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Business Is Booming For Paralegal Turned Cleaning Contractor, Thanks In Part To CTA's 'Building Small Business Program'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- One man went from being a paralegal in the corporate world to a commercial cleaning contractor for a massive transit project.

The Morning Insiders share his inspiring message to other small business owners about how they can tap into resources and grow their companies.

"There are things in life that you want to do – the worst thing you can do is not do it," said Steve James, who knows about starting with a clean slate.

Back in 2011, he left his paralegal job and made a sweeping change.

"And I was middle aged, you know, I had already turned 50 when I decided to leave," he said.

His new chapter began when James offered to clean his friend's restaurant after the janitorial crew failed to show up one day.

"I said, 'I'll clean it,' and he looked at me and said, "Yeah, suit and tie...right," James said.o

Not only did he get the job done, but his friend was so impressed that he offered James a cleaning contract on the spot.

"The rest is history," James said.

That first job inspired him to start his own cleaning service company – Smelly Fresh.

Since 2014, James went from having seven contracts to more than 100, and most Chicagoans will recognize one of his clients.

Smelly Fresh has three contracts with the Chicago Transit Authority, which all charge him with keeping their corporate construction offices clean.

But while sanitizing came as second nature, navigating the entrepreneurial world was a bit harder to pick up.

"That was a little daunting," James said.

James credits much of his success to CTA's Building Small Business Program.

"It really focuses on helping small businesses get the working capital that they need to participate on our projects," said JuanPablo Prieto – the Director of Diversity Programs at the CTA.

Prieto also said the program provides technical assistance to participants; from helping them with the bidding process, to managing their workforce out in the field.

"So really breaking down a project from beginning to end, and making sure that they're taking the right steps to be successful in the long run," Prieto said.

The program specifically assists small, diverse business owners in an effort to increase economic equity across Chicago.

"My business really has grown exponentially," James said.

But James is just getting started.

"I tell people all the time: follow your dream," he said.

And he's encouraging others to get on board and do the same.

To learn more about the CTA's Building Small Business Program, and how to apply, visit their website.

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