briggs test once, and the person interpreting the results looked at the results, then me, then the results, and finally said, “You have got to be dying in that cubicle,” and I certainly felt like that was the case.
I had a real “aha” moment that precipitated the change of course for me. I tell you with all my heart that this is exactly what happened… I was off work from my “day job” for another round of surgery. I drive a wonderful old convertible (over 250,000 miles with big eyelashes around the headlights) and I had the top down on a beautiful sunny day. I was prospecting for properties to offer for auction when I went around a sweeping turn on a backcountry road. In front of me was a country church with a small cemetery beside it. As I rounded the turn, I heard this voice very clearly state, “Do not die with your dreams inside; how many people there did.” It was as clear as could possibly be! I went back to the office within a few days and started to put my feelings into action and leave the comfort of my “day job” to jump out on my own as a full-time speaker and auctioneer!
After working at a major University for almost 18 years, it was past time for me to make the true jump. I tell people that the job fed my family for a long time, for which I was immensely grateful, but it stopped feeding my spirit.
What is your next act?
I am the owner of Tammy Speaks and Tammy Miller Auctions. It is two separate companies that cross paths more often than I first realized. The speaking business offers speaking/training on a variety of topics including communication skills, motivation, leadership, business and dining etiquette, and a few related topics. As an Auctioneer, I specialize in real estate and benefit auctions, and of course, do a few other types of auctions mixed in (storage unit auctions are also a lot of fun!). My regular “staff” consists of myself, my daughter (she will be fully licensed in the next couple of months and a tremendous help with online auctions and the technology side of the business), and another apprentice Auctioneer. The plans for 2016 include hiring another staff person, at least part-time. With a big auction, I may hire people on a project basis. There are a few exciting opportunities on the horizon that may dictate more staffing as I travel more to attend auction and speaking engagements.
I love what I am blessed to do! The tag line of my company is, “Providing solutions for moving forward” which I specifically designed to work with both companies. I have also been able to connect them in different ways, for example, I am hired to speak at a conference and I ask them about doing a charity auction as part of the conference, raising monies for their charity, which has included women’s shelters, scholarship funds, etc.
I’m also a speech coach and have helped several people become better speakers. Most of my clients are confidential and include politicians, business people, people within higher education, authors, union activists, speakers, and salespeople. In general terms, I find out where they are in their speaking abilities by watching them give a presentation, either live or videotaped, then we decide on their goals; if they are working on a specific project or general improvement; and how long they would like to work together. Some of my clients have very minimal experience, and of course, I suggest they join Toastmasters to complement our time together. Other clients are very advanced in their speaking abilities and are looking to polish their skills for a specific audience or project. With the advance of technology, I have clients around the globe and we are able to work together very efficiently.
Finally, I am the author of three books: The Lighter Side of Breast Cancer Recovery: Lessons Learned Along the Path to Healing (about my personal journey); My Life is Just Speech Material, And So Is Yours (about how to put a presentation together); and Pink Ribbon Stories: A Celebration of Life (a compilation book that includes stories from 123 people whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt like my world was spinning out of control. To help combat that feeling, I started to write down everything that was happening, which prompted me to ask more questions, which enabled me to feel like I could have a bigger part in my treatment process. When that was finished, I turned those thoughts into a book on lessons I learned going through this process and the first book was published in 2004.
Why did you choose this next act?
If you were to ask my brothers this question, I am sure they would reply that I was meant to be a professional speaker because I never shut up growing, up, but that wasn’t really a factor. I love to feel like that I am connecting with people while making a difference. When I started speaking professionally, I felt that connection. Because I do a lot of charity events, becoming a charity Auctioneer was an added bonus I could offer. Going through the training to become an Auctioneer allowed me to be of value in other areas of the profession so it became a perfect blend of speaking, making a connection, and feeling like I am making a difference.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was very difficult to take the plunge, but with my previous experience, I felt it was clearly the time to jump. I prepared by power prayer—being more specific in prayer and consciously “listening” during daily prayer and Bible reading, which continues today—and getting my calendar of speaking and auction engagements loaded as much as possible before giving up my full-time job.
