Employee to Entrepreneur

Downsized Too Many Times, Now an Entrepreneur!

Nancy Spruel suffered through downsizing a few times before deciding to become an entrepreneur. Her business, Wholesale Spa Source, sounds like a great business. We asked her a few questions about how she went from being an employee to being an entrepreneur.

If you get downsized a few times, maybe the world is trying to tell you something.

After falling victim to three layoffs in the struggling garment industry, Nancy ended up being on her own...running a business.

She's done well for herself, and was nice enough to share a few lessons learned with us.

Nancy, what type of firm were you working at when you were let go? How long had you been doing that type of job?

I was working as a Senior Production Manager in the garment industry. I was let go 3 times in 5 years due to downsizing each time.

Each time my position was eliminated from the company. I was always the top person in my department below a VP, with the biggest package (salary + benefits). So, when cutbacks needed to be made, I was the most logical one to be cut.

I was in the industry for approximately 20 years. I was at one job 11 years, another 2 ½ years, and the other just a little over a year. I left the last position in August 2006

You've got your own company now, right? What is it and what do you do there?

I own Wholesale Spa Source, which is a green sales rep group in the spa, wellness, beauty, and accessories industries.

We represent eco-friendly, all-natural, organic, vegan, recycled, & fair trade skincare, bath & body, cosmetics, tea, candles, yoga accessories, fashion accessories, etc. to mainly the spa & wellness industry as well as hotels, resorts, boutiques, etc. I own the company, sell products, and am in the process of hiring and managing a sales force allover the country. I also clean the toilets.

I also own another business, WholesaleProductRep.com, where I sell an e-manual for small businesses and handcrafters advising them how to wholesale their products. I also consult businesses on the same subject.

Once I started representing some small businesses, we all realized that I knew more about wholesale than they did due to my 20 years working between factories and retailers. Thus, WholesaleProductRep.com concept was born... it is where I started in March 2007, but Wholesale Spa Source is my main business these days. However, I love working with small businesses to help them succeed!

That's great! So, I'm curious, why did you decide to become an entrepreneur instead of simply looking for another job?

This is an interesting question.

I didn't choose becoming an entrepreneur, it chose me.

After being downsized 3 times in 5 years, and watching my industry drastically change over the years, my whole heart wasn't in to go back. However, I didn't know what else to do. I didn't think I wanted to work for myself.

At the end of 6 months, as my unemployment insurance was running out, a casual friend, who also owned a handmade skin & body care line that I was passionate about, called me and asked me to handle her wholesale business, as she was too busy with her retail business.

We both thought it would be a temporary situation until I found a job. After a couple of other friends found out what I was doing, they asked me to represent them as well. After a few weeks, one of the friends, who is a renowned marketing/web consultant, convinced me that I needed to start my own business revolving around selling beauty products and consulting handcrafters how to do the sell wholesale.

She offered to set me up with a website (for free!..that might have been the determining factor). Thus, I became an entrepreneur. If you would have asked me 2 years ago, I would have told you I would never work for myself or have my own company. Now I can't imagine anything else.

Did you buy a business or start a business from scratch? Which do you think is the better approach?

I started from scratch.

I think it depends on the type of individual the entrepreneur is. Those challenged with organizational skills might find it more beneficial to buy an existing business.

Lack of customer base is also a drawback to starting from scratch, so it depends on how much of a go-getter the person is.

However, buying a business takes money, and sometimes you do not know problems within the infrastructure that have not been revealed before. When you purchase a business there is also the issue of taking on the already existing team of employees.

A friend of mine bought a business and inherited a team of employees who were hostile because they had loved the previous owner and had not been told about the sale until the last minute. This can impact the efficiency/productivity of the business, as well as be an unpleasant situation all around...and can sabotage the new business owner and the business.

By building a business from scratch, you can handpick your own team and systems instead of inheriting ones that might not be working so well. On the other hand, sometimes you 'inherit' pure geniuses that can help your business thrive.

Great points. How did you decide what kind of business to go into?

When I was laid off, my girlfriends all encouraged me to follow my skin care passion. I have been a skin care 'junkie' since I was in my teens.

I am always passionate about enabling my girlfriends to whatever new skincare product I am most passionate about. I am the 'go to girl' of my friends for skin care issues and products...they literally used to bring women over to me at parties and say, "This girl needs a 'consultation'." They suggested I become an 'image consultant' for women and their skin...recommending specific regimes and products for their best skin health.

The idea was interesting, but as I told them, I had no idea how to go about doing that. As I said, based on my passion for a line I was buying at the time, and my vivacious personality as well as how much I bragged about her products on a skincare forum I was involved in, she asked me to represent her products.

