…It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…
“I need you to come with me.”
“So it’s my time.”
With that, my job of 20+ years had come to an end. Time of death: 10 am on 7/25/17.
Here is the story of the last 5 months of my life – apologies if it is a bit long winded. Hang in there and you’ll get to some humor and pop culture references.
I expected it to happen at year end so the only real shock was the timing. So what happens when something you have been fearing for most of your career actually happens? The 5 stages of grief? Truth be told, I felt very little. I don’t feel bitter about the end as it was handled as professionally and nicely as possible given the circumstances. It’s been about 5 months but it feels like I have been away from it much longer, and, surprisingly, I think about it very little.
For years, my wife was asking me what I would do next. My standard answer was that I had saved and invested for years so that I would have time and options, but would probably seek another job in banking. The flaw with this plan was that I had an internal corporate role which was very specific to the company so doing something similar was pretty unlikely. She thought I should get another graduate degree and do something else. Ummm NO! I had no desire to be a 50+ year old student for a year or 2, be out of the market for that time, spend a lot on tuition and then seek a job in a completely new field. I also didn’t have a particular passion for a specific subject or field to pursue. If you do have this particular passion, go for it!
So, what did I do?
Probably the same thing most people do. I updated my resume, advised my network via LinkedIn messages that I had been let go, and hurriedly applied to several job postings I found via LinkedIn. I received supportive comments from my network, some of whom I have not had contact with in many years (shame on me for that – don’t make the same mistake!). Most advised me to take some time for myself to adjust and get my head in the right place. I didn’t really get what they meant. As far as application responses, 0!
I watched a video I found on LinkedIn from J.T. O’Donnell which laid out how much the job market had changed over the years, emphasizing that sticking to online applications was a recipe for disaster. The game is all about networking to get your resume in the right hands as most online applicants will be screened out by (evil?) computer programs called “applicant tracking systems” before they have a chance to get to a human. Not exactly the news I wanted to hear given that I had not done a good job of maintaining a network.
A couple months after being let go, I began my outplacement at Lee Hecht Harrison. In my younger days, I envisioned outplacement as simply an office environment where you could go, maybe meet other people in the same boat, and use office equipment and space. This was only partially correct. I had spoken to others who liked that going each week to meet with their group created a sense of accountability. Others were disappointed because it did not result in them getting a job.
I had reviewed their website and nervously went to my first one-on-one meeting, thinking that I would be given a ton of “homework”. As it turned out, like most things, you get out what you put in and there were no assignments or due dates. They connected me with a really good resume / LinkedIn profile “coach” who helped me take my task-oriented resume and turn it into an accomplishment-oriented one. Apparently this became the thing to do at some point during my last 20 years of employment.
I was invited to a Job Search Work Team which met weekly and was a forum for people to ask questions of the group, update what progress they were making, and network (thanks to Bryan Zembrowski as we bounced ideas off each other). Our group was for experienced people so most were in their 40s / 50s and had been with their companies for many years. My sense was that others were in the same Rocky III phase of their careers as me.
I was coasting along, making good money, probably got too complacent / soft, and then got knocked out. As I mentioned, the first reaction was to try to recover quickly and get back what I had lost and this seemed like what others in the group were trying to do. Then things took a turn for me. A few weeks in, as my efforts were not leading to anything (not one interview), I started to wonder if all the other people in the group were trying to get jobs like their old ones because
- Their prior careers were great and fulfilling
- It was a Rocky-like reflex to try to get back what was taken from them
- They just needed the money to start coming in again
- They accepted the conventional wisdom to get a new job
- All, some or none of the above
One of the things LHH had that was really impressive was a huge range of webinars. They had them on creating structured career stories that could be told in interviews to answer questions and help you build your accomplishment-oriented resume, interviewing techniques, LinkedIn techniques, networking, marketing, etc. As I was putting in all this time doing my Rocky III training for the big fight of getting my career back (true story, I did watch Rocky training montages on youtube to inspire myself), I was having growing feelings of not wanting to win the “prize” or dedicate all this time and effort to get it. To quote Don Henley,
“A little voice inside my head said, “Don’t look back, you can never look back”.”