Family and friends’ reactions ran the full gamut from, “It’s about time you do what you have been talking about for years” to, “What? Are you crazy?” (Or, more specifically the direct quote was, “Why would you do something dumb like that?”) My mother had a similar opportunity in her life, well, a little different in that she just quit a job because it was bad for her health and didn’t have another one lined up. However, it all worked out for her, as it usually does when we get out of the Lord’s way!
What challenges did you encounter?
The auction business is definitely male-dominated, with about 10% of all Auctioneers worldwide being women. In my immediate area, this is very true as I was the only female Auctioneer in my county, and there are only a few of us across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
But I persevered. I never really felt that I shouldn’t have moved into this new career, but I realized I may have to make some adjustments. I had to take the jump or I would always wonder. During those times, it was prayer that helped me, and a lot of it. I have to say that I am very blessed. Every time I would have a doubt, the Lord would put someone on my path, or bring me another auction or speaking engagement. It is amazing how He is working through all of this. I just have to keep believing!
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I have learned that I am capable of a lot more than I ever realized. As crazy as it sounds, I have been more frightened in this business than I ever expected. For example, I did a big auction in Las Vegas in June. One of the things they don’t teach you in auction school is how to deal with black widow spiders and brown recluse spiders – serious YUCK!! If someone would have ever told me I would have a prayer partner for spiders, I would have told them they were crazy, but that is exactly what I did – I called on two dear friends of faith who prayed every day I was setting that auction up, and all the way through the sale to the end. It was very scary for me!
I also learned that there are a lot of people out there willing to help, you just have to ask. I know I would not be where I am without the incredible help of people, both personally and professionally.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
First, I think you have to decide what that reinvention looks like. So many people, especially women, are so busy with their lives, which may include caring for others, that we rarely take time to find out what we really want. I do have a little caution though, in that people should not wait until every little detail is in place as they may never make the move! It is amazing how when we start on a different path, the world around us changes and we have more time, energy, or opportunity than we every realized was there. That is part of the wonder of taking the jump. It truly is a case where we have to leap and believe the staircase will appear!
Focus is also very important. Women especially think we have an “S” for Superwoman on our chest and can do anything, which of course may be true (tee-hee), but that isn’t the best method in business. For me, I don’t want to do every kind of auction, but I want to specialize in benefit/charity and real estate. I have a lot of fun with storage units and will do other types of auctions, but by understanding where I want to focus my time, it is easier for me to prioritize opportunities and seek related continuing education. The same goes with my speaking as I focus on communication skills, motivation, leadership, business and dining etiquette, and a few related topics.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
Don’t be afraid to be yourself – you are the only you out there! Not just in the auction field that is very male-dominated, but in any field, you have to understand that you are unique and bring unique value to the table for your customers and clients. Once you figure that out and really understand that your only true competition—and your best cheerleader—is the person who greets you in the mirror in the morning, you are far ahead of many others in your field.
Get a mentor, in fact, you may need a few of them depending on what you are trying to do! Find out who is doing what you are trying to do and meet with them, talk to them, see how you can learn from and work with them! Again, I have been very blessed with mentors. For example, the incredible mentors I have for my auction business have been doing this for 45 years! From a business standpoint, I would be hard-pressed to find someone better; but because our markets are different, I also rely on the advice of other mentors in more similar markets—truly the best of both worlds. At the end of the day, my business has to be mine, and I have to be comfortable with the business decisions I make, after taking in all the expert advice I can find.
For the speaking business, my 20+ years with Toastmasters International helped shape me to have confidence when I step out on the platform. On the business side of it, the National Speakers Association has provided a lot of great information. One does not have to join these types of associations, for sure, but education is extremely helpful! Contact your local small business development center; read good business books; join your local Chamber of Commerce; do five things every day toward your goals.
Education is key! For the auction business, I got involved with the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) and the Pennsylvania Auctioneers Association (PAA). The NAA has one of the very best training programs I have ever experienced. They not only helped you feel very confident walking out the door as an Auctioneer, they also encourage and help you build a great network of people. I can offer auction services both globally and locally because of my association with the NAA. The PAA is very helpful on a local level with conferences and information.
Any advice on curbing the presentation jitters?