So, it was really because someone else recognized my passion and my skills and pointed it out to me... same with the consulting.. it was because of my friend's encouragement that I started consulting... I would never have done it otherwise...but an expert told me I had the skills needed, so I believed I could do it. I decided to have pure, blind faith...and I still do!

There's a lot to be said for blind faith! I'm sure owning a business is very different from your days as an employee. Talk about some of the differences between being an employee versus being a business owner. What do you miss? What don't you miss?

I miss having co-workers around. I currently work from a home-office. I miss running into people in the kitchen or having conversations, chit-chat around our cubicles....human interaction, small talk, etc.

I miss having an "on location", full time, IT department! Nothing drives me crazier than computer problems that I can't figure out myself. (This is where it's good to have friends).

I miss 'structure' sometimes... sometimes being in a work environment keeps a person more disciplined. I miss the candy and baked goodies left in the kitchen for everyone to eat...although my hips do not; however, I have not noticed any weight loss due to not working in a company.

I miss meetings. I know this is crazy, but I miss regular meetings where brainstorming is done. I meet with clients to sell, but all of my brainstorming work is done by phone.

I miss having a big (company) name behind my name when I call retailers.

I miss international work & travel, which I do not need to do (yet) for my current work...but which can always be fulfilled on a personal level.

I miss relying on other's expertise in areas I am not familiar with... I have had to teach myself a lot in a lot of other areas...after all, I'm now the HR, PR, Accounting, IT, and other departments.

I miss the company Christmas party, free coffee & milk, and 3 weeks paid vacation. I miss a regular paycheck & benefits (independent health insurance is a fortune)...this is a biggie.

I do not miss nasty or manipulative people. I once worked for a company where the president threw a garment at someone in my first week and had a mouth worse than a truck driver...there's a lot of that in the industry I come from.

I do not miss long hours working to put money in someone else's pocket. While I still work equally long hours, there is a different mentality and energy to it when it is for yourself and not for someone else.

I do not miss being overworked and underappreciated... working 12-16 hour days and being asked why something else still didn't get done.

I do not miss inter-office politics... but there are always politics no matter where you go or what you do.

I do not miss having to take ½ day off because I need to go to the doctor.

What advice would you give to somebody who is leaving the life of working for a company to go out on their own?

Discipline. Have lots of self discipline. This is a problem I have struggled with, and which I know a lot of small business owners struggle with.

Be organized. Have a system, follow it.. and keep good records.

Be flexible. Things can't always happen exactly as you want them. Things can't always happen within the working budget you have.

Plan realistically, not idealistically. Things will almost never happen as fast as you want or expect them to. If you think something will take a year, plan on 18 months (or more)...if it happens faster, that's fine, but at least you are ahead of schedule and not behind.

If you aren't passionate about it, don't do it. Find what you are passionate about pursue that...if you are starting your own company, you plan to be doing this for a long time.

On that same note, make sure there is a market for what you are going to do. If you are entering an already flooded market, chances are you will not succeed.

Don't go out on your own unless you plan on success! Do not be afraid to fail.. sometimes our biggest failures lead to our greatest successes.

Spend wisely...you don't know how long it will be until you are turning a profit.

Talk about what you are doing to everyone you know and everyone you meet. Also, put yourself out there. Be at every event you can...you never know when you might meet someone who can change your whole business.

Find a mentor. I have a couple, and they get me through the day sometimes, especially on Fridays after a week of unreturned phone calls & emails. In this regard, websites for start up businesses (and their forums) are very helpful. I find Start Up Nation and Ladies Who Launch two of my favorites.

Don't take things personally... especially if you are an inventor, creator of a product...not everyone is going to love your product. Learn to use the feedback to make improvements.

Persistence... never stop believing...as Guy Kawasaki said in a webinar I watched, "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it...even the experts."

Wow, that is a ton of phenomenal advice! Anything else you'd care to share with us regarding the transition from being laid off to starting a business?

It's harder than one thinks some days... it is not as glamorous as they make it seem...and you will need to become a 'Jack-of-all-trades'.

In most cases, this is both a 'promotion' and 'demotion'... you are now the top boss, but you also have to do the filing, answer the phones, and clean the toilet. I listened to the owner of one my lines say that the day before she had been at an eco-mansion touring with a celebrity and in the same day she was at the hardware store buying drill bits and had been on a flight to a trade show that evening.

It is very rewarding though... to live your passion doing something you love... as they say, I don't feel that I work at all. I am also very rewarded by the fact that what I do benefits the planet and the people on it as well... another passion of mine.

Nancy, thanks so much for doing this interview. I know that your advice is going to be very helpful to a lot of people.

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Don't give up hope if you've been downsized. Starting a business may be your way out. Follow Nancy's great advice and you should do just fine. We welcome your comments, tips and advice below. Thanks!

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