Quitter to Winner

Sunday, December 5, 2010

INTERVIEW: How to maximize LinkedIn with Jonathan Mast

Many colleagues of mine are on LinkedIn. During a conversation about the site, we all came clean: none of us use it to the max (if at all). I asked Jonathan Mast from small business social media experts MMJ Technology how startups can use LinkedIn to its full potential.

Why should a startup join LinkedIn?

As a startup you need to generate business and to connect with possible customers. LinkedIn provides one of the best ways to do this online. Think of LinkedIn as the Facebook for Business connections. LinkedIn is an online networking tool that will allow you to connect with people and businesses. It’s also unique in its "Get Introduced through a Connection" feature that allows you to find out which of your existing connections know someone you are trying to connect with and ask them to introduce you.

What are the top "must-do's" once they join?

1. Complete your profile to the fullest extent you can. Adding in items like past schools and past employers helps you connect with more people and can dramatically increase your connections. Remember that the value of a social media connection is not always simply to do business. On LinkedIn in particular your past connections may be of more value in helping you connect to new individuals that you are trying to reach out to.

2. Add a photo to your profile. A profile without a photo is much less likely to be productive in helping you connect with others. If you don't have a current photo use your mobile phone to take an updated one and upload it to your profile.

3. Once you have completed filling in all the information you can start finding connections and ask them to add them to your network. One tip, when adding a connection you have the opportunity to write them a note. Don't just accept LinkedIn's standard text, write a personalized message and you will dramatically increase the likelihood your connections accept.

What are some do's and dont's regarding generating sales on LinkedIn?

1. Don't try to sell everyone you network with right out of the gate.

2. Do use LinkedIn to share information that is relevant to your connections and that establishes you as an expert in your field. For example, I am an Internet Strategist and I make money by selling websites and consulting projects. I share information about how to use social media successfully, how to brand your business or organization effectively and what is going on in the industry.

3. Do reach out to your LinkedIn connections and try to connect with them in person. If your connections are local, propose meeting up over coffee. If your connections are outside of your area, propose a phone conversation. You can glean huge benefits from your connections if you actually reach out in person.

How can I use LinkedIn to promote my company?

LinkedIn also allows you to setup company profiles. This is valuable to your firm as it allows people to follow your company and also allows LinkedIn users to see what is happening with your company and your employees (if you have them). You do not establish connections from your company to others. Although by sharing relevant information that's going on in your firm, others can keep up on the latest news and offerings from your company.

How has LinkedIn helped MMJTech?

We use LinkedIn to establish connections with other individuals and companies that can help grow our business and to keep tabs on our competition. Our technical staff uses LinkedIn to establish connections with other technical professionals. In a sales role, I use LinkedIn to establish connections with existing and prospective clients. By using LinkedIn effectively and by connecting to the other staff that I work with, I can then leverage their connections when I need an introduction to someone outside of my network.

By using LinkedIn we minimize the number of true "cold calls" that we make and in turn find ourselves getting more appointments through leveraging the "warm" connections we have via LinkedIn and reaching out to connect with them in person. Ultimately, LinkedIn helps us generate more revenue by working smarter.

You can also read Jonathan's first interview with Quitter to Winner here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

INTERVIEW: Career break pro Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT. She's now a long-term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She's a co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She also runs a global travel blog writing about her travel and expat experiences at Ottsworld. She is one of the driving forces behind Meet, Plan, Go! Events across the country to inspire more people to get out and travel. Sherry talks about her own career break experience, and offers advice to those considering taking the plunge.

Is it safe to say that your current career is helping others take career breaks?

Yes, that’s certainly part of my current career. I actually have many jobs that all form a career! My main focus is to inspire and help others take career breaks and travel – via BriefcasetoBackpack.com, Meet Plan Go! events, and our upcoming Career Break Boot Camp. Quite frankly, it also can expand beyond that niche of career break travel. I really want to help people understand and see the world through travel. That ties in my personal website – Ottsworld. Finally, I also do IT freelance work managing a retail website for a small company, photography, and occasionally I teach ESL.

Career breaks are getting more and more attention in the States. Why do you think that is?

I think there are numerous factors at play.

1. The Boomers and Gen Xers are realizing that our traditional definition of retirement is not necessarily going to happen for us. The world of work and retirement are changing. Whereas my father worked for the same company his whole life and is supported by a pension, that’s no longer the case. With the disappearance of pension programs – the idea of ‘we have to take care of ourselves’ has evolved. Each generation has moved around more from company to company trying to further their career. People don’t expect their employers to take care of them any longer…especially Gen Y. This movement in careers allows more people to take a break in between them or even negotiate them as they change jobs.

2. The workplace is demanding that we become more global. We travel more for work, we work with people from around the world. I think that naturally starts to grow curiosity and desire for more global travel. There’s no better international education than to travel to different cultures.

3. The explosion of the internet over the last few years has now allowed us all to be voyeurs in people’s lives. I think there were always people out there doing extended travel and taking career breaks – but there was no way to really hear of them unless you were their personal friend. Now we find many people are doing extended travel and career breaks thanks to our tendency to want to tell the world about it! Reading about other’s doing it plants seeds. When you ‘know’ someone (even virtually) who has taken a career break and traveled – all of a sudden it becomes a little more mainstream and accessible to you personally.

4. I’d love to believe that the work we are doing at Briefcase to Backpack and Meet Plan Go are also contributing to it a little!

What advice do you have for someone concerned about explaining their sabbatical to prospective employers?

The first thing to keep in mind is if a prospective employer feels taking a break and traveling to increase your international experience and maintain your balance and well being is negative – then you need to consider whether you want to work for a company that isn’t in alignment with your values.

We recommend to people not to shy away from talking about your career break to prospective employers. However, prepare yourself for that conversation. You need to take the time to go inward and really think about what you gained and learned from your break and how it benefits the company. Does it make you a better manager and employee – most likely. People who do extended travel AND try to incorporate some knowledge building and volunteering into that travel come back with better soft skills such as: Risk taker, negotiation skills, flexibility, patience, adapt quickly to changing environments, and enhanced decisions making. In my opinion, much of these skills fall into one important area in business – leadership.

One of the most important things to possess as you are working your way back into the workforce again is to have confidence in your ability to do so. If you don’t believe that your career break was beneficial and you are simply trying to create a sales pitch, then it won’t be as successful. As you converse with future employers and network with colleagues, you must ooze confidence about your career break. No regrets!

What parts of the world do you find most open to the idea of career breaks?

The idea of career breaks is very accepted in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, I would probably lump most of Europe in there, too.

How have your breaks helped your career?

My career break actually helped me change my career! I worked in corporate IT for 14 years. I was good at it, I moved up the ladder, but I didn’t really like what I did. Finally, I knew I had to make a change and I took a break when I was 36 years old. Once I got away from my cube – it provided me the time to really explore what I wanted to do; what I was passionate about. I’ve made the choice to be entrepreneurial and give the travel industry a shot; I love writing, speaking about and photographing travel and the cultures of the world. However, I know that if one day I want to go back to corporate, I could do it. I now have so many more skills that I’ve developed from a leadership standpoint and I’ve developed my knowledge and expertise in new areas such as social marketing. However – I’m not ready to go back to a cube anytime soon!

Meet, Plan, Go was quite a success. Did you find most attendees were already unemployed and were tired of job hunting? Or were they burned out and were ready for a break?

Most people still had jobs and were trying to figure out a way to take a break for a bit. Or they were planning on leaving their jobs and knew they wanted to travel before they started a new job or started a new chapter in their life such as marriage of parenthood. Surprisingly, we learned that many people not only wanted to travel, but they wanted to do some sort of work on the road and explore areas further. People were eager to really experience a country or place.

When is your next trip? Where are you headed?

I’m constantly on the road now. I’ve given up my ‘home’ and now don’t have any home base. So in some ways – I’m always traveling! However, this December I will be in Chicago and New York City before leaving for Italy for a week and then to the Middle East; Amman Jordan and Beirut Lebanon. I will be doing volunteer work for GeoVisions in the Middle East this winter and will be writing all about the realities of international volunteering. Then I’m back in America for the spring, and then this summer I take off on an adventure of epic proportions – the Mongol Rally. It’s a charity rally where me and three other bloggers are driving a car from London to Ulanbataar Mongolia. A journey of 9,000 miles where we’ll be raising money for charity. Our team website and information on the rally can be found here - http://thesocialmediasyndicate.com/

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How startups can maximize the web and social media with MMJ Technology

Having a web a social media presence is key for any startup. MMJTech's Internet Strategist, Jonathan Mast, offers sound advice to help entrepreneurs maximize SEO, social media and web development partners.

What are some social media/web best practices for a new small business?

