I always love to read or hear about personal success stories, particularly when they involve women who followed their passions. Over Thanksgiving break, during a trip to Chicago, I met one such woman, Valerie Beck, and got to experience her business, Chicago Chocolate Tours, first hand and speak with her.

Valerie, a Harvard-trained lawyer, started Chicago Chocolate Tours in 2005 as a way to combine her various passions — namely chocolate, bringing people together, and starting new ventures. The business was an instant success, garnering accolades from chocolate lovers and the media.

A savvy businesswoman, Valerie wasted no time expanding her business to include corporate and private tours, gifts (which she sells online), even a Cocoa Cruise, all in keeping with the original business and her passions.

A big part of Valerie’s success: putting her passion (and work ethic) into everything she does — and the Web. As Valerie told me, the company’s Web site,, is the number one source of traffic/referrals, even though the bulk of her business involves physical tours of different Chicago chocolate shops, bakeries, and eateries. The Web site is a both a vehicle for e-commerce (selling tickets and gift baskets) and a powerful marketing tool, and it costs less than having to run big ads in expensive publications (and is easy to maintain and update).

Asked if she missed the law, Valerie says no way. How many people, she says, get to do what they love for a living? Indeed.

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