Going From Business Owner Back to the Workforce: A Survival Guide for Ex-Entrepreneurs

Going From Business Owner Back to the Workforce: A Survival Guide for Ex-Entrepreneurs
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Shutting the Doors

My story is much like that of many small business owners across America and it’s not a pretty one. The auto industry and their dealerships suffered greatly after the restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors and as a former Ford dealer, I can tell you when the time came to shut our doors, even though we were a franchise business, the decision wasn’t easy, but necessary and finally, inevitable.

First, a short and sweet version of my story. Our business was originally supposed to be a Ford-Lincoln-Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealership in a small town in New Mexico (because that’s what my husband and I bought), only we found upon signing the papers that Chrysler and Ford said we’d have to “de-dual” meaning split the two franchises onto two different properties. However, we had no money to buy another piece of land to move one of the franchises.

A fight with the original seller of the business came because our buy/sell agreement did indeed say the deal was sealed only if both Chrysler and Ford approved of the sale—which they did not—and in the end, Chrysler took back their franchise point and we were left with only Ford—not even Lincoln! That cut back five vehicle lines if you count them all (Lincoln, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and the new line, Ram Trucks).

Lawsuits ensued, our customer base who wanted a new vehicle in the lines we couldn’t sell anymore went elsewhere, and we lost the ability to complete and be paid for any Chrysler warranty work.

As with most businesses, because our revenues decreased that didn’t mean our expenses did. We still had rent, operating expenses, payroll and vendor expenses.

Our business was in a rural area of Northern New Mexico and no matter how hard we tried, the debts outweighed the income, and we were forced by lawsuit decisions, expenses and Ford to close the doors in January of 2011.

While my story is not original, what I hope I can do here is provide anyone going through the same or about to go through something similar, some helpful advice on getting back into the workforce before depression sets in and you find yourself lost, alone and in debt you can’t pay.

Steps to a Successful Transition

My husband and I did follow some steps once the initial shock of what happened was over. After the local news blasted our name, after we called vendor after vendor, and after Ford locked us out of our own business and finally, after all the tears we had were shed, we came up with a plan! Here, I guarantee if you follow our steps, your reentry into the workforce will not be as difficult as you think.

Hire an Attorney

Hire an Attorney

Okay, your business just closed so where do you find the money for an attorney? I don’t care where you get it, but find it. Ask family members, take some money from your retirement funds, sell a vehicle or prized possession you really don’t need—but hire an attorney. Why?

You will need someone to help you win battles on your behalf if your business files Chapter 7 so creditors leave you alone. No one wants to face the embarrassment of bankruptcy but believe me, once the initial paperwork is filed and you appear in court only a handful of times (or less) the bears will be off your back and you can get on with your life under the protection of your attorney and the bankruptcy laws.

Should You Go Right Back to Being a Business Owner?

One idea to try is to connect with local business owners (if you have any cash left) and see if there is any way you can invest in their business and become a partner—essentially becoming an entrepreneur again. If you do this, make sure it’s a business you like and understand and also, make sure you do your due diligence.

If a local company seeks you out and after a quick run through of the financials you find they are about to go under without your help, you are just throwing good money after bad.

You Must Face Reality

Facing Reality

This will be the hardest part of your return to the real world, as I like to call it. My husband and I were business owners for 17 years and while we had auto manufacturers and banks to answer to, we were used to making all the decisions on our personal and business life with no outside interference. In addition, the last time we looked at our resumes, we were much younger. We now found ourselves in our fifties and felt, well, unemployable and over-qualified.

We didn’t want to learn how to say “Would you like fries with that,” but we knew we had to do something because the rural town we lived in had an unemployment rate of 12 percent at the time, and there were no jobs to be had—not even low-paying jobs.

Out came the husband’s resume and at 56 years of age, even though he had worked in Chrysler management and owned and operated dealerships, we feared his age would hurt his chances. We found out quickly that the new way of finding a job was applying online—not in person—and how do you make your personality shine through by filling out a form on a computer or taking an assessment test online? You don’t and while you need to apply for jobs you feel qualified for, you also need to be willing to relocate if necessary and realize you aren’t going to make the money you used to; or better yet are “used” to.

Reworking the Resume

When re-writing your resume, you should include what you’ve done and your successes as a business owner, but your mission statement at the top needs to change drastically. It must show how excited you are to offer your knowledge and experience to another company and not sound pushy or bossy. You are not the boss anymore so tone the sound of your resume down. In my husband’s resume, we used a simple mission statement based on applying his auto manufacturer and dealership ownership experience to a large dealer group in management or fixed operations, as he was qualified for these areas.

Alas, we started sending out the resumes—online and via snail mail. After no phone calls or emails at all except for those we felt were “necessary” to meet their hiring older worker requirements, we revisited the resume again. This time, the mission statement still offered his experience but instead of reaching for management or fixed operations, we replaced those words with parts and service departments and also his expertise as he always maintained his ASE technician status.

Whatever you need to do to tweak the resume, do it. Even if that means swallowing your pride and calling in help from the experts at your local department of labor, it’s something you must absolutely do and be willing to tone down what you are willing to accept in a job.


You May Have to Relocate

Very often, business owners who are forced to shut their doors or file business bankruptcy feel embarrassed by reentering the workforce in the city or town where they lived and owned a business. If this is you, pull out an Atlas and determine places you would be willing to relocate to.

It’s important to be realistic here as well. If you lived in a small town, don’t only include small towns, as they may be economically hurting as much as your town. If you only want a large metropolitan area, be careful not to pick one that is facing high unemployment and much job competition. My best advice here is to seek out cities and towns that have local governments (state capitals) and a large and reputable college or university. These communities survive on governments and education so the job opportunities will be larger.