I think the most important thing a new small business can do is to establish a presence online where their potential customers and brand evangelists can find them. In my mind, that's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in addition to a good website. I believe it is important for new business owners to understand that although the social media channels are valuable in attracting attention and communicating with your audience, the fact that you can not control what happens there means you need a solid website as the core of your online marketing strategy. Use social media channels to drive traffic to your website - not the other way around.

I recommend the following simple steps:

1. Register your domain name (abcbusiness.com).
2. Setup email at your domain name. Do not use and AOL, Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail address for your business. You instantly lose credibility.
3. Set up a Facebook business (fan) page and begin branding the page by using a 200x600 graphic as your profile picture. This 200x600 graphic should be seen as a "mini-billboard." It's an excellent way to brand your Facebook page and provide information to your audience.
4. Get a Twitter page for your business. Think about your Twitter profile icon. Most people will not see your page although they will regularly see your Twitter profile icon. You don't have much room although it's another chance to effectively brand yourself and/or your company.
5. Get a YouTube page for your business.

Even if you don't know how you're going to use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, claim your pages now.

What questions should a startup ask a web developer during the vendor selection process?

Ask about results. Your website is essentially useless if it is not helping you make more money or, at a minimum, save money. Many web developers are enamored with "cool" technology. Don't get caught in that mind set. Think about what your potential customers are going to be looking for and provide that type of content.

Also, make sure to ask about changes to the site. DO NOT get a site that you can't make changes to on your own. I'm a big fan of Joomla!, an open source content management system. Joomla! allows you to add, edit and modify your content easily. Other common platforms are Wordpress and Drupal. If you have to pay your web developer or learn a programming language to make changes to your site keep looking.

Ask about support. You will have questions as you grow your business and make sure that the developer you choose has the capabilities to grow with your business.

One last thing, as small business owners we are regularly looking to save money. Do not trust your website to someone who you wouldn't want to be representing your company in person. Your nephew may think he knows a lot about web design from the class he is taking in school. If web design/development is not his business, find someone else. Studies show that over 90% of your potential customers will get online to learn about your company prior to contacting you. Your web presence needs to create a positive and credible image for you.

To CMS or not CMS? What are some pros and cons to a content management system?

Choose a web developer that uses a CMS. Joomla! and Wordpress sites do not need to be expensive out of the gate, yet they will provide you with tremendous flexibility and ongoing development savings as your business expands. Choose a CMS that is commonly used though (such as Joomla!, Wordpress or Drupal). Avoid "home grown" or "in-house developed" CMS systems. Remember, you want flexibility and that may include the flexibility to choose a new web developer in the future.

What three things must a startup know about SEO?

1. There are NO guarantees. If a firm offers you guarantees run away.
2. SEO is an ongoing process. It is not a matter of simply entering key words and waiting. Content matters.
3. Google, Bing and the other search engines keep changing their algorithms to provide the best results to their customers. Do not try to beat the system - you will lose.

Can you really get sales from Twitter and Facebook?

To some extent it depends on your business, although the answer is almost always yes. Remember though that your primary goal with social media is to communicate, not to sell. By using social media to communicate with your audience you will better connect with them and establish yourself and your business as an expert in your industry. Use social media to get your prospects and customers to reach out to you, when they do that it is time to start selling.

One last thing. Social media is not an event. It is not something you do once and then forget. Your website and your social media presence need regular, ongoing input and work on your part.

Contact Jonathan Mast at jonathan@mmjtech.com for more information.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

INTERVIEW: Engineer > Career break > Ice Cream shop owner

Jim Ingram opened Mt. Tom’s Homemade Ice Cream seven years ago. A total 180 from his engineering career. Jim shares the why and how of his transition.

How did your career break come about?

I wasn’t one of those guys who hated working for someone else. I worked for a good telcom company with decent pay. Got my masters for free. I left at five every day and never took work home. It wasn’t bad. I did that for about 13 years. But one day I recall sitting in a meeting. I looked across the hall at a guy 25 years my senior. He worked at the same company for many years, probably doing pretty much the same thing day in and day out. He looked pretty beaten down. I didn’t want to be that guy in 25 years. While I was comfortable, I started to think that something was missing. It was like a dull ache. I thought I should push myself before it’s too late.

I took a director-level position with a tech startup. Going from a comfortable job to startup was a big risk. It crashed and burned after 18 months. After my layoff I went to the beach wondering, now what? I had essentially been working most of my adult life without a real break. I thought, how could I make this an opportunity? Travel was my first choice. I drove cross- country, coast to coast. I spent that summer living out of my car, camping or couch surfing and journaling. I didn’t think much about future during that time. As I was heading home I got a call from a buddy asking if I wanted to do another trip backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. That turned into another year of travel.

How was your reentry into the workforce?

My heart wasn’t in the job hunt. After all that time off, I thought about what I really wanted to do. I realized I had a chance to do something very different. I started to look out of the box. One day I was having breakfast with my dad. We were talking about his long run as an ice cream shop owner. It sounded like a fun business. It was also serendipitous. In an entrepreneur class I wrote a business plan to start an ice cream shop. So I had a rough plan and 40 years of real-life experience to tap into. My dad discouraged me at first but he came around. He said if you find a good location, go for it. That’s when another fateful incident occurred. I ran into a friend I hadn’t spoken to in years. She knew someone who was looking to rent the space I’m in now. It was perfect. Everything was lining up. I thought I’d give it five years. If it didn’t work, I could go back to engineering. I’ve been at it now for seven years.

Peoples’ careers are very much a part of their personal identities. How did you manage the “identity crisis” of a career transition?

I didn’t have much of a crisis. I did get a masters in engineering. I was going down corporate path pretty hard, and I did take it seriously, but I didn’t live to work. I didn’t work late or take work home. I actually work much harder and longer hours now owning my own business. I have to say the transition really wasn’t a problem for

How has your life improved since becoming an entrepreneur?

One thing I always tell people thinking about starting their own business: it’s a lifestyle. It’s so intertwined with your whole life. That’s why it’s so important to create an environment you enjoy. For my shop, summer is very busy. It’s fun but exhausting. The rest of the year it all balances out. It requires sacrifices, but that word sounds negative. The rewards so far outweigh the negatives. I take the month of January off. It’s sometimes tough to find a life/work balance, I’ll admit. But I try to remind myself of my Dad’s saying: I’m not going to work; I’m going to play.

Creativity is unlimited with owning your own business. If I have a cool idea, I can try it out the next day. You can’t always do that in a corporate gig.

An unexpected positive to my business is my connection to the community. People in town know me. Kids say there’s the ice cream man. It’s unexpectedly satisfying. I’m also creating jobs for high school kids. For some it’s their first job. The work habits they learn here will stay with them for their career.

Do you miss anything about your corporate gig?

I had a pension, health care, three or four weeks of vacation, and nights and weekends off. Those are the obvious perks. But one I didn’t think about was the social network built into working with a big company. When owning your own business you have to create your own social structure.

What advice do you have for someone considering:

A career break: If you get laid off, I recommend taking a break if you can manage it. It’s a great opportunity to do some things you can’t do on two weeks vacation. You can also decompress. You can view it as an open slate and look for opportunities.

An entrepreneurial venture: My dad’s biggest concern with my decision was, why throw it all away to become ice cream guy? What I’ve learned is that when you start your own business, nothing is a throw away. I was a supply chain engineer. That thought process in my old career works with how I deal with suppliers, vendors, and manage the numbers. I was also a shop supervisor. I found out how to find the good in people. My work experiences all became relevant in some way at the ice cream shop.

I also recommend viewing it as an adventure. There are a million reasons not to do something. There are another million reasons to do something. I didn’t want to look back on my life with regrets, wishing I had done something.

Talking to other people in the industry helps a great deal. I went to a local ice cream conference and spoke to vets in the industry. A lot of people helped me out. I’m willing to do the same.

What was your biggest obstacle when you started your business?

I bought the place in October seven years ago. I had to build out the kitchen and buy the equipment. I never worked a cash register. I had to learn everything from the ground up. I finally opened for business in the middle of winter. An ice cream shop in the winter. Needless to say there were a lot of lonely days. I certainly worried sometimes that it wouldn’t work out. But it was good in a way. It gave me a chance to work out kinks while it was quiet. When summer came around, I had more flavors and knew how to run things. Getting the word out took time, too. Word of mouth has been very helpful.

I’ll ask you the same question you ask others on your blog: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

It’s tough to call yourself a failure if you try and give it your all. It’s a life experience. You could define some things as a failure, but you don’t have to look at it that way.

Finally, why do people love Mt. Tom’s ice cream so much?

It ties to the philosophy of starting a business. How can you create something better than competitors? If you don’t have a good product, people won’t come back. I’d have to say my ice cream is really creamy and good to the palette. I try to add something unique to each flavor as well as come up with new flavors. I recently made maple bacon ice cream. A lot of people tried it, and tons of people talked about it. I also made Guinness ice cream for St. Patrick’s Day.