The very best way to curb presentation jitters is by forcing yourself to do it whenever and however you get the opportunity! This is certainly one place where practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but by doing it every chance you get, it builds greater confidence that then spills over into other areas of your life. I tell people I could be the poster child for Toastmasters because it has indeed changed my life. By giving me an avenue to develop and enhance speaking abilities, I have gained confidence in so many other areas of life. In fact, I feel certain that I would not have been an Auctioneer without first gaining the confidence to get up and speak. I also have another motto that I present, in that “we never know what we are being prepared for,” so I encourage anyone and everyone to take steps to develop solid communication skills.
What does the training to become an Auctioneer consist of?
The training to become an Auctioneer varies from state to state in the US. Some states require licensing, some do not; some states require an apprenticeship, some do not; some require continuing education, some do not—you get the idea—it can be very confusing! In Pennsylvania, a license is required and there are a few ways that one can become licensed. One way is to attend the state-approved training, which is 15 weekends, then doing some auctions and taking a test. The second way is to do a two-year apprenticeship program (without a schooling program requirement) and 30 auctions then take a test. The final way is to get a reciprocal license. Pennsylvania is reciprocal with 12 states, so I might live in Tennessee and be licensed there and can apply for a reciprocal Auctioneer license in PA. I chose to attend Missouri Auction School, did a two-year apprenticeship program and 30 auctions, and then took the test to be a licensed Auctioneer.
There are many Auctioneer specializations including real estate and benefit auctions (my specialties), personal property and storage units (which I often do in conjunction with the others), livestock, fine arts, and automobile, then other specialties within the specialties, for example, coins, stamps, certain types of antiques, etc.
To become an excellent Auctioneer is like any other profession: One must have a solid education in the field, experience, and the ability to do it well. The auction industry is far more than being able to “call” an auction, or the fast-talking that most people associate with an auction. There is a tremendous business side to what we do. In March, I graduated from a three-year business management program presented by the National Auctioneers Association. This program helps us to understand the “business” of the auction industry and helps prepare us for greater success. Some elements we have learned in class are appropriate for any business and others are specific to the needs of the auction industry (proposals, business plans, etc.) and more about who we are so we are better prepared to excel in this field.
What resources do you recommend?
Some of the traditional books from Zig Ziglar (See You at the Top ) and Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change) offer good sound practical advice about dealing with people, which I believe is the foundation of what I do in either the auction or speaking business. I am always amazed at how my Bible continues to guide and “speak” to me daily, even though it was written centuries ago. I do like to read about people and how they handle everyday life. On my bedside right now you will find my Bible, Debbie Macomber, books from Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, and Tim Conway (Christmas presents) and Brian Tracy, and my monthly magazine from the National Auctioneers Association – a very nice diverse collection, wouldn’t you say?
I am very blessed with a lot of personal resources as my brother, my daughter, and two good friends work on websites. I have a wonderful accountant who I have been with for many years. My youngest brother, Mike, is also an entrepreneur: His company, Pro Image Apparel, makes promotional clothing (all of my company jackets, shirts, etc. come from him) and does website design and more. We have spent many hours talking about what is working for our businesses, what each of us has learned that may be beneficial to the other, as well as what we need to achieve greater success.
What’s next for you?
Both my auction and speaking businesses are ever evolving, and I am clearly on a faith adventure, so I am excited to see where He takes me in 2016! Most of my clients come by word of mouth but I would love to find a true agent to help me gain more business in both the speaking and auction businesses. That is on my business plan goal list for 2016 and we have already started to put some changes into action. Going back to the mentors and networking with other professionals, this has been a huge help in starting the year out at a much higher level than in the past.
I am currently working on four more book projects, two helping a man write about his trip across the nation driving a tractor; one assisting a coach to write about persistence; and finally another one of my own authorship related to understanding who we really are inside and how that can transform and guide our life.
I always have a personal goal of some type of a certification every year. In the past it has been getting an Auctioneer or real estate license, or becoming a notary, or attending clown school. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would become an Auctioneer, I am not sure I would have believed them, so who knows what next act might be in my future!
Contact Tammy Miller at Tammy@TammyMillerAuctions.com