Well...now what am I supposed to do?
November 7, 2008 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How to return to the job market after almost a decade as a business owner?

Once upon a time, I was referred to as the "Marine Sargent" of consultants. I was brought in to "See the hill, take the hill" on difficult projects like IPOs and massive tech rollouts. My specialty was the ability to document everything that was going on, from code base to executive summaries, as well as managing time lines, resources, deadlines and cross-functional team tracking. I was paid insanely well, and spent the majority of my time globe trotting. I assume that had I been a corporate employee, I would have made director or vp by now.

In 2001 I got pregnant, and decided to stay home with my new son. Not long after he was born, I launched a business around a hobby that did fairly well until the economic downturn. But now, business is down 80%, raw materials and shipping are up 70%, and there's no wiggle room to raise prices again. I've already told my seasonal workers that I won't need them this year, and in fact, I'm probably going to have to find a job myself. (And maybe launch an Etsy store or something and return to hobbyist status on my manufacturing business.)

To whom do I turn to help me figure out how to leverage my past experiences and skill sets and figure out a direction in which to search for a new career? How do I find an actual career counselor...is there even such a thing that isn't tied to a "give us 20% of your income for a year and we'll find you a job" type organization?

Most of the recruiters I've talked to don't really seem to be interested in what I want; i.e., the type of work environment I prefer, but instead want to just restructure my antique CV and stick me in the highest paying cube farm they can find.

On the other spectrum, I've run into a ton of people who call themselves "life coaches" that I wouldn't trust to walk my dogs, much less help me make executive decisions about a career change.

I'm having a heck of a time finding a resource that can listen to what I want, review the experiences and skills I have, and make suggestions that might match those desires.

Hope me, hive mind!
posted by dejah420 to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I would email Penelope Trunk and ask who she would recommend. Then I would hire that person.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2008

Are you a college grad? The placement offices at most schools have an alumni services services component. I wouldn't worry so much about life coaches and consultants. Set up a few networking lunches with people you know and admire and bounce ideas off of them. You have an interesting background that I think will work well for you. It's a matter of figuring out what you want to do, then spinning your background the support that as much as possible. With any luck, the networking lunches will lead directly to employment possibilities. At worst, they'll open up other avenues to consider.
posted by COD at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2008

If you have an MBA, which seems likely, contact your alumni association for help.
posted by metahawk at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2008

I don't have an MBA, my education was Lit, Philosophy and linguistics. My academic life has almost zero bearing on anything I currently do. (Liberal arts majors...lord help us all.) My alma mater is a long way away both in distance and in linear time. They weren't much help 20 years ago, and I can't see them being terribly useful now.

my early career I was just always in the right place at the right time, and was able to do anything that was asked of me. (Including saying "no" to executive teams when they wanted something unreasonable...apparently a rare skill.)

I really like being an actual project manager; i.e., the one who listens to the executive vision, then goes and crafts the plan to make that happen...and then restructures it when the executives realize that what they want will cost a lot more money/time/people than they envisioned...and working with them to create a plan that encompasses both the vision and the methodologies to make it happen. And I like overseeing the plan and making sure it stays on track. I like documenting everything that's happening, both to cover my own liabilities, but also so that tasks can be easily assigned and managed by competent personnel.

But the project manager positions that I've had presented are not like that at all. What I'm seeing are management level positions, but with almost no ability to actually get anything done, no access to the vision drivers, no ability to create the plan or make suggestions on how to do things more effectively. Basically, the jobs appear to be taskmaster positions that are hated by both the development team and the management team. Bleh!

But also, I don't want to work 80 hour weeks. I like my son and my husband and my critters. I want to see them on a regular basis. I want to sit down to dinner with my family each night. That is more important to me than almost anything else.

I don't know if I'm just having a midlife crisis, or if closing the business is more emotionally traumatic than expected...but I'm just having a heck of a time figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. (And it's a little late for that...I mean, I'm almost at the red Corvette demographic...)
posted by dejah420 at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2008

Have you considered going back for the MBA? It would help refresh your skills and bring them update while giving you access to career services and a pretty well structured recruiting system.
posted by Arbac at 12:20 PM on November 7, 2008

the penelope trunk suggestion is awesome but keep in mind that you probably won't be able to hire whoever she suggests. you need to ask THEM who they would recommend.
posted by micawber at 12:44 PM on November 7, 2008

I've no interest in getting an MBA. I'm really not the MBA type. Basically it comes to this: I'm a short, round, black wearing, supah-genius who doesn't want to resort to building a mountain top lair guarded by sharks with head lasers. I mean, the cost of minions alone...
posted by dejah420 at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2008

Forget an MBA. If you are already a consultant, why not do something geared to mid-career professionals who have experience bringing transformational change to organizations by applying both quantitative and humanist organizational development techniques? I speak of course about the Executive Leadership Program at the George Washington University. I have met a lot of their grads, most came into the program from the same background as you.
posted by parmanparman at 1:21 PM on November 7, 2008

dejah...wondering if you kept a portfolio of stuff you were working on while you ran the business. This is why I am such a big proponent of people keeping blogs...it serves as your CV when you need it.

In the world of unschooling (I am a parent who's kids don't go to school) portfolios are a common way that unschooled kids show what they have been up to over the past 12 years if they want to do things like get into universities.

Your CV is not dusty. Just because you took time out of the slave wage world to raise and child and run a business doesn't make your experience or competence any less contemporary than anyone else's. Relying on academic credentials that are 20 years old, will also not help. You need to find a way to present what you have learned and what you know and what interests you in a way that reflects your personality and that will get the attention of a prospective employer.