People also like the experience. In an era where you can buy just about anything on-line, I think it's never been more important to foster the 'experience' aspects of your business. Someone once told me as ice cream shop owners, we're selling 'memories'. I clearly and fondly remember going to the local old-fashioned
candy store when I was a kid. If I'm able to create a memory or two like that with my shop, I will have succeeded beyond my greatest expectations.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: Serendipity and sports cars with Robin Hood Rally's Kevin Sweeney

Kevin Sweeney, VP of Business Development with The Robin Hood Rally always loved motor racing. He never dreamed a casual business lunch would lead to a partnership with a road racing reality show. Kevin shares the how and why behind his involvement with a startup as well as tips to help others follow their out-of-the-blue opportunity.

What were you doing before Robin Hood Rally?

After graduating college, I joined an entertainment company as a tax accountant. Within six months I was miserable. I decided to do some temp work. What was supposed to be a three-week assignment turned into an eight-year career in finance at Cadbury Schweppes. I then joined a marketing division of CBS as their lone finance guy. It was exciting to be a part of a major television network. Our whole department had TVs in our cubicles so we could watch “our product” during the day.

After two years there the company was purchased by Viacom. I left to join a regional recruiting firm in lower Connecticut to do something much more entrepreneurial – headhunting! I am still at the firm after 12 years. On the side I’m one of the co-creators of the Robin Hood Rally along with Stephan Condodemetraky, (Creator and Exec. Producer, Michael Ferrier, CFO, and Steven Higley, VP of Operations).

Why did you decide to help build Robin Hood Rally?

I have been passionate about motor racing since I was a kid. I grew up in the Toronto, Ontario area, and my Dad was an avid racing fan. My parents are British and my Dad spent a lot of his youth watching many motorsports legends race in England, including Juan Fangio, John Surtees and Mike Hawthorne. Needless to say, I was brainwashed early in life and have amazing memories going to F1, Can Am and many other road racing series at Mosport racing circuit near Toronto. I always wanted to get into the motorsports business at some level. I had an opportunity to work for Skip Barber in sales, but the salary was prohibitive and would have required relocation. I sought other opportunities along the way, but nothing panned out. However, I didn’t lose my belief that something good would happen if I kept looking.

About two years ago, I received an automated email from Stephan about The Lime Rock Club, a motor sports project he had helped build. I called him and we decided to meet for lunch. He shared his idea about the Robin Hood Rally and I was hooked. I knew I could help build this and it was the entrepreneurial opportunity I had dreamed about. We believed from day one that we could make it work. We knew that nobody had ever tried, nor succeeded, in pulling off a concept like this in the U.S.

Would you consider your current job a career reinvention?

I would certainly classify this venture as a major career change, but also an extension of who I am. I have always had an entrepreneurial spark and knew I could not let this opportunity pass by without putting my heart and soul into it. Stephan, Michael and Steven never wavered in making this idea become reality and I truly feel blessed to have such incredible business partners and friends. We have poured thousands and thousands of hours to make this happen and have been unrelenting in our execution and belief.

Creating and funding a reality show in shaky times is pretty risky to say the least. Despite the obvious stress, why would you rather be doing what you’re doing instead of a corporate gig?

I have done the “corporate gig” for many years. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about what it takes to successfully build and maintain a business and relationships. I have always wanted my own business, but so many of the business models via franchising, etc. were pre-built by someone else with their own vision and passion. I wanted to help create something that has never been done before. We have had many naysayers along the way, which only pushed us harder to succeed. I knew this my shot and I was going to make it work with my business partners no matter what. I have sacrificed a lot of time with my wife and son over the past couple of years, but now that the show is taking hold, they have been able to spend a lot more time with me and be a big part of the excitement. My wife has a good business mind and has also helped keep me grounded throughout this process. My family has been so supportive and I’m very grateful.

Looking back on your transition, what would you have done differently?

Since this is our first foray into producing a TV show, everything was new. We learned so much OTF (one of my newly acquired acronyms in the TV world) “on the fly.” Not only were we involved in production meetings, camera shoots, interviews and the creative process, we also had to contend with the massive logistical issues of getting 55 participants with their racing trailers, families, etc. to each of our racing sites. We planned and executed as best as we could, given our very small team. It really is hard to say what we would have done differently since everything was new to us.

Many of my readers/followers are contemplating an entrepreneurial venture. Business development will be a necessary component to their work. Can you offer any tips/best practices when it comes to drumming up business?

After 12+ years in the headhunting business identifying top finance talent for my clients, one must have a system that works for them to bring in new business. I would recommend “relentless consistency” as one my keys to gaining new business. There are millions of written gems that one can use to motivate themselves and others. I like what John D. Rockefeller said, “the secret to success is to do the common things uncommonly well.” You must embrace networking and gaining new contacts because you never know who might know someone that can help you. You also have to be willing to help others throughout your journey. I believe that is one of the primary reasons we are on this earth.

Speaking of business development, what’s next for Robin Hood Rally?

We have come a very long way in a very short period of time, and gained some incredible relationships and learning. This has allowed us to take our project to the next level and engage with some big players in the entertainment industry. We are feeling even more confident that our show and concept will make it to a major TV network. We also have a number of other projects in the pipeline that will work well with our business model. We have now become growing production company and have a better handle on how to incubate new projects. We’ve built a foundation that gives us greater flexibility and the ability move much faster and efficiently with new ideas.

Be sure to read our earlier interview with The Robin Hood Rally's Michael Ferrier.

Monday, October 11, 2010

INTERVIEW: Part two with anti-resume career coach Angela Lussier

Angela Lussier is an award-winning speaker, author of the Seth Godin recommended book The Anti-Resume Revolution and chief creative career consultant/owner of 365 Degrees Consulting in Springfield, MA. Her advice can be found on Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, The Ladders, and in many career and business books. Speaking engagements and clients include TEDx, Boeing, MassMutual, Comcast, UMass, Westfield State University, and many others.

Below is part two of Angela's interview. She shares success stories of her clients, her take on sabbaticals and career reinvention, and her own Quitter to Winner moment.

How do you guide someone with multiple – and unrelated – passions and interests?

It’s not as hard as it sounds! Often times, what looks like a mish-mash of random skills can actually be turned into an interesting pitch for quite a few jobs! For example, I worked with a client who worked in sales and marketing in the casino and hotel industry for quite a few years. He also worked part-time at a nursing home and animal shelter. Before his work in the hospitality industry, he was a healthcare recruiter. At first glance, this looks like none of it goes together – until we realized that he would be a great candidate for a high level position in an upscale retirement community. He had all the skills for the job, and brought in an interesting perspective from the hospitality field. The key was in how we pitched his skills and telling the story about why he would be more of an asset to the company than the people who were coming directly from a similar position. It worked, and he loves the job.

Can you give an example of someone you’ve worked with that’s now doing exactly what they want? What was their process like?

I was working with a journalist in western Massachusetts who wanted to move to Washington DC. She was quickly learning that strictly being a writer for a newspaper wasn’t going to put her in the running for many of the higher tech jobs. She took on a multi-media role at the paper and started producing videos for their website. She did a ton of networking and built herself a website with her video clips, articles, and resume. With her new experience, she was able to land a job as a producer at a television production company in the heart of Washington, DC. She is now not only producing, but creating many written materials for the company as well with her strong journalism background. While her journalism experience alone wouldn’t have landed her the job, the fact that she coupled it with a cutting edge skill is what made her a competitive candidate with an edge.

What advice do you have for someone considering a career reinvention after working in the same job for 20+ years?

My first piece of advice would be to make sure you are thinking about the big picture, not just the allure of a change. After 20 or more years at the same place, you get used to the benefits, the perks, the rapport with co-workers and management; you may start to gain flexibility as a reward for your commitment. You have accrued many weeks of vacation, sick days, a pension, a retirement plan, a solid and reliable paycheck that may continue to grow, a commute you can do with your eyes closed, etc. In my experience, when I see a professional get to the end of his/her rope and want to quit and do something else, these are all the elements that often go unconsidered. Don’t forget that when you start over, there will be a lot of changes in your life that you may have not had to think about in a long time. The emotional charge that comes from greener pastures may make you overlook the most obvious stress of a complete lifestyle change, so make sure you are considering all of the elements and not just job responsibilities!

What’s your take on the growing popularity of career breaks and sabbaticals?

I think they’re great if they’re thought through. I learned the most about myself when I decided to run my business part-time for 4 months. Even though I was still working, going from working 60 hours/week to 15 was a huge change and gave me a chance to re-evaluate the way I was living. I completely re-prioritized and cut out many initiatives I wasn’t seeing clearly. I think this time is critical for anyone who wants to take stock in their past decisions, present dreams, and future goals. It does wonders to step back and take a break. I also highly recommend going away (even if it’s just an hour away) for at least a few weeks. It does wonders for perspective.

