Rebounding from downsizing

A career lemon becomes lemonade

Before starting my company, Harvest Reapers Communications (www.harvest, a communications specialist and inspirational seminars/speeches firm, four years ago, I was a community relations-promotions specialist at a Memphis advertising agency. Before that, I was a news-public affairs director at a Memphis radio station. On July 30, 1996, my life took a different course. I found myself out of a job. I had been downsized.

Even though I saw it coming (fewer projects were coming down the pike), I was somewhat uncertain about my fate after I lost my job. But I knew it was possible to start over-on my own terms. And my business was born. Along the way, I discovered how to turn a career lemon into lemonade and how to make a successful transition to running a self-employed business.

Shortly before I got the ax, a friend encouraged me to write a personal mission statement. It reads: “to inspire myself and others to take positive action as a result of my powerful and profitable words.” Having a mission statement made all the difference when I started, and has kept me on track with respect to my company’s focus and direction.

After I was let go, I contacted my financial planner, who showed me how to stretch my severance check, and I applied for unemployment compensation. Second, I sent my former boss a letter thanking him for the opportunity I had been given and also to achieve closure. I also called my contacts, including creditors, and announced my job loss and that I had hired myself.

Armed with my computer and printer, along with prayer and faith, I was in business. I took a QuickBooks Pro class at a local college and got business counseling from the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Memphis Technical Assistance Resource Center and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center. About 18 months later, I got a $5,000 bank loan to cover equipment purchases and other expenses. Although I have no employees, I often use communications and public relations interns from a local university.

I’m not a highflier yet, but so far I haven’t crashed and burned. I have steady bookings for speaking engagements and five regular clients who use my personalized communications services. I keep things going by keeping a sense of humor, not being afraid to seek help from others, planning ahead, saving and admitting my mistakes. Along the way I have learned some painful lessons. Among them is to generate a written agreement covering services, investment (price) and a cancellation clause, and avoid joining groups unless you get business from them or derive some other direct benefit.

Despite the rude fiscal awakenings and steep learning curves I’ve experienced getting my business off the ground, I love my clients and my skill set seems to really help them. At age 39, this is what I was born to do.

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