At this time, there happened to be 2 webinars and 1 presentation at LHH on franchising. This is not something I had ever considered or even knew much about. I signed up for all three. I mentioned on LinkedIn that I was going to attend these and one of my connections (thanks Deepak!) told me about a former colleague of his, Jeremy Bollington, who had also gone from banking to the franchise world. Jeremy’s article on it inspired me to look into franchising further so I’m writing this article with the hope that it will make others in my situation realize there are options. Through Jeremy I also found articles and posts by franchise consultant Brandon Clifford which gave me more inspiration and information.
The first webinar was run by Kim Daly from FranChoice and it made me see there was another potential path to explore. I wanted to work with Kim as my consultant as she clearly had a very different energy level than me and I wanted someone who could challenge my assumptions or kick my butt if I was feeling self doubt. I also wanted someone whom I felt would get along well with my wife. My wife had no intention of being involved in the business but she would be a 50% owner, and attempting to do something like this really requires your spouse’s buy in. As for the buy in of others…I’ll get to that later.
For many, franchise investing is counterintuitive. Every consultant I heard from said not to focus on the underlying product or service. Don’t assume that you need any experience with the product or service. Think about the lifestyle you want, investment size, money you need out, hours you want to work, number and type of employees you want to manage, type of sales (cold call versus warm leads from marketing), etc. – not love of the product or brand! I initially threw out some ideas to Kim about franchises I had researched and she helped me understand why they were not great ideas for me. If you work with people who are more experienced and smarter than you on a topic, listen! I really recommend you work with a consultant (Kim did a great job for us!).
My inner Rocky III increasingly thought, “Hey, I made my money and had my success in my former world. Why should I be trying to go back in that ring and potentially get my head bashed in and likely find myself in the same boat in a couple years when I can do something else and possibly have a lot more fun?” Yeah, I know the movie wouldn’t have been as good if Rocky stepped away from boxing and got a big endorsement deal from Nike.
We had our initial discussion with Kim where we went over our backgrounds, skills, and the lifestyle we wanted to get from the business. She did her research on what opportunities might suit us and be available in our area. She came back with 4 ideas, two real estate / storefronts, a B2B, and a B2C. Each appealed to different aspects of what we said we wanted. My end of the bargain was that I had to have at least 1 call with each.
When you are looking for a job, be prepared not to receive responses to phone calls, emails, applications, etc. In the franchise world, it is totally different. Within hours, I heard from everyone. Later on in the process, franchisees were happy to talk about their experiences. The first calls were more qualifying discussions to learn about me, what I brought to the table, and assess my seriousness, followed by some overview of the opportunity. Follow up calls were always scheduled at the end of each call. I will warn you that the franchisors employ great advisors and it is easy to get pumped up by their enthusiasm and think “Wow, I can do this!” after each call. Take a lot of notes during the calls so you can write out your pros and cons a couple hours after the call (after the adrenaline rush when you are in a “sober” mindset) and think seriously about the weight of each and note your concerns. Update these after each call.
I’m going to be deliberately vague about what the businesses were as I felt like all were good opportunities for someone and I don’t want to appear to be dismissing or promoting any of them. You need to assess each opportunity and be honest with yourself about yourself to figure out what is right for YOU. Comparing and contrasting them really helped me zero in on what I liked and didn’t like and whether what I said I wanted was what I really wanted.
I will start off by saying that I did not want to put a material amount of my savings into this investment – no borrowing, no 401K rollover investment, etc. I would refer you to the 1985 movie Lost in America about a guy (Albert Brooks) who loses his job and feels that his nest egg is big enough for he and his wife to drop out of society and hit the road. His wife gambles it away in Las Vegas.
At this stage of my life, I am a “Protect the nest egg!” guy. This heavily influenced my thought process. I will also note that I had to cure my wife of referring to this investment as a “gamble”. It is a calculated risk where you can affect the odds of success by choosing wisely, being adequately capitalized, and working hard. Hopefully, I will have a follow-up article that talks about the wise choice I made.