Have you ever left a job without a traditional backup plan? How did you navigate that move?

I did. I should say that I did this because I knew that the consequences would be small and the risk was relatively low. I quit my full-time recruiting job to start my career consulting business without any backup income streams because of the low overhead and lack of financial responsibilities. I lived alone, paid off my car, had no kids, and knew there was a huge market for the work I was offering. It made sense to do at the time, but I rarely recommend that other people do that, unless they’re living in their parent’s basement and have a great idea!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Part One INTERVIEW: anti-resume career consultant Angela Lussier

Angela Lussier is an award-winning speaker, author of the Seth Godin recommended book The Anti-Resume Revolution and chief creative career consultant/owner of 365 Degrees Consulting in Springfield, MA. Her advice can be found on Yahoo!, NBC, ABC, The Ladders, and in many career and business books. Speaking engagements and clients include TEDx, Boeing, MassMutual, Comcast, UMass, Westfield State University, and many others.

Below is part one of Angela's two-part interview about discovering the right career path.

Before we start, quickly explain your anti-resume theory.

The term “anti-resume” means being unique in the way you approach your job search. Rather than relying on one document to determine your future, you create strategic relationships, build a brand for yourself, craft a vision with achievable goals, and do it all in a way that feels right for you. The anti-resume mindset is all about saying no to the old template of following a linear path and creating a future you want, based on who you are and where you are going.

Many of my readers comment/tweet about not wanting, but needing a career change. Is this a signal to make a move fast, or simply time for a vacation? (Or both?)

It definitely varies. I have come across many people who like their job, but don’t like their boss. Others love the mission of the company, but don’t feel respected or appreciated. Some are in the right position, but in the wrong industry. To give an umbrella answer to this question that applies differently for everyone, I would say to first diagnose the main problem that is causing the unhappiness. Underpaid? Too many hours? Long commute? Angry co-workers? Whatever the main problem is, can it be addressed without leaving the job and simply coming up with creative solutions? If not, then now is the time to look at what job responsibilities/fields/locations would be best for what is most important to you.

While some may dislike their job, quitting may not be an option for various reasons. What advice do you have for someone in such a bind?

Assign a fixed number of hours each week to be spent on career exploration. For example, dedicate five hours per week to exploring other career options. This could include setting up informational interviews, taking a class, reading books about career options, meeting with a career or life coach, going to events & seminars, or other methods of research. If you are actively learning about what else is out there while building relationships and keeping track of what you are encountering, it will make each hour of work you do at the job you don’t like much more bearable. It’s about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by finding the opportunities you might miss if you don’t go and look for them.

“Working for yourself” might sound great when you’re burned out, or can’t stand your boss. How do you help someone figure out if entrepreneurship really is the right next step?

Do it while you’re still employed. This answer is similar to the last one. Dedicate a fixed number of hours per week to building your business. If you straight out quit your job and rely on your income from a new business, you may want to kiss your home, and car, and food, goodbye. First year earnings for a new business are typically low and probably won’t match whatever your cushy full-time job was offering. Instead of creating a panic situation for yourself, see if you can cut back on your hours or get more flexible hours so you can start to build your business while employed. If that’s not an option, try to work in key networking events and meetings during your lunch hour or before your day starts. It will be tricky to schedule everything in the beginning. However you’ll get an idea of whether or not there is a market. You’ll also learn how much you actually enjoy the service or craft you are thinking about going into (before giving up what you already have).

What can someone who’s never worked with a career/life coach expect?

Clarity, a renewed sense of enthusiasm, attainable goals, new ideas, creative solutions, a partner in crime, to name a few! Clients have come to me to figure out their brand, come up with ideas for jobs they would be good at, creative marketing ideas to stand out from their competition, or simply to talk about the rejection they have been facing and how to turn it into a learning experience. It is different for everyone, but I’d say the main service we offer is to keep our clients moving in the right direction, while remaining cognizant of their passion, fear, and concerns.

Be sure to check out Angela's free resources for job seekers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

INTERVIEW: Eco-designer Metal Wood Common Good

Here's an interview I did with eco-friendly furniture designer Metal Wood Common Good I did for another blog at a previous job. But I thought his story works well for Quitter to Winner.

How did your studio in Springfield come about?

I developed a business plan to create a remodeling and building company that would use only recycled materials as part of my coursework for STCC’s Associates in Entrepreneurship. At the same time, I won an Entrepreneurial Spirit Award through the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. My story was in all the local papers. That’s how the Gasoline Alley Foundation on Albany Street heard about me. They were working on a business plan to create a furniture company that uses recycled and abandoned materials. They asked me to work with them on their recycled furniture project. I've been at Gasoline Alley for about a year.

Tell us about Metal | Wood | Common Good’s philosophy.

MWCG is a functional art, furniture manufacturing and artist co-op. Our pieces are made entirely with reused materials. We follow the triple bottom line methodology, which values people and the planet as well as profit. In addition to taking building materials out of the waste stream, we work with local inner city kids and teach them a trade. We also provide the community with an affordable alternative to buying new furniture or having to pay over-priced contractor rates. We reinvest profits into the business and Gasoline Alley to help create a space in Springfield that promotes positive energy and a young entrepreneurial spirit.

How does your shop work?

We’re located right next to ReStore. That’s where we get all of our materials to make countertops, tables, kitchen islands and cabinets as well as for restoration work. As of right now MWCG is a one-man operation. However, local artists help out when needed, and I’m always looking for local collaborations.

Where can people buy your work?

We have an Etsy store and roadside sales on most Saturdays. You can also visit the shop Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5. You can buy something already made or request a custom order.

Have you made furniture for other Springfield-based businesses?

We’ve made custom counter tops and cabinets for Six Point Creative. But we’re open for new challenges!

What other plans and initiatives are on deck for MWCG?

We’re making some big changes to our shop. We’re bringing representatives from the local farm workers’ union to help us teach inner city kids the building trade. We’ve expanded our space to allow for more room for the kids to have a nice spot to hang out, work, and learn a good skill. We’re also working with ReStore to build a custom kitchen island for their booth in the Spring Home Show. In addition we’re building a custom desk for a recording studio in Boston, and preparing for spring and summer trade and craft shows.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

INTERVIEW: Small biz PR whiz Michael Kusek

Since 1992, Michael Kusek has provided marketing/public relations, strategic planning, branding and event management consulting to a portfolio of national and regional organizations and businesses. He spoke with Quitter to Winner about how start-ups can maximize the PR efforts to boost their profile and bottom line.

PR is a great way for a new small business/entrepreneur to get the word out. Why do so few take advantage of it?

If you’re just starting out, PR can be a very cost effective way to let your local market know who you are, what you provide and what differentiates you from the competition. Unfortunately, many people have a narrow view of public relations. They only think in terms of getting picked up by the big three: TV, radio, and daily newspapers.

Of course if you think your story would interest these producers/editors, by all means, pitch away. But small businesses should also add social media into the mix. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are all more accessible than mainstream media. They also allow businesses to craft messages directly to their audience on a regular basis. That’s not always easy to accomplish if you’re only navigating the big three.

Say an entrepreneur just opened shop. What kinds of PR opportunities would you consider “low-hanging fruit”?

1. Reporters are looking for positive business stories. In a bad economy, there’s a glut of downer stories. Reporters are hungry for an “inspirational” or feel good business story.

2. Reach out to your local weekly or monthly publications. Start building long-term relationships with editors and writers from these outlets. They’ll be more likely to cover your future stories about the opening of your second store, the hiring of your 50th employee, or a big new contract.

3. Network. Go to local special events or seminars. Nail down your elevator pitch and carry plenty of business cards. Also, you might run into a local reporter. Introduce yourself. They may not be interested in talking to you for the story they’re covering, but they might want to talk to you for a piece down the road.

Give us an example of a PR campaign you put together for a small business.

Infinity Music Hall & Bistro were opening their doors in a very small Connecticut town in a formerly abandoned building. Not what one would call a recipe for a happening place. But they had a great story to tell from several different angles. We looked at all the elements of the story and thought, how can we make the story resonate with different types of writers in a variety of media outlets? We reached out to arts writers, business writers, and travel bloggers. We pitched stories to the small town papers, the regional daily media, radio, TV. We created a buzz about a place people would want to check out, but a business that the community would root for and support. The space is doing great. Their calendar is packed.

How have you used social media in your PR campaigns?

I use social media as a good extension of word-of-mouth advertising. I also funnel any publicity into the stream, or trumpet good news about the business. Some might argue that it can be more of a PR tool, but to me it’s about friends talking to friends.

In your opinion, what local business maximizes their PR opportunities?

