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“I have deep relationships. AND I have a coach. That may sound odd because I AM a coach, but I believe those of us who are most successful, have gotten where we’re at with help in identifying blocks, challenges, and opportunities. That is what a coach does!”
~ Sheree Clarke
Sheree Clark followed her enthusiasm—her passion for helping others and sharing what she had learned through her own life challenges led her to start her coaching business.
The seeds of change were also cultivated during a stressful time in her life and her former job. She shares her journey of mid-life career reinvention below:
“My current business is Fork in the Road. I am a healthy living (life) coach. I chose the name initially because I was focused on food and healthful eating, and since “fork” conjures up the idea of eating, it seemed to fit. I also believe that at any given point we are all at a proverbial fork in the road.
That fork can be a major one—such as a career choice or the decision to enter or leave a marriage—or a small one, like whether to say yes to dessert or being on another committee. So, when the focus of my business shifted to life coaching for women over 40, the name was still (and perhaps even more) fitting for my practice.
Fork in the Road is truly a crescendo of all of my life experience. I work with my clients to transform their health, reclaim vitality and mental focus, and help ensure they gain clarity on their vision and purpose. These are all things I have done for myself over the course of the last 6+ decades of life.
Deciding what to do
My first business was a marketing communications (advertising) agency that I was “talked into” co-founding in 1985 by a (then) new boyfriend. The truth is, I had grown bored at my job at a local university and had even announced my resignation, effective the following academic year (long notices are an accepted practice at US academic institutions). In the meantime, I had met—and fallen in love with—my later-to-be business partner, and the rest fell into place.
He convinced me that my skill set as a teacher, advisor, and mentor would transfer easily to the business development aspect of running an advertising agency. We stayed business partners for 25 years (although the romantic aspect tanked after the initial 14 years).
My current business began after I decided to leave the agency world and (my now-ex) behind.
During my time owning the agency, I had taken a variety of classes simply out of an interest in personal development. Many of the courses had to do with health, nutrition, and emotional maturity.
Eventually, as I became less interested in the marketing work and more involved in the business of human potential, it became harder to rally enthusiasm for owning an agency.
Finally, just as we were preparing to commemorate 25 years in business together, I told my partner I wanted to exit our partnership to begin something new.
At that point, I still wasn’t certain what my new work would look like, but I knew it wasn’t fair to anyone (most especially me!) to stay where I knew I was no longer fully engaged.
So, in essence, I quit—and then I figured it out.
Finding an idea that would be successful—ask your way to success
I found the right product for the right market by trial and error! Next, to creating a vision board, the informational interview is my favorite tool for helping me get back on track when I’m feeling lost.
When I was feeling unfulfilled in my business I scheduled a series of interviews with fellow entrepreneurs. I picked women who owned businesses. The only thing they had in common was that I really respected them, even though some I had never met in person.
One of my interviews was with the publisher of a local business newspaper: a fabulous lady who is probably 20 years my senior. We had our meeting over lunch and I told her, candidly, about my inner feelings. I told her I was hoping she might shed some light.
I asked her what she thought my skill sets and offerings were and where I might be able to plug the gaps. Her feedback? She said she had always thought of me as a teacher and a coach. She said she saw me as articulate, smart and capable, (which in itself is nice to hear, especially coming from someone you admire).
And then she offered up a casual suggestion. She said, “You’ve always had a way with words. Why don’t you write a column for a publication in your industry or some area of your life that brings you joy.” Well, that was an idea that resonated, and if nothing else was worth seeing if I could make happen.
I went back to my office and sent a query letter to the editor of a graphic design magazine I had written for once or twice before, and asked if they were looking for writers.
Within an hour my phone rang. It was the editor himself. His words nearly knocked me off my chair. He said, “Wow, what timing! We are starting a business advice column in the next quarter, wanna write it?”
I ended up writing that column for five years. Not only did it help scratch an itch I was feeling, but I also made some extra money in the process. Now, I am not saying you’ll have such epic results. But I do know that I have never had an informational interview without a payoff, even if it was just that I got to know somebody a little better.
Working your offerings into your own area of genius
It’s not just about finding the right products and services, it’s also about working your offerings into your own area of genius.
