NOTE FROM ELIZABETH: Every Heartspoken Life is unique, and it has been my honor to meet many smart, interesting, caring, generous women and men through my online activities who exemplify the Heartspoken Life in their own way. Today’s guest, Sue Painter, is one of them. She and I are among those folks who have had an entrepreneurial “itch” they’ve needed to scratch — a gentle tug on our soul that calls us to serve others through our own business, whether that is for-profit or non-profit, online or offline. We’ve both known men and women who decided, sometimes well after retirement, that they wanted something different…something more.
Here is Sue’s personal story, and if you, too, feel that tug on your heartstrings to start your own business, even a side hustle, sign up for her newsletter and join one of her offerings. She has equipped hundreds of clients of all ages to follow their entrepreneurial dreams with integrity, passion, and confidence. Meet The Confident Marketer.
Almost 20 years ago now I walked away from a six-figure corporate job that gave me international recognition. It was a senior management position for an international research Institute. I had a staff of 52 people. I had a corner office with not one but three administrative assistants outside my door. I traveled for business all over the United States and sometimes to Europe.
I loved my work. it required a great deal of creativity, strong management skills, the ability to successfully pitch proposals and get them funded, and excellent communication skills. I worked long hours and I enjoyed the vast majority of the work I did.
So what happened that I was willing to walk away from that income and from a position I had worked very hard to obtain?
1. My health suffered
As this position became more demanding, my health began to diminish. I was working very long hours, sometimes 70 to 80 hours a week. There was no time to cook or eat healthily, no time to exercise. I was often on the road. The last year I held this position, I was away from home for more than 230 nights. I had slowly become exhausted.
My husband and I built a new home on a lake. After 9 months of building it we moved in, and I left the next day for 5 days on the road. I am not domestic. I did not miss cooking, shopping or cleaning. I wouldn’t care if I never did laundry again. But I did miss time with my husband and the dogs. I missed being able to sit on our screened porch and overlook the lake. I felt like I had very little time to relax or to feed my soul.
2. Part of me was unfulfilled
While I loved my work, and I delighted in finding solutions to the pressing issues that our clients presented to us, part of me was unfulfilled. My past training included music, psychology, and community development. I am an avid reader. I love going to the beach. My husband and I enjoy our social life with friends. I had little time for any of this. I missed playing music, I missed playing with my dogs, I missed time with my husband.
3. I saw the toll overwork was taking on my colleagues
My work offered me close relationships with my colleagues, who were bright, funny, and wonderful to work with. Over time, I began to see that overwork was taking its toll not only on me but on many of my colleagues as well.
A few of my colleagues decided to drop out, finding the pace too demanding. But most of us put up with the long hours as just a part of the job. The intellectual stimulation was wonderful…demanding, yes, but also exciting and fulfilling.
I knew that if I came to my office and unlocked the building at 4:30 or 5 AM, I would likely not be the first one there. One man in particular, who was a brilliant researcher, almost always would be working at the other end of the hall from me. One day I came to work to find that, wanting to quit and feeling as if he couldn’t, he had committed suicide. I mourned the loss of such a brilliant person, one who left a wife and two small children. I thought about his suicide a lot. One day I realized that to him it was the only honorable way out.
In the meanwhile, I saw a few other of my colleagues begin to “sick out” with exhaustion, heart disease, or depression. Their symptoms included severe migraines and weight gain. One day, as I unlocked the building door at 5 a.m., I realized that I had to leave. Otherwise, I was going to be the next person who developed a severe physical health issue.
4. I wanted to go back to direct, one-on-one work
By this time, although my husband had a professional and managerial position elsewhere, I was making well over half of our income. It was very hard to decide what to do because I did not want us to financially suffer.
Before I had this corporate job, I had worked in a professional position which allowed me to work with people one-on-one. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the directness of it… the sense of seeing them make changes that helped them… the lack of bureaucracy.
Slowly, I began to think of finding a way to work for myself. My husband and I were interested in antiques and vintage objects—and the travel that went with that—and we had talked about building a small business on the side.
I kept thinking about all the people I worked with who needed respite. We needed a place to unwind. We needed a place to take the pressure off. We needed ways to get more in touch with ourselves again. In the process of finding ways to ease my aching body after weeks of travel, I had begun getting massage therapy. I started thinking about chucking the corporate life – all the travel and the great financial security that went with it. I started thinking about becoming a massage therapist.
I thought about this for almost 18 months, weighing the pros and cons. before I finally decided to leave. I handed in my resignation and walked out the door. Because I worked in a secure industry, I knew the decision was final and irreversible.
A few weeks later I started a year-long massage therapy program that was 95 miles from my home in a nearby city. I commuted almost 200 miles a day 5 days a week for a solid year. I came home, studied for my boards, and got my state license to practice.
I decided to open my own business rather than go to work at a spa. I wanted to do medical massage therapy. My college education and master’s degree had given me the medical and anatomical background I needed, but I wanted to specialize in some way.
So, I took a leap of faith. I marketed myself as someone who knew clinical massage therapy. I marketed myself directly to the physicians and dentists who were in the nearby medical arts building, inviting them to send me their worst, most pain-laden patients. It took a while, but slowly I built up a practice and began to receive a very steady flow of referrals from the physicians. Then, I began to receive word of mouth referrals from my massage clients themselves.
Making the change from employee to business owner
Becoming the owner of my own business was a transition. I needed mentoring and coaching to be successful at it. I had good transferable skills, but it was very different having my own business. There was no one outside my door to take care of all the details for me. On any given day I might market, work with a massage client, and scrub the toilets.
My goal was to be profitable from the very first month., and I did that! I barely covered my cost for the first three months, but I never lost a dime. Within 18 months, because I made the critical transition in my head from employee to business owner, I was highly profitable and was myself booked with massage clients over a year in advance.
I grew the business and kept the massage clinic for 14 years, eventually selling it to one of my employees. From that experience, I learned the key lessons to take me into my current work.
I now own The Confident Marketer (confidentmarketer.com), where I help other entrepreneurs make the transition from thinking of themselves as an employee to thinking of themselves as a business owner. I teach my clients how to make decisions based on thinking of their business first, rather than what they specialize in. Changing your mindset from an employee to a business owner is the most critical thing you can do in order to have an ongoing sustainable financially successful business. I call this cultivating the CEO mindset, and I offer a monthly membership, the CEO Circle Community, for women entrepreneurs. You can check that out at confidentmarketer.com/ceo-circle.
Owning your own business brings challenges, for sure. It takes commitment. But the freedom I have to arrange my schedule as I like it, or travel when we want to, or change things around to better serve my customers means everything to me. I left my successful corporate work to find my own best life, to give myself challenging work but also peace of mind. I often say that going off to create my own businesses was hard work, but it gave me my life back.
I think we all face the challenge of finding ways to live from our own soul yet be in service to others. It’s an ongoing process, and for me, it’s the marrow of life.
Sue Painter is the founder of The Confident Marketer, which provides training and consulting to small business owners for content and social media marketing, brand clarity, and email marketing. Since 2006 Sue has coached and consulted with business owners across the US and around the world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connect with Sue:
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/confidentmarketer