Jackson & Connor is a modern clothing boutique for men in Northampton. I helped them develop and manage their PR campaign when they opened a little over two years ago. Since then, Tara and Candace have taken the PR bull by the horns. They’ve been very creative about telling their story from every angle. They were profiled as a woman-owned business, for their charitable work, and unique promotions. They’ve also been very smart with how they use social media. As a result of their efforts, they’ve gained a loyal following, and are considered the final word on fashion for men in the Valley. I’ve seen some new businesses open shop, get an announcement in the paper, then…crickets. That’s not the case for these ladies.

What are some common PR do’s and don’ts for new small businesses?


1. Become a good news source for journalists. They’ll be more likely to run your future stories, or cite you as an expert in your field.

2. Provide enough information. The more fleshed out the story the better. Think like a big business. Create a press kit with photos and relevant background material.

3. Write a history/background for your business. An “about your company” paragraph at the bottom of a press release is often very helpful to writers.

4. Take quality, professional photos of yourself and the business. Photos on your phone don’t count. Make sure you have them ready to send electronically to the reporter.

5. Keep files of news stories, preferably on your website. This offers journalists a point of reference of what’s been said – or not said – about your business.


1. Don’t make things difficult for reporters. That includes not returning calls and emails, or not providing enough detail or contact information.

2. Don’t send out press releases willy-nilly. No one likes too many emails, especially reporters. Only pitch a compelling, relevant story. Think strategically before you hit send.

3. Don’t hound reporters. It’s ok to be persistent, but aggressive follow-ups aren’t a wise move. You have to keep in mind that not every story is a winner. Plus all newsrooms have dramatically cut staff. They may have received your release but are too busy to respond right away.

4. Don’t hem and haw with bad publicity. Deal with it head on. Look how BP and Toyota handled their scandals. The story will go away faster if you come clean from the get go. Explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how you’re going to resolve the issue.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

INTERVIEW: How to turn passion into profit with Travis Smith

Collector, designer and author Travis Smith tells us how he turned his passion for mid-century modern design into a 20-year-long career.

I guess I'll start with the obvious: how did you turn your passion for mid-century design into a job?

I began collecting vintage modern back in the early 80s when it was still called "junk." Then it went to being called "retro," and now "mid century modern." Back then I did not know what it was or why I even was drawn to it. I just knew I instinctively loved the design aesthetic from the period of the 50s through the 70s.

In the early days this stuff was filling up the local thrift stores for pennies! Nobody knew what it was or that it had any value. All of the office buildings in town were updating their look and donating their "old" furniture to the Good Will and Salvation Army stores. What I eventually would discover is that this "old" furniture was in fact iconic designs by some of our most famous 20th Century designers.

So it was not uncommon back then to walk into a thrift store and find furniture designed by Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, and others. I remember finding a thrift store in South Phoenix that had a back yard with stuff piled up. There was this huge heap of Diamond Chairs by Bertoia, plus dozens of his dining chairs and tables. I bought the entire lot for $100!

And while I did not quite know it at the time, that was my introduction to becoming a "vintage modern dealer." As my "collection" grew so did my need for storage. Soon I was renting two large storage units to house all of this stuff. At the time I was working at an interior design showroom as their visual merchandiser and doing sales. I liked my job, but I was becoming increasingly passionate about my newfound love for "retro junk."

And then one weekend I visited L.A. with some buddies. It was there that I discovered the hipster area called Melrose. I remember seeing my first retro furniture store and looking into the window display with all of the same kinds of stuff I had been collecting - and then I looked at the price tags. Oh my God, there was a market for this stuff?!! I walked in and introduced myself to the owner and asked him if he would be interested in buying from me on a "wholesale" basis. He did indeed. And right then and there I became what’s known in the vintage industry as a "Picker." And I never looked back.

What were you doing before you started your own thing?

Well like most things, my career in mid-century modern evolved in stages. When I first became a "picker" I had a full-time job at the interior design showroom.

Did you have to work a "real job" while you got your own business up and running? If so, how long did you have to juggle both?

I kept my job for a few months but I was frustrated and wanted to be picking/selling vintage full time. I finally quit that job and devoted myself to mid-century full time. I did that for about a year while living in Phoenix, and then I visited a buddy in Washington DC for a vacation. While there, I met two guys who were about to open one of the first retro furniture stores in DC called Retrospective. They ended up hiring me as the store manager, and without hesitation I moved to DC and waved goodbye to my life in Phoenix where I had grown up.

After moving to DC in 88, and opening Retrospective, I would embark on one of the most rewarding and exciting times of my life. This period was the beginning of the "Mid-Century Modern" movement - and we were on the cutting edge of it all. It felt so validating to be finally working in an environment that suited all of my loves and talents - and the store was immediately successful. We really were some of the first "pioneers" of that retail concept and it was quite gratifying to become so successful so quickly. I would end up working there for four years before I would strike out on my own again.

I then opened my own store called Good Eye, which I ran with my partner at that time for ten years. Hard work and many hours but it was very rewarding to own my own store and be doing what I loved and believed in.

Did you have any regrets in the beginning?

Nope. I listened to my heart and followed it - when you do that you will ultimately be successful whatever you end up doing in life. Very simple: Do what you love.

You've parlayed your interest and expertise in modern design into a varied career. What else have you done besides open a store?

I continued to freelance as a visual merchandiser on the side and for a while, had about a dozen retail stores as my accounts where I did their window displays, etc. I also parlayed this into interior design, and eventually designed 12 nightclubs around the country as well as residences - all of my passions continued to feed off of each other and kept creating new career opportunities for me.

Designed nightclubs?!

Yes, while living in D.C. I was working at Retrospective when this guy literally jogged into the shop. He asked me about a 1940s sofa and chair grouping we had for sale - he wanted to know if we could find six of these sets for him? I said yes, that was possible - was he working on some kind of commercial design project?

He told me about his plans to open a themed billiards club, which would be part bar, part coffee house. I thought the concept was brilliant and started giving him design ideas. He told me that he was impressed with my ideas and asked me if I would be interested in designing the club for him. YES!!! Of course I was interested!

I ended up designing about a dozen clubs for him - all with different themes - Buffalo Billiards, Car Pool, Havana Lounge, Continental Pool Lounge, etc. including locations in Philly, Nashville, and Austin: http://bedrockbars.com/ Very rewarding and fun work. And you are probably seeing a pattern emerge here - by following my initial dream, I put myself out there to receive other opportunities to come my way - that continue to expand that dream and help it grow in other directions.

You also wrote a book - "Kitschmasland!" - how did that come about?

I had a dealer booth at a Modernism show in NYC - an Editor from Schiffer Books stopped by and out of the blue asked me if I had ever thought about writing a book. I told him, as a matter of fact I had. He asked me what kind of book. The first thing that popped out of my mouth was a Christmas book. I think he was quite surprised as he thought I would want to do something on vintage modern. But one of my collecting passions has always been holiday decor from the 50s through the 70s, so it seemed like a natural for me.

My former partner, Skip Przywara did all the photography on the book and it turned out really beautiful. It is a coffee table book with over 400 photos and descriptions of all the vintage Holiday stuff I love and collect - ornaments, trees, Santas, etc. Plus we shot mid-century modern homes decorated for the holidays with all vintage d├ęcor. I think it turned out super cool. It is still in print and available on Amazon:

Do you have any other books in the works?

Yes, I am working on one right now but it is top-secret. Stay tuned.

What advice would you give someone thinking about turning their passion into profit?

I'll just repeat my mantra: Do what you love. I'm not saying there won't be any obstacles or hard work, but it will be completely rewarding because you are following your heart and dreams and the payoff will be huge.

What's next for you?

My best friend and new business partner, Chris Bale, and I just launched a niche Facebook page called Modern Bear - devoted to the gay bear community (and the people who love them). It combines my love of modern design with bear lifestyle tips, pop culture, and a little beefcake thrown in haha. We are also working on a book based on this same concept. And hope to eventually offer a line of Modern Bear products! This time of my life reminds me of the late 80s - very exciting and feeling like we are on the "cutting edge." I'm in my zone again and I can't stop smiling.

Monday, September 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: How to Network with Career Coach Val Nelson

Val Nelson is a Career and Business Coach based in Northampton, Massachusetts. She helps people bring their superpowers and their hearts to work so they can have more clarity, more ease, and more impact. She specializes in helping introverts mobilize their unique strengths. She provides tips on her blog at www.valnelson.com.

Val spoke with Quitter to Winner about the art of networking.

Why do you think people are resistant to the idea of networking?

Most people I talk to have very low confidence in their networking. They struggle to understand what to do for networking, and they often think they are bad at it. Their lack of confidence in it even stops them from learning how to do it. Ironically, once they understand what effective networking really is, they usually become much more relaxed.

There are some people who think they know how to network effectively but then their results still aren't what they would hope. If it's not working, they are probably trying to network using some old-school (pushy, "salesy") method that doesn't work in today's world.

