With HR Consultant, Coach and Author
by Eric Wright
Innovators and change agents see opportunity in situations that others find discouraging, if not hopeless. Kathleen Rich-New has spent a large part of her career with companies like Apple Computer and Silicon Graphics, helping people transition through layoffs and job changes. While leading her own company, when the Shuttle program ended she swung into action and realized that mid-career people all over the country were trying to figure out what to do next in a changing market. Her answer is her new book, Plan B, The Real Deal Guide to Creating Your Business, which explains among other things, “Why your ‘why’ must be bigger than your ‘but’.”
SCB: What drew you to the Human Resources side of business?
KRN: The more classes I took in both high school and college showed me I had a desire and an aptitude for helping people. Plus, I was drawn to understand the processes that would enhance people’s job satisfaction and job performance, which really means a happier person and a better company.
SCB: What are the most surprising things you have discovered about HR that perhaps most people don’t know?
KRN: Well first of all, most executives spend far too much time dealing with people problems, which they often find draining and a distraction from strategic planning and the initiatives that make a company grow. Secondly, and this is something I saw as I moved into career/professional coaching, the struggle is an essential part of the developmental process. My job isn’t to illuminate the struggle, but to help people see beyond it.
SCB: Please explain.
KRN: I once had the privilege of watching sea turtles hatch. As they dug their way through the sand and started towards the beach, I went to pick one up and carry it to the shoreline. But our guide explained that if you place the infant turtle in the water immediately, it will drown. The struggle to make it to the ocean gives them the strength and stamina to swim. People are no different.
SCB: What inspired or motivated you to write your book, and what do you mean by ‘Plan B’?
KRN: I was inspired primarily by working with KSC workers who had been laid off as a result of the Shuttle program ending. These were people who planned to work at the same job, earning the same salary until they retired and suddenly they were faced with unemployment. If you are 45 or older, good luck, because age discrimination is alive and well. Many companies are hiring new college grads that are full of stamina, up on the latest technology and will work for a fraction of what the middle aged employee was making. Some job ads actually say, “Don’t apply if you are unemployed.”
SCB: So “Plan B” is…?
KRN: It is your next career after you’re fired, laid off, down-sized or outsourced. I am not just talking about the people who know they are vulnerable; I am especially talking to people who think they won’t be vulnerable. They are the ones that are traumatized the most. For example, I have interviewed a number of airline employees whose companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and were able to walk away from their promised pensions and healthcare. One pilot I interviewed lost $1.3 million from his pension after working 23 years. Poof! It was gone. Everyone should have a Plan B.
SCB: What are the major challenges in developing a Plan B?
KRN: There are several, and the most obvious is dealing with denial. I saw this at the Space Center – some people kept maintaining the false hope that something was going to happen to enable them to keep their job. The second is addressing your fears; it is what I call making your ‘why’ bigger than your ‘but.’
KRN: In starting a business you have to keep your focus on why you are building this business, i.e. you are taking control of your life, your sanity and your financial future versus all the ‘buts’ that say why you can’t.
SCB: What are the other challenges?
KRN: Finding a business that plays to your strengths, because it will take time and follow-through to create a successful and profitable business. It isn’t just doing what you love; it is doing something you love or are good at that you can make money doing. Also, many people don’t realize it may take two, three or more years before they make a profit; that means they have to find ways to support themselves and their businesses until they start making money…and remember banks don’t loan money for first round start-ups.
SCB: So your Plan B focuses on starting businesses?
SCB: If those are challenges, what would you say are the Plan B options?
KRN: There are many. You can start a business that doesn’t exist, which is where I got my Plan B experience. Or you can buy an existing business, which if done properly can reduce risk, but can require a sizable investment. Franchising is one of the best ways to start a business, as franchises usually have established systems of training, sales, operations and finance. Another great option, which is perhaps the best for minimizing initial investment and enabling you to work at it part-time, is a network marketing business, like Avon or Shaklee.
SCB: Let’s say I know I am a candidate for a Plan B. Where do I start?
KRN: By reading my book (laughing)! Kidding aside, it will give you the good, the bad and the ugly about each of these four options. Success begins with asking the right questions and the book will help you identify what those questions are. It is also best to find a mentor who is in a business that is similar to the type you want to create, who has already figured out how to be successful. You’ll need coaching on how to ensure your idea is strong enough.
SCB: How do you go about figuring that out?
KRN: All successful businesses either solve or eliminate pain or they bring pleasure – those are the two fundamental motivations that people operate in. If you can eliminate someone’s pain by providing a service, whether that is a walk-in medical clinic or accounting services, you will have business. If you provide pleasure – e.g. a great meal, a meaningful shopping experience or a great opportunity – you will have a successful business.
SCB: What are the keys of a successful business besides the pain/pleasure scenario?
KRN: I have found the top three ingredients are: 1) Market trends. You want to ensure the market is growing or is at least stable. Three examples that have remained strong for decades are pets, weight loss and anti-aging. 2) Profit margins. You are in it to make money. If you have a low cost offering you will have to sell a lot. With a high cost and profit margin, you can sell fewer, but the buying cycle is longer. The bottom line is, pardon the pun, if you don’t make a profit you’re out of business. 3) Consumable. The faster they use your product or service up the better. McDonald’s and Starbucks have that figured out.
SCB: Okay, what other questions should a Plan B’er be asking?
KRN: I have a sort of checklist and here are three examples: 1) What will you offer that relieves pain or brings pleasure? It needs to be practical and able to withstand competition. 2) Who will buy it and how will you market to them? Your target market must be growing or at least stable. Consider where they are located; a take-out sandwich shop needs to be within a few miles or convenient for their customers. 3) What more can you offer your established clients? For instance a cleaning business could also offer carpet cleaning, pool maintenance or lawn care. If you have client trust, use it.
SCB: How do I know if I will succeed?
KRN: The obvious answer is you don’t, but you can dramatically increase your probability of success by learning to match your business to your skills, personality and lifestyle. You can learn from the mistakes and rabbit trails of others, particularly me. There are many who can invest in you, as you invest in books, seminars and training.
Remember there are lots of second acts in America; you can get rich doing something new.
A respected author and speaker, Eric Wright is the assignment editor for SpaceCoast Business magazine.