At this point in my life, while I enjoy making a good income, it’s not only about maximizing revenue. I want to do work that brings me joy. I want to work with clients who are a fit for me so that when I look at my calendar/schedule, I feel excitement, rather than dread.
In my instance, I am what we call a “Baby Boomer” (defined in the USA as being those born between 1946 and 1965). My generation and those slightly after, are all experiencing some major life challenges right now. Our jobs are changing or we’ve been laid off or deemed “redundant.”
Our marriages and family structures are shifting or crumbling: we may suddenly become caretakers or divorcees or widows. Hell, our own bodies are changing and often it feels as though they are betraying us. And for many women over 40, after putting the needs of others first for much of our lives, we can finally say, “it’s MY turn now.”
What I just described is my area of genius. It’s the arena I do best in and it’s where I feel most at home. Having for the most part successfully navigated the challenges of being a 40, 50, 60-year old, I get to share my secrets and techniques with other women.
Starting fresh—financing a new career
In both cases when I started my companies I left what I had been doing to embark on the new thing. In the first instance (co-founding the agency) I felt safe doing so because I had a partner and so my risk/exposure was shared.
In the second instance (becoming a coach), I had the luxury of having built savings from the first endeavor, so I could plunge into the second. I recognize that not everyone will have such good fortune.
In both cases, I didn’t need any start-up capital.
If I were to give advice, I’d say that while of course you have to consider your own financial situation, also take stock of your risk tolerance.
Entrepreneurship is not certain. There are all sorts of risks and no guarantees. If a lack of financial uncertainty makes you nervous, it’s certainly safer to ease into being a business owner, but it can also be more challenging. There are only so many hours in a day!
Finding the confidence to leave the security of a regular salary
It wasn’t confidence that propelled me into my second business. It was the pain of not living authentically.
It would be an understatement to say that to close the ad agency I had co-founded was not a decision my former partner and I made easily or lightly. For almost half our lives we had been partners and close friends. But the time had come and we each wanted to do other things with our lives.
I had found a passion in the health and nutrition arena after receiving my certifications as a raw vegan chef and nutrition counselor.
My business partner discovered a love of fine art, and a desire to work more independently. Quite frankly, we both had become rather miserable in our roles as principals and we each needed new challenges.
Despite my excitement for my new future I struggled to dismantle what we had so carefully created. At the time, we decided to close the agency, it was still healthy but my partner’s and my passions were on life support.
There were many signs that it was time for a change. I started to dread the out of town travel for clients that I had once so loved. He began to come into the office later and leave earlier.
We both had less patience for employee mistakes and client indecision. For me the defining moment came on a Sunday at church when I actually cried not because the sermon was so moving, but because I knew that in less than 24 hours I had to “go back to work.”
It was clearly time to do something.
There are those who have applauded both of us for having the courage to do something so drastic, and others who deem us insane when we could be ‘so close to retirement.’ All I know is that, as scary as it was, it has rekindled the adrenalin rushes I have not felt in a very, very long time. It was absolutely the right thing to do.
My clients typically follow me online for a period of time before contracting with me for services. Often they run across me because I am a guest speaker at live events, or a subject matter expert on television, or a guest on an online interview series or summit. Others may have been referred to me by a friend or a colleague.
The marketing activities which have been most important and successful for me are speaking and interviews. I also write guest blogs and articles.
Running a business should not be a 24/7 thing! Although there are absolutely “push” times, especially in the beginning, I think downtime and rest are essential to business success
Downtime, time to refuel, is made possible by setting priorities, delegation and hiring (or subcontracting) efficiently. I personally find balance by planning my days the night before.
Each night before I go to bed, I establish what the most important project or priority is for the next day, and that project is the first thing I address after I do my exercise and meditation.
I also find that sometimes I have to actually schedule in my fun times. With my current work schedule, I coach clients in the first three weeks of the month.
The last week of every month I take off from individual coaching, and that is when I attend to personal matters such as doing errands, scheduling salon services and meeting friends for social engagements.
I still do work during that fourth week, but because I don’t typically schedule client appointments, I have time for other things.
Keeping energy levels high
It’s not hard to have high energy when you have high enthusiasm. I love what I do and it keeps me young, vital, engaged and energized. That said, taking care of yourself mentally emotionally and spiritually is also critical. I get adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition. I spend time in nature and in contemplation or prayer.