What are the main do's and don'ts of networking?

1. Be authentic! Don't put on a mask or try to be something you're not. Fakeness doesn't work.
2. Listen and ask questions to learn more about the person you're speaking to. When you respond, speak to their needs and how you might be able to help, if possible.
3. Be helpful. Even if you can't help them, refer them to someone else if possible. You'll be remembered by both parties.
4. Speak from the heart. Hopefully you're passionate about what you're offering so speak from that place -- so that it's obvious you care and that your work makes a real difference. That's the person that gets remembered. (If you're not passionate about what you're doing, get help from a career coach to resolve that.)
5. Follow-up and stay connected. So many people skip this step that you'll stand out if you do it. If there's a big interest, set up a meeting. If no interest is clear, touch base at a minimum by connecting on LinkedIn. It might be a year later that they'll refer someone to you, but only if you've stayed on their radar.

Can you offer any tips for networking on Facebook and Twitter?

Same philosophy applies there: Be authentic. Listen and ask questions. Be helpful. Speak from the heart. Follow-up. The #1 key to online networking is connecting your online and offline networking, as I described in more detail on my blog.

Your upcoming workshop focuses on networking for wallflowers and introverts. Can you give us a preview of some tips and topics covered?

For starters, I'm going to help people understand what networking is and isn't. It's so misunderstood! We tend to picture pushy salespeople working the room to get tons of business cards. That doesn't work, so you can let go of trying to be anything like that!

Then I'll help folks find the overlap between effective networking and what they actually enjoy!

I'll also help people understand what introversion really is. And I'll help them tap into their introvert strengths (such as listening) to become great networkers.

When people understand what effective networking is, and what introversion is, they often start to think that introverts might actually be better at networking than extroverts!

Then I'll help participants create their own unique networking plan, including with the help of a workbook and an individual follow-up session with me.

When I held this workshop a few months ago, I captured some of what the participants learned in this post: http://www.valnelson.com/introvert-power/networking-secrets-from-an-ex-wallflower/

Here's where folks can learn more or register for my workshop:

What are your networking recommendations for those thinking about a career reinvention?

1. You CAN make a transition, even in a down economy! Actually, you often HAVE to make a transition when the economy is changing. Make sure you choose wisely. Consider seeing a career coach to make sure you're on the right path before you waste time.
2. Make sure you have chosen a new direction that you're passionate about, because people will notice that passion and pay attention. Being on the right path for you not only makes you happier, it's also the way to get noticed!
3. Much of your networking is probably about exploration of possible directions. Let yourself be in exploration mode. It's OK not to have all the answers about what you're doing. It's OK to say "I'm exploring..."
4. If you're asking for informational interviews, respect that people have limited time but trust that they like to help. Ask for a specific amount of time and tell them the questions you'd like to ask. The more specific you are, the easier it is for them to say yes or to refer you to someone more appropriate.

Tell us the meaning behind your black swan logo, which I hear is relevant to this topic.

When I first saw a black swan, I was so struck that I had to stop and pay attention, because it was so unique, so unexpected. Yet, it was just sitting there, quietly on a pond. The message of the black swan is that if you are uniquely You, you will have the impact you want, in a way that is easy or even quiet.

From that inspiration, I created what I call my Black Swan Formula for success: More You = More Ease = More Impact.

In other words, the more you let people see your unique self, the easier it will be on you, AND the more impact you'll have!

I find this gives my coaching clients hope and guidance. So, you can see the swan means a lot to me.

How can people reach you for more information?

They can learn more about me, my work, and these ideas at http://www.valnelson.com. They can also contact me via my website. I offer free sample sessions so people can see if coaching might be useful for them. I provide both career coaching and business coaching, which means I help anyone get more clarity and more impact in their work.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quitter to Winner named "Favorite Blog"

Many thanks to Briefcase to Backpack for naming Quitter to Winner their Favorite Blog. Here's the write up:

We recently discussed how many career breakers remain in the “career break closet” – keeping their upcoming travel plans from friends, family, and especially colleagues and bosses. Some spend months, if not years, planning their escape, but are afraid to share the news too soon out of fear of losing their jobs – much like Keith & Amy Sutter. “We could not afford, either financially or professional, for word of our plans to leak back to our companies before we were ready.”

Quitting can be difficult for anyone, especially career breakers. Doubts can seep in as you start to question your decision. Hearing others stories of quitting can make it that much easier, and now you can on “Quitter to Winner”, a resource for those quitting their job for a career break, sabbatical, entrepreneurial venture or new gig.

The blog was started by Michael Sjostedt, who noticed that “over the last few years people held onto jobs they weren’t satisfied with. But recent stats show that more and more workers are voluntarily leaving their gigs for yet-to-be-determined opportunities.

Job burnout certainly plays a role in the trend. Some might have a little red devil on their shoulders who whispers ‘life’s too short.’ Others have the hutzpa to strike out on their own, thinking they can crack the ‘earn more, work less’ algorithm.

Everyone’s got a reason and a story. I’m curious to learn why people jumped, how they navigated the free fall, and if they succeeded.”

You can read stories like Alice Gray and Lyon Graulty, who are taking several months off between jobs to bike the West Coast and raise money for Posada Esperanza, an Austin-based shelter for immigrant women and their children. Or James Morgan, who talks about his difficult transition from a teaching career into architectural woodworking. And Ryan Fuller and his wife, Jen, who got burnt out from their high-pressure consulting jobs and are now in rehab: via extended vacation in Argentina.

And be sure to visit their Facebook Fan Page and Twitter as Michael features inspiring career-related stories, blogs, and job boards from around the web.

Monday, August 30, 2010

INTERVIEW: Career Breakers Coastingnow.blogspot.com

CoastingNow is the career break journal for Alice Gray and Lyon Graulty. They're taking several months off between jobs to bike the West Coast and raise money for Posada Esperanza, an Austin-based shelter for immigrant women and their children. Here they talk about what prompted them to take a break on bikes.

What made you both decide to leave your jobs (and Western Mass) for a career break bike trip?

Alice: I'm originally from Austin, Texas. While I love Western Mass, I've always missed home and my family. Austin has changed so much since I left when I was 18. I want to be a part of the growing art, cycling, film and music scenes. As for the cycling trip, that was an idea that always lived in my mind, but one I never thought possible. When we decided a year ago to move, we racked our brains trying to think of a zany, fun way to spend our time between jobs, between apartments, between cities. I kept hearing about friends of friends who were going on insanely long cycling trips. The thought excited and inspired me. The West Coast is one of the more popular touring destinations for cyclists, and I've never been to California, so it just developed from there.

Lyon: I've lived in Western Massachusetts all my life and I've been in bands for nearly half of it. Over that time, I've been lucky enough to enjoy the support of a loving family and a great group of friends and musicians. I have been fairly successful as a part-time musician and have been employed as an audio editor at More Than Sound since early 2008. So why leave this steady job that allows me the freedom to pursue my musical career? I didn't want to become complacent and too comfortable in my life. This move is a challenge to myself to go somewhere different, make new connections and have new experiences. But this move is less about turning my back on my friends and family as it is about extending the network that they form. The bike tour is an extension of this desire for a challenging experience that will at times be uncomfortable, but will also offer exhilarating rewards.

How long have you been prepping for the trip?

Alice: We can trace the original spark for the idea back to a coffee shop in Burlington, Vermont where, on a cold January morning, we met a waiter who was about to quit his job and fly to Arizona with his bike. His plan was to ride all the way to Vancouver, which made my jaw drop. That night I created the blog, Coasting, and wrote my first entry, but didn't share it with anyone (except Lyon) for quite a while. Since then, we've been making small steps towards preparing for the cycling tour, and recording our progress on our blog.

Lyon: When we first got the idea, I was a bit hesitant because we are not expert cyclists by any means. I am a commuter biker that will occasionally go out for longer rides, so the cycle of six weeks of biking/camping/biking/camping/etc. seemed a bit daunting. It still seems a bit crazy, but we have been slowly getting prepared for it since the winter.

Tell us about the fund raising aspect of your trip. Do you have a monetary goal?

Alice: It seemed natural once we had decided to embark on our ridiculously long cycling trip, to pair our efforts up with a local organization. When I was in high school I volunteered at an Austin-based shelter for immigrant women and children called Posada Esperanza. I knew that any money we raised for them would go far. Lyon was familiar with the organization too since for the past couple of years we'd been donating a little money on each Mother's Day to Posada (and in exchange they send our mothers a card).

Lyon: We are hoping to raise a dollar for every mile we travel on our bikes. (It is about 1000 miles from Seattle to San Francisco.)

What are your plans after your trip?