Take a Trip

With your brushed up resume (and Bright Hub offers many examples and templates for free - I’ve included some great resources in the references section below), start making trips to the places you are willing to relocate to. In our case, we chose Austin, Texas because it’s the state capital and the University of Texas is a large and well-known school.

Wherever your expertise lies, with resumes in hand, swallow your pride and make in-person visits to places you know you can excel or be a valued employee. You did build a business after all and the economy may have made it close but that doesn’t mean you aren’t valuable anymore.

Smile like you never have before, lose the grumpy attitude, and leave resumes even if you’re told there are no jobs available. There may be one after you walk out the door. By this I mean, they may just want to have a private look at your resume and experience before interviewing you or they may have an opening soon.

If they direct you to the online venue to apply, leave a resume anyway, thank them for their time, and do follow-up and complete the online job application.

It is essential your personality shine in these in-person visits. If you are droll, no one will want you.

Please continue to Page 2 where you’ll learn how to network and connect with old friends, negotiate your new salary, becoming an employee and much, much more!


Learn to Network

If you are reading this, you have a computer or at least, access to one. Visit social networking websites like LinkedIn and seek out professionals in the field where your expertise lies. Most LinkedIn profiles offer company information and even emails or fax numbers and you can use these to send your resumes to aid you in getting your foot in the door.

LinkedIn is the only site I recommend. You don’t want to post your job search on your Facebook page, nor should you Tweet about it.

For example, my husband found many of his old colleagues at Chrysler and while Chrysler management had no jobs, many of them did know of dealerships that were in dire need of better managers.

Find people you know, even if they were once competitors or old business friends you haven’t talked to in years. Chances are they will help if they can, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get anywhere.

Salary Negotiations

Realize right off the bat you are not going to be offered the salary you used to pay yourself. Once you have this conversation with yourself and your family, it’s time to determine what you can live on and how much money you will need for the basics.

The basics don’t include fast boats, fast cars, or other grown-up toys. Your entire family will have to learn to adjust, but learning to adjust is simply culture shock at first and it does settle down.

Once you’ve found the salary number you can live with and make it a reasonable number, add $5,000 to that because it will leave you room to negotiate.

When job offers do come and I’ll admit, some companies may fear hiring you because they fear a former owner being an employee, negotiate the best salary you can along with the best benefits you can for you and your family. Ask for things just like the employees you used to hire asked for. Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to salary or benefits because it makes it look as if you are willing to work for peanuts and as you used to, employers will offer peanuts. Stick up for your experience and expertise!

Never walk into interviews saying, “I’ll turn this place around!” Instead, use softer words or phrases like, “I know my experience can be an asset to your organization” and say how. Companies willing to hire you aren’t hiring you to be the owner; you are now entering the employee zone.

Being an Employee

Being an Employee Again

Starting work at the same time every day and having scheduled lunch or break times will be tough at first but if you were an entrepreneur, you already know how to work hard so it shouldn’t be a difficult transition.

Dealing with supervisors or bosses will be hard for some of you. You will have to follow policies and rules and regulations of someone else’s choosing, not your own. Smile and hold your tongue. Do offer suggestions on what could be done to improve a process or procedure but not in a bossy way. Try to use your business skills for the better good of all employees and the company’s goals, not your own goals.

Follow the rules, improve what you can and soon, you’ll find the transition is not as bad as you think. Above all, if you settled for a salary lower than what you really wanted, never stop attempting to climb the ladder or seeking out other opportunities once you’ve returned to the workforce! Use career websites like Monster or Career Builder. If your new boss finds you on one of these websites, simply say you forgot to remove your resume.

Life at Home

If you do have to relocate or the money you are making makes it impossible to live in your dream home anymore, it doesn’t mean you have to lose it. Rent it out if you can and if that means renting it for an amount that is only enough to cover the mortgage payment and property taxes, so be it.

You can either find a place to rent on your own (and if you’ve had to relocate that may be necessary), or if your business failures have banged your credit score but you do have a cash down payment, seek out owner financed homes or homes where you can assume a mortgage. Just make sure you know what you are getting into with these types of owner financing and assumable mortgage deals.

Have lots of family time fun even if it’s just taking walks after work with the family pet and kids or the spouse. Join the bowling or softball league at work and go to work functions. Get out, meet people, and above all, don’t forget your family’s life has had to change too so take the time to speak honest and openly with them and allow them to ask you questions without fear of reprisals. Your family must be a top priority after your business has closed, so don’t forget about them.


Learn to Transition

It’s never an easy thing to do to go from entrepreneur to employee, but it can be done and many, many have gone before you, especially in today’s economy.

If you’re a spiritual person, seek the counseling of your church or synagogue. Alternatively, find resources on the Web from free experts who can help you make the transition easier, even if that means entering into some retraining program. Take advantage of everything you can that is free.

It’s been five months since my husband and I left New Mexico for Texas, and he is now working for a large dealership group. He’s not the owner, but with perseverance, he did make it to the management level and is able to offer a lot to the company he works for and in return, he’s been noticed. Not by being too assertive, however, but by using his skills to make the company he works for better for everyone, not just himself.

Your path to transition will be bumpy at times and I am here to tell you that bumpy road does smooth out. There may be tears, fights, arguments, sadness, embarrassment and even a little depression, but you will be able to recover if you’re smart and focused and concentrate on the important stuff, not the impossible stuff.

Have you recently had to close your business? If so, how did you transition back into the workforce? There are many of us and by leaving a comment and starting a conversation, we can all help one another!

Above all, never stop dreaming or looking for goals; just make sure they are attainable goals and know when it’s time to let the entrepreneurial dream go.