I have deep relationships. AND I have a coach. That may sound odd because I AM a coach, but I believe those of us who are most successful, have gotten where we’re at with help in identifying blocks, challenges, and opportunities. That is what a coach does!
The secret to success, managing cash flow, and generating regular income
For me personally, I have always benefitted from finding and utilizing a good business coach and what is often called a ‘mastermind community.’ A mastermind is a group of like-minded people who meet regularly to share strategies and tackle challenges and problems together. They lean on each other, give advice, share connections and do business with each other when appropriate.
It’s very much peer-to-peer mentoring, and it works! In terms of managing cash flow: one piece of advice is to not take your foot off the ‘new business development’ gas pedal when you get busy with other things. What you do today will determine your level of success tomorrow.
The learning curve
The biggest learning curve I had was going from owning a company that sold its services in a business to business arena (the communications agency) to one that provided services via a business to consumer model (my coaching practice).
These two ways of conducting business are drastically different. Again, by seeking guidance from peers and by hiring a coach I was able to manage the amount of growing pain.
The best times in my business have usually been the “firsts.” The first client, the first employee, the first million-dollar year. The worst have usually been the result of going against my own intuition. Hiring someone I had a gut feeling about because they looked good on paper. Taking a poorly calculated risk because I was listening to my ego instead of looking at the facts or my intuition.
One of the best business books I have read is, Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. It applies to everyone, but entrepreneurs especially.
What advice would you give to someone who has never started a business or been self-employed?
Start by taking the time to meet with other entrepreneurs and ask them a few questions about things that may have you concerned or sparked your curiosity.
Cassandra’s book, Mid-Life Career Rescue: Employ Yourself, is a great start because it gives you a general ‘peek under the tent’ at being a business owner, but I would also speak to others in real time.
I often urge my clients to schedule what I refer to as an ‘informational interview’ when they are considering going down new paths or are feeling stuck in some area of their lives.
What are the steps to self-employment? Is there a “right” order?
I have taken the leap to self-employment twice, and each time was different from the other. I think there are too many factors to make a generalized bit of advice valuable here. One caveat I would say to the analytical readers is “don’t overthink it.”
With my current business, I began by sending a letter to everyone I knew from my former business, telling them what I was transitioning to, and straight-out asking them if they might be interested in my services, or if they would be willing to make a referral. I had enough takers to be encouraged to keep going!
Making the leap sooner
I would have left my first company to start my second company sooner. I was afraid of letting people down: my former partner, my employees, my clients. By the time I left, my passion was on life support.
If I could offer one piece of advice related to starting your own business and employing yourself it would be to know that being an entrepreneur can be lonely sometimes. Your friends, the ones who are employed by others, will think you have it made now.
They will believe that you have all the time in the world to do what you want and that you’re rolling in the money. They’ll think you can go on lavish vacations and that you don’t have to answer to anyone. Take heart: The other business owners you meet will know the real story.
The secret to self-employed success
Passion. Without it you may be mildly successful, but you’ll never be wildly successful!”
I loved, loved, loved what Sheree shared and devoured every word—best of all there were no calories…so that was marvelous. What resonated with you?
Identify and record any lessons can you learn from Sheree’s experience of discovering her calling and setting up her business which you could apply to starting your own business. Summarize some possible action steps.
This is an edited extract from “Midlife Career Rescue: (Employ Yourself): How to confidently leave a job you hate, and start living a life you love, before it’s too late” by Cassandra Gaisford. To purchase your copy and learn how to follow your passion to prosperity, click here to go to your online bookshop—getBook.at/EmployYourself2018
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Posted in: Achieving goals, Art & Creativity, Blog, Career & Happiness, Career Change, Job Search, Latest News, love life more, Mental health, Mid-Life, Midlifecareerchange, Start a business, Stress less, Train to be a Life or Career Coach, wellbeing
I am an artist, storyteller, intuitive guide, mentor and Reiki master. All my creations are infused with positive energy , inspiration, and light. I believe in magic and the power of beauty, joy, love, purpose, and creativity to transform your life. My greatest joy is helping your realize your dreams. That makes my soul sing!
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