After 15 years at Green Slip, a green industry, Vice President and General Manager Tana Sole was given her pink slip. Like many other laid-off white-collar workers, she set out to find a new job in the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, a friend and former colleague who was looking to make a career change, suggested Tania coach her through the process, something Tania had done for friends for years—and for free. “She offered to become my first paying customer, and she strongly recommended that I make a new career out of helping people in transitions,” Tania recalls.
The friend had done some research and estimated career coaches charged between $10,000 to $15,000, and she insisted on paying Tania for her services. Tania, however, was uncomfortable.
“My concern was that as a friend, we were structuring a payment that was fair to both of us,” Tania says. So the two formalized their work relationship in a contract; Tania charged her friend $5,000 and decided to use the experience as a learning opportunity.
Using all of the tools she’d honed over the years, including many as a hiring manager, Tania set out as an unwitting career coach. “In less than 3 months, I was able to help her gain employment and get her a 20 percent pay increase,” Tania says proudly. Soon she was approaching her network for additional clients. Someone said they could use her help with a personal matter and asked if she also did life coaching. He became her first life coaching client. “My business has grown from that first encounter to a full service life and career consulting business,” says Tania.
The mother of a 14-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, Tania separates home and work life by meeting clients elsewhere. Armed with a laptop and a cell phone, Tania has an office that goes anywhere; she does coaching sessions via Skype, by phone, and in person (in Starbucks, public libraries, etc.) Her clients include out of work executives and recent college grads, among others.
“I always imagined myself in a bigger environment, this is very much one on one,” she said. “Today, I could not imagine going back to a corporate type environment.”
While Tania has not full recovered her former executive-level income, she is passionate about her working for herself and finds that it feeds her soul.
“I’m making about 30 percent less, but I’m at least twice as happy,” she says.
- Listen for opportunities. “Your customers will tell you what you need to do, you just have to keep an open ear.”
- Formalize your relationship. It doesn’t have to be a multi-page legal document. “It’s about two people understanding expectations. My contract with my friend was three paragraphs on a piece of paper.”
- Find another way. “When you hit that first stumbling block, don’t just give up. Jump through it, go around, but don’t give up. This is the startup of you.”
Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of The Real Cost of Living, said many women in general and Latinas in particular, have big dreams, drive and a willingness to work hard. But sometimes, that’s not enough. “We have to be very careful and very realistic because costs are high. You want to have that business, but you want to be able to keep it.”
Here are her tips for building a business that will last.
- Ask for advice, listen and grow a thick skin. Many women are guilty of not listening and not using the wisdom of people they know. If you have people in your network who have businesses or business acumen, get their input and listen to their feedback. It’s not about killing your dream. If someone said something you didn’t want to hear, think about their comments and see if they have merit. Share your plans with former coworkers, mentors, family and friends, a diverse group, not just other Latinas. Ask them, “What do you think of what I’m doing?” Everything has some value.
- Write a business plan. It’s an essential part of the business loan process. If you don’t understand the process, find more opinions. You can find mockups of business plans online. Hold yourself to the highest standards. No misspellings. Ever.
- Formalize relationships. One of biggest mistakes women make is that they don’t formalize relationships. Make it formal and legal. You don’t have to spend a fortune. Check out Legal Zoom or nolo.com for low-cost and DIY legal forms. This includes with family and friends.
This is the first in an occasional series on how Latinas are dealing with the recession, with a special focus on those who have created their own business.