Alice: Good question! Immediately after the trip we are driving to Louisiana for a music festival that some of Lyon's friends are playing in. Long-term, however, is a bit fuzzy. We'll stay with my family in Austin while we recover from the trip, and look for jobs and a place to live. I plan on using that limbo time to explore things I always think I don't have time for; learning how to sew, reading and writing more, finishing some film projects I started, learning how to play the accordion. And then there's salsa dancing! I love to salsa dance and I'll need to find the cool places to go for that in Austin.

Lyon: I am looking forward to being in Austin and enjoying the vibrant music scene. I am hoping to meet up with some good players and play as much as I can.

Alice and Lyon will periodically check in with Quitter to Winner while "on the road."

Visit http://coastingnow.blogspot.com/ to check in their Alice and Lyon on the road and to support their fundraiser.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Business Week Interview: Career Reinvention

In today's tumultuous workforce, flexible talents, skill sets and a willingness to change means job security. Best-selling author and Business Week columnist Marshall Goldsmith talks with The Reinvention Institute's Pamela Mitchell on how to effectively transform careers.

You say that in today's marketplace, the old concepts of career change don't work. Why is that?

Over the past several decades, the pace of business cycles has sped up considerably. Cradle-to-grave employment is a thing of the past. Within the space of a decade, what's been considered to be a good field for jobs can disappear. Take a look at the phenomenon of outsourcing, which has decimated U.S.-based opportunities for many industries, like software programming. Or consider the media field. With traditional revenue models struggling and new technologies competing for audience attention, newspapers are trying to find new niches to replace lost profits.

How do you cope with these factors? Career change has tended to focus on typical job transitions—strategies for climbing to the next level of seniority within your organization or moving to a similar position within the same industry. But what do you do when your company is reducing headcount and opportunities in your field are disappearing?

Great point. How is career reinvention different from career change? In this day and age, the ability to reinvent yourself—to recombine your skills, talents, and experience to move between job functions, departments, or industries—is the new form of job security. More than just repackaging your background, career reinvention involves changing your assumptions about how your career will evolve. It means being prepared to take advantage of new opportunities by developing your skill sets with a strategic eye toward emerging business models.

That sounds great for someone who is new to his career, but what about if you've been working for 10 or more years in the same field? Is still possible to reinvent your career when all your experience has been in the same industry?

This is one of the most common questions we get! Yes, it is possible; in fact, we have a number of clients who have made successful switches after long careers in a particular industry.

That said, it is crucial that people understand that career reinvention is not an easy process. I like to draw the analogy that switching between job functions or industries is similar to moving to a foreign country. To be successful in your new land you'd have to learn the local language and familiarize yourself with its customs and cultural expectations. The same is true when you want to move to new career territory. To bridge the divide between your old and new careers, you need to learn the language and customs of your new field…and decide what to bring along from your former job.

If someone with 10 or 20 years of experience is leaving a field, that's a huge loss of talent for their organization. How does the trend toward career reinvention affect companies?

Over the next 5 to 10 years, as boomers retire and the available pool of workers shrinks, companies will be forced to rethink their strategies for retaining talented workers. But this requires that they break out of the old mindset of slotting employees into function-based boxes. They need to ask themselves: Do our people feel they can transform themselves beyond their current role, or do they need to leave us to grow?

For corporations, reinvention is the road to retention. Leaders need to become the architects of employee reinvention within their companies. One of our recommendations is that companies develop their workforce by facilitating ways for their talent to move within the firm.

Along with reducing layoff costs, this strategy can minimize the expenses associated with pursuing new business opportunities. Some forward-thinking organizations are already creating these types of reinvention programs.

What are some of the stumbling blocks people face when they're trying to reinvent their careers?

People tend to fantasize about new careers and are often unprepared for the amount of work that's involved in actually making the switch. They also have a hard time shifting out of their old work identity, which means that they often try to pitch themselves in a new field using their old language. This results in a translation failure, where hiring managers don't understand how the candidate's background applies to the job they're seeking.

Identity can also be a big obstacle when people are trying to reinvent themselves within their firm. Because they've been defined by a particular job function, they cannot get a shot at a new role. A number of clients come to us after hitting this barrier.

What advice do you have for people looking to reinvent their career?

Understand that whether it's within your current firm or a totally new field, successfully reinventing yourself requires you to establish your legitimacy as a candidate. Hiring managers, both internal and external, have goals they need to meet. Your mission is to prove—in tangible ways—that you can be a valuable asset to them in reaching those objectives.

Minimize translation failure by learning how to repackage your background so that it highlights those skills that will be directly useful in helping you succeed in your new role. Ask yourself: "How can I benefit from what I've done in the past?" Analyze your talents and identify the work successes that demonstrate them. Match those previous accomplishments to future career deliverables—this will help you see what achievements in your background are of value to hiring managers in your new field.

Source: Business Week, Marshall & Friends July 1, 2008

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

INTERVIEW: The Robin Hood Rally's Michael Ferrier

Michael Ferrier took a break from corporate consulting to pursue his passion: cars. Now it's his second career. Michael is now the Vice President of Financial Operations with the new race car reality TV show The Robin Hood Rally. Here's how he landed the new gig.

What were you doing before you helped start The Robin Hood Rally?

I spent about 20 years in the financial services industry. I worked for several major organizations, my last being a contract gig for MassMutual. When I finished my project ahead of schedule, the economy broke loose. They wanted to keep me on but couldn’t afford me at the time, so I said thanks but no thanks. It was a good time to explore something different. I was burned out on the corporate culture.

What did you do during your career break?

Racing and collecting cars has been a long-time passion and hobby. A friend of mine races down in Connecticut. I started hanging out with him at the track racing Ferraris. This was September 2009. That’s when I was introduced to my current business partner. We started hanging out at the track. One day he invited me to lunch and pitched me the idea of The Robin Hood Rally. He wanted me to help build the company, the show and be the Vice President of Finance. I didn’t hesitate to jump on board. He started several successful entrepreneurial ventures, so I was confident he could pull it off. Plus, how could I turn down an opportunity to work with cars and finances. It was a dream situation that fell right into my lap.

Tell us a little more about The Robin Hood Rally

We’re a production company that puts on a reality TV racing show. We race legally on public roads across the country. The large part of the show is the back stories on the racers and some on the town. Another large part is the charity aspect. We attempt to raise as much money as we can. At the end of show we present a check to an individual in need or a local charity. This year we’re filming races on 10 roads in 10 states. The series will air in late Fall of 2010 through the Spring of 2011.

We’re purchasing the time to air the series, and are independently producing it. We want to maintain control of the content to focus on the cars, drivers, and charity versus manufactured reality TV. We want it be remain a competition for individuals that are interested in showing, not telling, everyone what they are made of behind the wheel. The show will run on closed scenic public roads. People won’t know the course until they arrive at the venue. This makes it a true test of driver skill.

What’s it like going from the corporate world to a reality TV production start-up?

Exciting, nerve wracking, fun, tiring, scary, and anything but boring. I love it. It’s great because we’re breaking industry records. When shopping around the essence of the show to potential investors and producers, everyone is shocked by our well thought out our concept. It normally takes people years to get the where we’ve gotten in months. Of course, we’re still learning as we go. None of us have ever worked in the TV or film industry. We’ve hit some roadblocks but it has not deterred us.

How have you generated buzz without a big budget?

We’ve gotten a lot of momentum from our website and just from word of mouth within the passionate racing community. We get some good turnouts in the towns we race in. Plus some fans have been posting clips on YouTube, which has also helped get the word out. The local media has also covered our races.

How have you navigated the drastic income shift?

It’s not easy but I’m managing. I’m on a very lean budget. I went from a comfortable job with a steady income to putting everything I have into this venture with virtually no income. I’m not going to lie. It’s scary. But I haven’t once thought about going back to a corporate job. Despite the drawbacks, I have freedom in my job. I can work from home. I get to meet new and interesting people. And I’m following my passion. The image of success isn’t important to me. When you do what you love, success will follow and everything else falls into place. I’m also doing something good for others. We’ve helped out some people in need in the towns that hosted our races.

What would you have done differently?

It’s hard to say. When I left my consulting job I wasn’t out looking for another job. I was just enjoying myself, then one thing led to another. I’m very lucky to play with cars and money for a living. I will say that it’s a good thing I’m good with money. If you’re going to get into an entrepreneurial venture, you need to budget your finances very well. You can’t spend like you did when you had a steady paycheck, especially when you’re first starting out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

INTERVIEW: Ghostwriter and entrepreneur Jeanne Yocum

Ghostwriter and public relations consultant Jeanne Yocum has been on her own for decades. She shares some words of wisdom for those thinking about making the entrepreneurial leap.

Jeanne, you've been working for yourself for nearly 21 years. Why did you decide to go solo?

I freelanced for a couple of years in the mid 1980s before I was offered a job at a Boston public relations firm. The offer was so good that I didn’t feel I could turn it down. But after three years, I realized two things: 1) I really was much happier being my own boss. 2) I really am a writer at heart. I was spending more time managing people than I was writing. So I decided to go back out on my own. I’ve been at it ever since.