If I was to hire you, that's the kind of stuff I'd be looking for and that would get you into a conversation with me. Just compile your life right now into an invitation and see where it lands. You're not looking for a job at this point, just conversations that will help you refine more of your offerings or possibly lead to a job interview.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes. Oh and if you think it would help, feel free to email me anything you put together if you'd like an opinion on what it looks like.
posted by salishsea at 1:54 PM on November 7, 2008

This past Askme seems to overlap with your predicament.
posted by acoutu at 2:12 PM on November 7, 2008

Your blog floored me.

I really can't see you fitting into a hierarchy except at the top.

I think you should start another business related to the one you are closing.

I would like to see you take a little time and just wander around thinking what you could do with useful botanicals on an initially small scale; you know so much about them, and I am convinced they are only at the beginning of the importance they will achieve in the next few years alone.
posted by jamjam at 3:57 PM on November 7, 2008

Don't give up so soon. Shipping and raw materials costs are coming down. Way down. It may not have reached you yet -- but at the bottom of the food chain it is there in a big way, and it will reach you relatively soon. Oil is off more than 50%. Dry bulk shipping is off 90%. (Yes -- 90%! As if grain transportation were a second lien subprime mortgage securitization.) This will work its way up the feeding chain and find you soon enough.

And if you have to go back to work, and were as good as you say, people you worked with and for and over still remember you. Consultants spread in the wind like seeds, and a good chunk of them are probably in a position to hire you. If you haven't kept in touch, well that's the beauty of LinkedIn. Anyone worth finding from the old days ("worth" in the can-help-you-with-this-job-search, not human value, of course) will be right there.
posted by MattD at 6:23 PM on November 7, 2008

Check out Celia Paul (career transition consultant). She specializes in lawyers but I'd expect could work with you or refer you to someone else. Good luck.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:09 PM on November 7, 2008

What about doing a stint as a nonprofit executive director? Your skill set and interests could make you perfect for such a job - being an ED is all about making sure that the brilliant idealists on your staff and board have the resources and guidance they need to do good work. And while many EDs work a lot, the good ones know how to delegate so they don't have to put in 80 hours a week, and nonprofits are usually very family friendly. You would have to do some fundraising, but it sounds like you've got the brio for that.
posted by lunasol at 12:40 PM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


A lot of my materials are sourced from small collectives or individual farmers...for example, palm oil is a really troublesome ingredient because wholesalers are stripping out the gorilla habitat, so I only buy palm oil from growers who are using sustainable methodologies, and the demand for that product is so high now that the "green revolution" has been taken as a marketing tool by large detergent companies that the prices will never come down. Free market and all that. Because I was one of the first people with "feet on the ground" to those farmers, I can still buy from them without meeting the same quantity restrictions that would apply to Johnson and Johnson, but the price is still triple what it was 2 years ago...but I certainly can't triple the cost of my finished product. Nobody in their right mind is going to buy an $18 dollar bar of soap. I mean, good lord, would you?

So, for that example; I either need to reformulate and eliminate palm oil from the recipes, (which I'm working on doing) or I have to pay the prevailing market rate...which is more than the end customer will bear at this time. (Given the current economic cycle.) And shipping from Indonesia means that to do the purchases, I need to have a solid buying co-op around what I'm trying to get, or I can't reach the volume required to get product on the boats. Right now, so many small boutique manufacturers are going out of business, that I've lost over half of my purchasing co-op members.

Granted, the prices of some of the domestic oils I use; castor and soybean and sunflower, are lower than I'd forecast, but those commodity prices don't make up for the rise in things like coconut, palm kernel, shea, cherry, etc.

Basically, the decision to scale back came after visiting with some venture capitalists. They love the concept, they love the product, the business plan and project deck wow-ed them, but they think it's foolish to invest in scaling up the business to take on retailers like Lush and Bath and Body when business across the entire personal products market is down by 60%, and in my particular case, down by about 80%.

Before the downturn, I'd hit that plateau where I either needed to expand the business to a full scale manufacturing and retail operation, or I needed to scale it down because it was more than I could handle alone, and I didn't have the space to add more people, other than the seasonal extras I brought in at Xmas.

That was earlier this year. Since the spring, it's been tragically slow. My sales are about equal to my server costs. (Well...a little better than that...but seriously, I know people who own purses that cost more than my actual sales revenue in the last two quarters.

Don't get me wrong; I'll still be making soap. I love making soap. It's this incredibly zen activity. You can't rush the process, you're forced to slow down, take your time and really pay attention to what you are doing. I love working with essential oils, and creating new scent blends and playing with colors and designs. I mean, soapmaking is like play-doh for grownups. :) I love doing it. I'll keep doing it. I'm just not going to stock 100 bars of 26 different varieties, I'm not going to pay current prices to stock 50 gallon barrels of veggie oils that have a shelf life that will probably expire before I can use it.

So, it means scaling back to a hobbyist status; making the stuff I love and want to use, selling the extra to those loyalists who are addicted to my stuff, and seeing how this whole economy thing shakes out.

But in the meantime; I would like to find some direction that could leverage everything I know, and use it for good...and some much needed input to positive cash flow positions. :)
posted by dejah420 at 3:56 PM on November 8, 2008

Lunasol, I hadn't even thought about non profits! That's a fantastic idea! I will research getting into that industry. Thank you.
posted by dejah420 at 5:37 PM on November 8, 2008

You seem to think you've thrown the last X number of years away doing non-corporate work, but what you've really done is build a particular expertise.

I would look at setting yourself up as a corporate environmental consultant for companies that want to go green. This would involve a lot of sourcing and cost analysis but if there's any cost savings to be made, you would pay for yourself and it's a great marketing angle, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 AM on November 9, 2008

Ooooh DarlingBri....what a great idea!
posted by dejah420 at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2008

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