Job loss is not fun, and ranks right up there with death, divorce, and other major life losses. In today’s economy, particularly for older workers, rather than going back to a similar gig, consider becoming your own boss.
In my Boomer Reinvention book, I profile Judy Contreras an HR executive who got tired of the corporate shenanigans she was compelled to perform for her corporate employers – especially as the economy suffered during the recent Recession. By 2014, after experiencing job loss three successive times, Judy asked herself this question: “Am I going back to corporate, or am I going to steer my own ship?” This scrappy mother of three 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.
See the video above where I interview Judy in more detail about her experience.
Corporate Work Can Be a Dead End
Judy’s corporate experience reads like a primer of the worst practices in corporate America. She experienced too much job loss and too much time between jobs. Finally, she decided that she needed to turn the career equation around, and to stop hoping for her employers to behave honorably.
Judy got 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 to hire new employees at cheaper rates.
Then she worked for a retailer for about six months that stripped healthcare benefits from employees and falsely blamed the move on the Affordable Care Act. Their stealth agenda was to use the cash they saved to finance a new venture. When Judy protested, they let her go.
Breaking the Cycle, Getting Help
Following this last job loss, Judy figured it would take her another year to find the next job. But then, eventually, she knew she would get laid off again. She was prepared to break that cycle and take a risk, so long as it wasn’t something reckless. While uncertainty around careers isn’t fun, it is something that can be handled. Once she made the decision to go forward, she stopped chasing job openings on job boards. This was a scary step, but she knew that she had to focus exclusively on her goal.
To get some outside perspective and business savvy, 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.
What Kind of Business Best Suits You?
Initially, Judy thought she would open a franchise of some sort, and she found a franchise broker to find a possible franchise for her to buy into. The broker interviewed her and began connecting her to franchise opportunities that matched her interests and personality. But the more she contemplated the thought of opening up a franchise, the more she began to feel that it was the wrong move.
Surprisingly, she found herself much more interested in the work that her franchise broker was doing. His work and lifestyle was a much better fit for how she saw herself in her own business. It was also similar in many ways to the process of recruiting employees, which enhanced her comfort level. So she approached her broker about helping her become his competitor!
Initially taken aback, he also understood that this was the right move for her. He also realized he would receive commissions for helping her set up her own franchise brokerage… So with his help, and the help of her SBA coach, Judy switched directions and opened up her own franchise brokerage.
The Rewards of Being a Self Starter
As a franchise broker, her work routine is demanding but fulfilling. Her day starts at 7:00 a.m., a good time to start talking with prospects on the east coast from her home in Chicago. She works until 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Time management was one aspect of working from home that she didn’t expect. Initially, she was putting in about eighty hours per week, which was unsustainable. With a little discipline and a little self-care, she now keeps her commitment to a fifty-hour week.
Of Course There Are Challenges
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 found texting yielded a higher response rate. She keeps experimenting with different tweaks, constantly modifying her pitch.
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 learning the lessons and for overcoming the challenges. She also is free from the problems and issues from her HR career, where everything she did was for someone else’s benefit.
Job loss may seem like the end of the world when it happens to you. The real challenge is to not react blindly. Don’t just try to fill the void with the same type of job you just lost. Be smart, pro-active, and really spend some time thinking about whether your own business is the right move for you.
At the very least, starting your own business, however small, is a good benchmark for potential employers, investors, and partners. It shows that you’re not letting any grass grow under your feet. You are someone who takes initiative, has a vision, and is prepared to take responsibility.