Reinvention Profile: "Am I going to steer my own ship?" - John Tarnoff - Reinvention Career Coach
John Tarnoff – Reinvention Career Coach
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Judy Contreras

Reinvention Profile: “Am I going to steer my own ship?”

In 2014, after being fired from three corporate HR jobs in a row, Judy Contreras asked herself this question: “Am I going back to corporate, or am I going to steer my own ship?”

Since then, this scrappy mother of three has bravely turned her life around, forsaking the uncertainties of corporate life for a chance to build a long-term career where she is in control.

This post is an excerpt from Part II of Boomer Reinvention: Profiles in Reinvention

Judy’s corporate experience reads like a primer of the worst practices in corporate America. Judy experienced too many layoffs and too much time between jobs. At a certain point, she decided that she didn’t want to be always on the waiting end of the career equation, ultimately being stuck with an inadequate severance package.

Judy found herself fired from a company when she refused to hire illegal immigrants to fill 1,800 openings that could have gone to U.S. citizens. She went to a healthcare company for about a year and witnessed the new CEO perform a wholesale layoff of long-term staffers (ostensibly to hire new employees at cheaper rates). She worked for a retailer for about six months that she felt was behaving unethically toward their employees. The company had major turnover issues (70 percent) and had not given raises in five years. The final straw was a move that management made under the guise of adjusting their health benefits plan to conform to the Affordable Care Act. They had Judy jack up the medical deductible to a very high rate, and they then used the money that they saved to finance a new retail location. When Judy protested, they let her go.

Corporate work was clearly becoming a dead end. Judy figured it would take her another year to find the next job, which would only lead to another layoff. She felt that it was time to break that cycle. She was prepared to take a risk, so long as it wasn’t something reckless. Once she made the decision to go forward, she disconnected from the job search engines and stopped all the automated reminders and other distractions.

 Judy felt she needed an outside perspective before she pulled the trigger on any decision. So she sought help from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which offers business coaching for prospective small business owners. It’s a free service that she highly recommends. Local SBA offices maintain lists and relationships with coaches and mentors who will work with you to evaluate your needs and help you find the right person to work with you. Judy was methodical about finding the right coach. She didn’t want to go by the résumé alone, and so she talked to a number of candidates on the phone and visited with them in person. It took her five weeks to finally find someone who understood her and whose advice she felt she could believe and respect.

To get started as a franchise consultant/broker, she paid an opportunity fee to a consolidator who markets for franchisors. In exchange, she received training, resources, and access to hundreds of franchisors looking to sign up prospective business owners. This arrangement allowed her to hang out her own shingle (, brand herself, and keep 100 percent of her broker commissions from the franchisor. The practice reminded her a lot of recruiting employees, which enhanced her comfort level.

Today her work routine is a demanding one. She starts her day at 7:00 a.m., a good time to start talking with prospects on the east coast from her home in Chicago, and she works until 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. She has become a good time manager, but it didn’t start out that way. Initially, in learning mode, she was probably putting in eighty hours per week, which started to take a toll on her. So she incorporated some discipline and shortcuts into the process and now keeps her commitment to a fifty-hour week.

When prospecting, Judy typically makes fifty to a hundred contacts per day. When she found that she wasn’t getting as much yield as she liked from phone calls, she tried texting and found it produced a much higher (14 percent) response rate. She keeps experimenting with different tweaks, evaluating how each prospect responds, changing the questions she asks, and constantly modifying her pitch. She continues to research methodology and work on her own perceptual skills, training herself to listen for and identify certain common catchphrases and intonations that people use so that she can better address their concerns and land a sale. It winds up saving her time and effort.

Judy goes through periods of doubt, of course, where she wonders whether she made the right career decision. But she also knows that playing the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game is pointless. She is grateful for what she’s learned and for the challenges she has overcome. “Now that I’ve been working to sell businesses, I have a lot more brain power and education and insight into how to do it.” She is especially glad that she no longer has to deal with the problems and issues that she was working on in her HR career, where everything she did was for someone else’s benefit.

The truth is that we all wind up with the careers we have because of who we are, not because of what we do—which is one good reason not to waste time or energy beating yourself up over decisions you made in the past. Instead, like Judy, focus on making today and tomorrow the best they can be.