This latest email from a LinkedIn member got my attention.
I know you normally help LinkedIn members who work for companies. But, I’m a business owner in need of some very important career advice. Can you help me?
For the last 12 years, I’ve run my own consulting company. At it’s peak, we had 20+ employees, did business globally, and earned millions in revenues annually. But today, I’m down to a much smaller staff and debate daily whether to close shop. While the business is still profitable, I’m drained by running it. The thrill of growing a company and creating jobs has been squashed by the frustration of staff turnover and the constant need to put out fires to keep things going. I am no longer inspired by business ownership. Instead, I’m tired, angry, and feel like I’m in a constant haze. I have a wife, two small children, and a lot of family and friends who I know aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Plus, my health is definitely suffering due to the stress. Yet, I can’t bring myself to officially call it quits. Here’s why…
My greatest fear is being seen as a failure by my peers – and then not being able to get a job because of it. While my network is large and I have many contacts at the executive level, I dread the idea of trying to explain why I decided to stop being my own boss. I know I have a reputation of being intense. Now, I’m concerned that how I’m perceived by peers, coupled with a decision to close my business will result in people assuming I’m too difficult to work with. Trust me, I’d relish the opportunity right now to let someone else be in charge. Having stressed over my business for the last several years, I know what it takes. I regret not ever finding a business partner, and now my company is too small to be sold. I can sincerely say I just want to work for someone else, do what I do best (business consulting services), and be able to contribute to something bigger.
My questions to you is this: Is closing the business and honestly sharing my desires with my network professional bravery, or career suicide?
This reader has a very valid concern. A lot of employers will immediately assume he’s “overqualified” – and that’s not good. (Read here to learn how that is code for something else.) They definitely will suspect the worst and try to read-between-the-lines with respect to his real motive for seeking employment. He’s wise to consider seriously how such a dramatic career change will be perceived.
It’s Not Failure, It’s Professional Evolution
To start, this business owner needs to step back and look at his situation from a wider viewpoint. He has successfully run a business for 11 years. 90% of small businesses fail in the first three years. This is an accomplishment in itself. One he should be very proud of.
Next, let’s look at what business ownership has taught him. The high’s and low’s of running a company make us smarter professionals. It also helps us have new respect for what it takes to keep a business running. Many employees just have no idea how hard this is. A staff of 20 can expect the world from one single owner. Without even knowing it, they can gang up on the employer.They criticize quickly, playing Monday-morning quarterback to every business decision. It doesn’t surprise me this business owner is feeling drained. Especially, if turnover and lack of loyalty left him feeling burned. Now, I’m not saying he was blameless. There’s a good chance employee management wasn’t his strong suit, but I sense he recognizes that. (Read this if you struggle to make good relationships at work that cost you professionally.)
In short, it appears to me this reader has evolved professionally and needs to go to the next level in his career. While he could easily keep running his small business, partnering up with people who have skills in things like HR and operations and assisting in the growth of a bigger, more stable business would actually be an upward career move for him. He needs to be part of a team again!
Tips for a Successful Transition
With the decision to close the company out of the way, there are several things this business owner should do before starting the process of shutting down. They are:
1) Have at least 2 years of savings set aside to cover living expenses. Finding the right opportunity is going to take time. Jobs at the executive level are not a dime a dozen. He’s going to deal with age discrimination as well. (Read more on why age discrimination should be expected here.) You don’t want to be stressed about covering the mortgage and take a role that doesn’t suit you.
2) Identify what industry you want to be and create an “Interview Bucket List” so you can target your networking efforts. Being able to share your passion for an industry and a set of businesses in it that you admire will make it clear to people you network with that your decision to change career directions was carefully thought through. You need to be able to give solid business reasons why you want to get into a particular industry as well as why these specific companies are on your list.
3) Seek several trusted mentors and ask them for their help. You will need a mini Board of Directors to help your business-of-one make this dramatic career shift. Reach out to three people you trust and admire and share with them what you are going through. Ask them for help in making this transition. Rest assured, you’ll help them someday in return. But right now, you need a circle of peers who can keep you focused and motivated through this career challenge.
4) Master a sincere and accountable explanation of your career story. Before you start discussing this with the world, you need to talk through how you are going to explain this decision. You need to be able to tell the story of your career leading up to this moment in a way that is objective and fair. You can’t be too negative or too positive – people won’t buy it. What they will buy is your accountability. Take ownership of the journey that has lead you to this moment. Share what you have experienced, and more importantly, how you’ve learned and grown as a professional along the way. An honest, yet optimistic assessment is what you need to convey. (Here’s an article I wrote for LinkedIn that maps out the right way to tell your Career Story.)
5) Create a solid plan for helping your remaining staff and clients transition out of your business. Your reputation will be assessed by the way you close the business. Make sure employees and customers have plenty of notice and support in their efforts to move on. Write recommendations on LinkedIn, open up your network connections to them, and do whatever you can to ensure each member of your business gets settled as much as possible before the doors close.
Business Ownership Isn’t the Only Form of Career Success
It should be clear by now this reader has the opportunity to be brave and move on to a new career opportunity. Being a business owner isn’t the only form of career success. More importantly, it’s not career success if it’s costing you a happy life. This reader has the chance to start a new, exciting chapter in his career – but only if he is brave enough to put aside his pride and fear of what others think.
There’s only one person we need to impress with our careers: OURSELVES. I hope this reader decides to embrace this belief. While it will take a lot of work, a more satisfying career and happier life awaits if he does.
What tips can you share to help this business owner start a new chapter in his career? I’d love to hear from other readers in the comments below.
P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site, CAREEREALISM, and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like:
CAREEREALISM’s Founder, J.T. O’Donnell is a nationally syndicated career expert and workplace consultant who helps American workers of all ages find greater professional satisfaction. Her book,CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career, outlines her highly successful career-coaching methodology. Purchase her e-book of CAREEREALISM for only $9.95 by clicking here!
Image above by Shutterstock