I am a public relations consultant, helping people get their company’s news in front of key audiences either through publicity or through Web sites and marketing brochures. I also do event management. The other part of my business is ghostwriting books and book proposals, primarily about business topics. I’ve co-authored two books, ghostwritten four others and edited another handful.

My Web site is www.yourghostwriter.com. You can see my blog, “Small Business Success: 20 Years and Counting,” there and I also write a blog on business topics for MassLive.com.

What are some of the perks of self-employment?

The thing I enjoy most about being self-employed is the ability to pick who I want to work with, which was something I didn’t have at the PR firm where I worked. I have specialized in working with consultants in various fields who are coming up with cutting-edge ideas. I always say I’ve earned an MBA from my clients because they’ve taught me so much about all aspects of business. The variety is great and intellectually challenging.

The other thing I enjoy most about being self-employed is the ability to make your own dreams come true. For example, 10 years ago I decided I needed a new writing challenge and that I wanted to try my hand at business books. A year later, I had sold a client’s book idea to a publisher and we were working on the manuscript.

How about the pitfalls?

The most obvious pitfall is that you’re out here all alone and if, like me, you’re single, you have no financial fallback position. It can be scary when a client is slow to pay or if business slows down as it did in the recession. But I’ve managed to survive three recessions, so I’m more sanguine that things will work out now than I used to be.

Some people may also find it lonely to always be working on your own. You have to arrange your day to include people in other ways than seeing them around the water cooler at work.

A third pitfall can be the unevenness of the workflow. Just yesterday, I had a sudden influx of business that made me wish I could clone myself. If you’re all on your own, you can end up working some pretty long hours and on weekends.

What advice do you have for people making the entrepreneurial leap?

Have a realistic view of self-employment, not a pie-in-the-sky view. Talk to a lot of people who are self-employed and ask them to share with you the good points and the bad points. And really listen to the bad points; don’t just let them go in one ear and out the other because you’re so enthusiastic about the idea of working for yourself. Self-employment is definitely not for everyone; be self-aware enough to know if you are someone who could cope with the downside.

Also, make sure there is a market for what you’re offering. Too many people start businesses about something they’re passionate about without really doing the research that is needed to know whether what they’re selling it something people will want to buy.

Is there a social media outlet that's helped your business more than others?

So far, I have used Facebook only for non-business purposes. But I am quite active on Twitter (as JeanneYocum) and in various groups on LinkedIn. I’ve met new people through both of these sites, but I can’t say I’ve gotten new business as a result. But I am ever hopeful!

Anything that introduces you to new people is a good thing and eventually will pay off. I had my Web site up for years before I landed any clients through it, but several of the clients I have gotten through it have been big ones, including book project client. So you just have to stick in there and sooner or later, you’ll see results.

Can you recommend some profiles on your blog that might help new entrepreneurs?

I’ve been doing a series of blog posts in which business owners answer questions about how they have succeeded. Here are a couple that I especially thought had valuable advice:

Small Business Success Q&A #1: Ann Brauer, Quilter Extraordinaire

Small Business Success Q&A #4: The O-Tones

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From Consulting Rehab: Interview with Three Month Visa

Consulting Rehab recently published an interview with Tara Russell, founder and president of Three Month Visa. TMV is sponsoring the Briefcase to Backpack Meet, Plan, Go event on September 14. Here's an excerpt from their conversation about the event and Tara's involvement with the movement.

Tara, tell us more about the origins of Meet, Plan, Go! How did it get started and why does it exist?

The seed for Meet, Plan, Go! was planted back in January of 2010 when Michaela Potter and Sherry Ott who founded Briefcase to Backpack were in town and we met up for coffee. We realized that there were so many cool ways that we might work together that what was meant to be a half-hour meeting turned into a 5-hour brainstorming session! Our goal working together has been to take this conversation about Americans and career breaks and start building some critical mass behind it – get it out from the underground and take it national. One thing that came up was the success of a group I have been running for a few years now in SF – SF Travel Book Club and Lectures Series – and we started to wonder what it would look like if we could take the strength of that in-person group dynamic and expand it nationwide by doing a day of coordinated events across the US. From there, Michaela and Sherry were able to leverage the strength of their online network to recruit hosts and panelists from across the US and that’s how Meet, Plan, Go! came to be!

Why do you think that taking a Career Break and traveling is beneficial for people?

I would go beyond even saying “beneficial” – I think career breaks are absolutely essential for people…perhaps now more so than ever. Consider that our office desks are no longer stationary items that we can leave behind after 5pm…with the introduction of cell phones and PDAs, many of us are forever wired and always accessible from the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night. In an age when we are hearing more and more about work /life balance, it seems increasingly difficult to truly “unplug.”

Career breaks and travel give us that opportunity to unplug…to really take a step back, get perspective and regain balance in a way that we just can’t do while we are caught up in the pace of our hectic 9-5. (Or – let’s be honest – given the crazy hours many of us work, our 5-9.)

Travel gives us fresh and new perspectives, expands our horizons, strengthens our sense of adventure, pushes us to challenge ourselves, feeds an appreciation of our own strengths and abilities and provides us with space and time to examine who we are and what we truly want out of life. I’m passionate about helping my clients find that and taking that message national is what MPG is all about!

Who is this event for?

Well, it’s pretty simple, really. Here’s a quick and easy exercise to help readers determine if MPG is right for them…

Close your eyes and imagine taking time for yourself to do exactly what you have always wanted. Do you see:
* Surfing lessons in Costa Rica?

* Taking classes at a local university?

* Hiking the Himalayan Annapurna Circuit in Nepal?

* Renovating your house into the home you dream of?

* Volunteering at an orphanage in Brazil?

* Japanese lessons in Kyoto?

If you came up with anything other than “I’d like to be right here where I am…in my beige cubicle.”, then Meet, Plan, Go! is definitely for you.

This event is for anyone who has ever had a travel dream and wondered how to make it a reality. Anyone who has ever thought “Oh, I would so love to do something like that, but… Anyone who is currently reading this from their tiny little corner of cubicleland and thinking “Man, I wish I was lounging on the beach in Fiji right now.”

You get the picture…if you close your eyes and dream of being somewhere other than where you are, this is the event for you.

What exactly will happen at the event?

We have put together a stellar panel of travel experts – travel writers, photographers, podcasters and bloggers as well as me wearing the hat of Travel Coach. We will be presenting on the big Whys and Hows of career breaks and long-term travel and helping participants get an idea of resources that they turn to when they can start planning and go for support as they move forward.

What do you expect that people will get out of it? Why is it worth their time?

I would say this really breaks down into the “big three” of what you need to make your plans for a career break a success – inspiration, resources, and community. People who attend will be inspired by a panel of speakers / travel industry experts, they will be connected with some of the resources they need to start making their travel dreams a reality and they will be surrounded by a dynamic, supportive community of people who “get it”. Each element of that formula is really key for us.
Ok, let’s talk about the San Francisco event for a minute…

What are the logistics (e.g., when, where, how long, how do people sign up, etc.)?

The SF event is being held on Tuesday, September 14th from 7-9pm at NextSpace in downtown San Francisco. The event is free but participants do need to reserve their space and print and bring their ticket with them. RSVPs can be made at: http://meetplangosanfrancisco.eventbrite.com
Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about you…

How and why did you personally get involved in this?

When I met Sherry and Michaela back in January, there was such a cool synergy there when we combined our skill sets. Given their professional and personal backgrounds and their experience running Briefcase to Backpack and also blogs of their own, they are incredibly savvy about the internet, blogging, online networks and marketing, etc. What I brought to the table was years of experience running in-person travel-related events and also working with one-on-one coaching clients as they prepared for career breaks of their own. From that, (coupled with my own experiences planning and realizing a year-long career break of my own,) I had a keen understanding of the self-imposed limitations and perceived obstacles that often deter people from taking the sabbaticals that they really want. When we put our heads together, in short, I saw the opportunity to work with really cool people on a project I was extremely passionate about – how could I say no?

What do you do with your time when you’re not working on Meet, Plan, Go?

I am thrilled that I get to spend a great deal of my time working with one-on-one travel coaching clients, helping them work through the logistical and emotional preparations that go into making a career break possible. In addition, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of speaking in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond on topics revolving around career breaks, life sabbaticals and long-term travel. Loving my work makes it something I am pleased to dedicate a lot of time to.

When I’m not coaching, reading travel books or arranging events for SF Travel Lit & Lectures or working on MPG, I do my best to get out in this gorgeous city with friends to enjoy all the great sights, music, food and museums that SF has to offer. I also dedicate as much time as possible to my passion for photography and some of my work can be seen at www.greentaraphoto.com

And (of course,) whenever I can, I travel!