Real estate / storefronts – Both concepts were businesses it would be pretty cool to tell your friends about. The companies had great systems and support to help with site selection and development and running the business. They were manager-driven models which might be great for those wanting to develop multiple locations or have other work commitments. Where they didn’t work for me was
- I didn’t want to be a semi-absentee owner for my first venture into the franchise world. It doesn’t fit my personality.
- I live in a high cost real estate area so the investment would be too high and the development time would be too long (cashflow negative) for me. Add in the commercial leases and it just didn’t work for my protect the nest egg view.
- If I were the owner / operator / manager, I don’t think I would like to be at the store all day as I didn’t feel I could relate to the employees or customers for these particular products and services.
Again, people open storefront businesses all the time and I believe these franchises will be successful – they just weren’t for me. They seem to be selling fast though.
B2B – I really liked the concept but this one was not for me either despite a demonstrable track record of success for franchisees. The business for the first 18-24 months would require me to do a lot of targeted cold calling within the territory. There was all kinds of support to help one get to a cash flow positive state in the first year, but there were clear expectations regarding the number of sales efforts you and your team would make per week. Not coming from a sales background, I just felt the likelihood of stress was too high and the match for my personality and skills was too low.
The final of the first 4 concepts was a B2C with some B2B. It was more of a marketing model where the marketing (hopefully) results in warm leads coming to the franchisee. I felt more comfortable with this type of model based on investment size and the customers coming to me if I execute the marketing plan properly. To quote from Alec Baldwin’s speech (one of the cleaner lines) in Glenn Gary Glen Ross:
“Get out there – you got the prospects coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t walk on the lot lest he wants to buy.”
Of course, I don’t see myself following this type of aggressive sales approach but you get the point. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the complexity of the product, how the actual work with the product would be done, and my gut told me I might not be “aggressive” enough for the franchisor’s taste.
This analysis helped Kim choose a couple more names to show us, including Budget Blinds. Why did I choose Budget Blinds / why was it right for ME?
- Marketing model
- Low investment / low overhead
- Franchisees control the size of their business, number of employees, etc. The franchisor does not pressure them on sales.
- The franchisees love it and were very happy to talk about their experiences.
- Great training and support.
- Every step of the process has run like a well-oiled machine so far.
- Recognized brand name and multiple products which appeal to every style and budget.
- Long track record with high success / low failure rate.
Now, all I have to do is actually operate the business successfully! (gulp)
My story would not be complete if I did not tell you the negative responses to my decision to go down the franchise path. While most people, especially former co-workers, have been supportive and enthusiastic about it, there have been the Debbie Downer voices in the crowd.
You may encounter these as well. I’ll leave it up to you to determine if these people are
- Looking out for your best interests
- Unable to envision you changing your life because they have a set image of you
- Malevolent saboteurs
- Clueless on the topic
- Against you pursuing a path they wish they had the guts to do
- Genuinely in doubt about your ability to make a sound decision and operate the business
Here is a sample of the comments I received – yes, some are nonsensical responses to the news that I was planning to invest in a franchise:
“My friend invested in [ ] and lost a lot of money.”
“There is a Panera Bread down the street from me.”
“You should buy a Dunkin Donuts.”
“My friend’s son bought a townhouse and lists it on AirBnB. He is very successful.”
“You should write.”
“You should day trade.”
“You should retire.”
“You’ve never done this before.”
“Make sure it is not a pyramid scheme.”
My general response to them is that I have researched the opportunities thoroughly, including speaking to a number of franchisees. My achievements – I know I have them because it says so on my accomplishment-oriented resume! – and all that I have (the “nest egg”!) did not happen by accident.
At the end of the day, if you have a track record of making good decisions, trust yourself! Look for another job, invest in a franchise, change careers, go back to school, etc. – you are the best person to make the decision. If you lose your job, it is not the beginning of the end. It is the end of the beginning!
Be confident, make decisions that are right for you and you’ll be makin’ it in no time.
(This is where I leave you as I have a long list of tasks from Budget Blinds to accomplish before training.)