By Kyle Kennedy The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
It wasn't long after starting her coaching business when Maria Martinez discovered that being your own boss can be isolating.
In 2010, she attended a local chapter meeting of the American Business Women's Association, kicking off what she describes as a formative experience in her personal and professional life.
Her affection for the group was returned this month when the national ABWA named Martinez one of its Top Ten Business Women of the Year.
"I found myself being a solo entrepreneur craving that interaction and environment where I could be a cheerleader," said Martinez, 47. "I just like to be of service. I want to be that positive role model."
A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Martinez is the owner of a personal development coaching firm, Inneractive Coaching, and also does staffing and recruiting work for Kelly Services in Lakeland.
Outside of those jobs, she splits her time between the ABWA and serving as the area public relations co-chairwoman for Toastmasters International, an organization that focuses on leadership and speaking skills development.
Martinez was a supply clerk in the Army and previously worked for Polk County government, where she was a supervisor for the Healthy Families program that offers in-home support to parents in need.
She founded Inneractive in 2009, working with clients on their personal and career goals.
"I wanted to help people move forward where they are," said Martinez, a graduate of Saint Leo University. "I feel like I've always been a coach, because any position I've been in, I've always been the cheerleader, the motivator. I've always been in that position of leadership and encouragement."
Martinez said she draws upon personal experience in her work. About 10 years ago, she embarked on a "major" lifestyle change centered on health and nutrition and lost more than 80 pounds, in addition to improving her motivation and self-esteem.
She said she gravitated to the ABWA and Toastmasters because of the supportive atmosphere in both groups.
"The two organizations came into my life in a way that they both impacted me tremendously. As a result I feel compelled to pay it forward," she said.
John Morrow, a fellow Lakeland Toastmaster, said Martinez has been a "shining light" for the effort and ideas she has contributed to the group.
"She's always smiling, excited, energetic and positive," said Morrow, a retired claims adjuster for Geico. "She has a never-quit attitude. ... She's a go-getter."
Martinez, a married mother of two, is part of the ABWA's downtown Lakeland chapter, which formed in 1996 and has grown to more than 130 members.
Having been named to the ABWA's Top Ten list this year, she is in the running to be named the overall Business Woman of the Year during the organization's upcoming national conference in Kansas.
This is the second consecutive year that an ABWA member from Lakeland made it into the Top Ten. Last year it was Kim Andreadis, of Lakeland-based Andreadis Insurance and Financial Services.
Mary Stephenson, current president of the downtown Lakeland ABWA, says Martinez is deserving of the Top Ten honor.
"Maria is an amazing leader," said Stephenson, an office manager and vice president with Citizens Bank. "She's inspired people. ... She wants to leave an impact on what she does and who she touches. She's an amazing lady."