We owned a couple of retail businesses and a couple of commercial rental properties for seven years. We sold the businesses a year ago when my husband got transferred out of state with his job. I decided to get back into the workforce and thought I was fairly marketable with an MBA, 15 years as a middle manager in publishing, 4 years of high school teaching, and owning my own business on my resume.
I don’t look, dress, or act like I am 51 years old, so I felt my age would not be an issue. What happened in the dozens of interviews over the past year absolutely floored me.
The most stunning remark I received was from a headhunter who specialized in finding management-level people for large publishing companies. When she received my resume, she was excited about my diverse background in sales, marketing, business development, and editorial, but said to me,
“My client might be concerned that you haven’t had a real job in seven years.”
Other comments I received during interviews for management-level positions included:
You have been out of the industry for too long.
There are other qualified candidates who are currently in the workforce.
Owning a retail business doesn’t really apply to the needs we have at our business.
You have a wonderful background and years of experience, but your experience is not current.
I understand that these all may be excuses for wanting to hire another, maybe younger, less experienced individual who will not cost as much payroll expense to the company. These things often happen during the job-hunting process. However, the positions I was interviewed for required a great deal of experience from any candidate, so it became clear that the real problem was: owning a business is not considered a “real job” or it is implied that you failed if you are now looking for a job.
Owning a Business IS a REAL Job
I considered developing a workshop for human resource professionals to educate them on the transferable skills set of a former business owner, but in the meantime, I will share some of the skills I perfected from owning my own business. You may want to include these on your own resume if you are looking for a job after owning a business.
Writing a 5-year business plan
Most people don’t know how to write a business plan for a banker, but if you need financing for your business, you must have a business plan; you must have a basic knowledge of accounting, marketing, management, operations, facilities, and employment law. Then with effective management and leadership ability – you must show the bank each year that you actually followed through with it or modified it as necessary. Banks will require a yearly submission of your P&L and your Balance Sheet to show you are remaining solvent through the life of the loan.
Presenting your business plan to the bankers
This can be very intimidating if you are not confident and knowledgeable about your business. You must be able to defend your sales projections with primary and secondary research data, prove your costs with actual supplier/creditor quotes, and provide liquid capitalized assets to sustain adequate cash flows in off-peak sales cycles. You must also defend your business plan to a commercial real estate appraiser who can make or break your deal with the bank. I applied for a $250,000 SBA loan and got the loan from the bank and the guarantee from the federal government. When working with the federal SBA program, you must also defend your business plan to the SBA officers and provide evidence of complying with around 20 other federal programs like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Many employees I have worked with who now have “real jobs” could not make it through this step either.
Negotiating, Negotiating, Negotiating
When you own a business you must negotiate everything from your loan terms, to costs from suppliers, to wages of employees, to rental terms for commercial lessees, to utility rates, to building permits, to health inspections, TO EVERYTHING! If you are not a master negotiator, you may find your cash flow in the red. Bartering is a good skill to have as well. There were times when we traded gasoline for building or plumbing repair services to help manage cash flow. In the real marketing world, I would classify this as Public Relations or Publicity skills.
Human Resource Manager
Not only do you have to recruit, interview, hire, and fire employees, you have to really manage their needs. Some people need more attention, direction, and praise than other employees. Some need more training than others. Some need discipline or monitoring because you can’t quite trust them. Some want all holidays and weekends off. Some get arrested for selling liquor or tobacco to minors. Some get in fights with customers. Some get in accidents or go through personal problems with spouses. Most importantly, you MUST know all federal and state employment laws and post the required information on the walls for access by your employees. You can be heavily fined for not complying with federal or state employment laws and in this area – ignorance is no excuse and inspectors are usually never lenient on business owners who claim they didn’t know about a certain law.
Accountant, Bookkeeper, Cash Flow Manager
You must be knowledgeable about legal business entities and how to structure your business, whether it is a corporation, a limited partnership, an S-Corp, or a sole proprietorship. You must then follow through with the particular laws that govern the type of business entity you choose. You must be knowledgeable about laws governing DBA status (“doing business as”) and how to legally file a DBA name within your legal business structure. You can always hire a CPA to help with your tax accounting needs, but you must be a master at managing cash flow, keeping adequate records in a program like QuickBooks, and handling accounts receivables and payables with the most cost-effective advantage to your business. Building repairs and maintenance, licenses, permits, payroll, payroll taxes, sales taxes, and profit margins, if not managed effectively, will put you out of business in 6 months. I’ve never had a stronger respect for cost accounting and cost control as I do after having owned my own business.
You must constantly keep track of and find ways to save on office supplies, cost of goods sold, and develop loss prevention strategies. Theft is a huge problem when you own a retail business. You develop master detective skills and learn ways employees cheat their bosses and steal their goods. You become very resourceful at finding ways to cut costs by seeking special deals with suppliers, researching substitute products that are more cost effective, and finding new products that increase your overall bottom line. You learn which products have high sales volume and low profit margin (like beer), and which have lower sales volume and high profit margins (like pizza). You learn how much you can raise prices or lower prices and how much you have to buy to sustain your overall profit margin.
Marketing, Sales, Business Development Manager
You must constantly – every day – look for new, cost-effective ways to promote your products, your business services, develop strong customer relations, and accommodate customer needs with new products and services. You must learn how to survey your customers and analyze their needs. You must adapt your business plan tactics relative to changing demographics, changing laws and regulations, changing customer types, and new competitive threats. You must become active in community organizations; city, county, and state politics impacting your business; charitable organizations; and you must become a master lobbyist. We fought like tigers to prevent a competitive business from being built a block from our store.
Operations and Facilities Manager
You learn everything there is to know about building codes, fire and safety requirements by federal and state regulatory agencies, insurance requirements and liabilities, refrigerated equipment (like commercial air conditioning) and how it operates, requirements for Americans with Disabilities, requirements for firearms laws, requirements for OSHA, requirements for parking spaces, requirements for bathroom facilities, types of plate glass windows and theft-proof front doors.
You learn about owning commercially zoned property and what you can and can’t do if you are located near a school, church or day care facility. In retail, you learn how to fix your own problems with technology like cash registers, ATM machines, gas pumps, computerized inventory ordering machines, and credit card processing machines.
These are the main skills you will acquire or develop from owning a business. I could write another couple of pages on technology skills, soft skills, and research skills I perfected after owning my own business, but you probably know what those are from your own job skills set. However, if someone tells you that owning your own business is not a real job, your first clue should be – THEY HAVE NO CLUE – and you should move on to smarter pastures.