Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marsha Haygood: How to move from a corporate job to being an entrepreneur

Second Life Profile:  Marsha Haygood

In her first life, Marsha Haygood, currently of StepWise Associates, spent more than 25 years as a corporate executive most recently as VP of human resources and administration for New Line Cinema, a division of Time Warner.  She developed a talent for listening to employees, understanding their needs and offering them solutions and a plan for pursuing a more fulfilling work life.  But then Marsha starting listening to herself and realized that she wanted to work with less senior people and minorities, a segment where there was a serious lack of mentorship.  So Marsha came up with her own second lives plan that was much more detailed and thought out than a simple everyday “to do” list….. 

Know when it’s time to make a change

Will Smith & Marsha at the Oscars
I started to believe my own press release.  That’s when I knew I needed to make a change with my life and my career.  Look, I had a great job; I held a position that was bicoastal with an unlimited budget.  I went to the Oscars every year, never had to pay to go see a movie and I was making lots of money but I realized that my core values were being compromised.  I was working with mostly male executives in an industry where even the mail room workers had egos.  The people who really needed my help weren’t the ones I was helping.  It began to all feel a bit immoral.

Shape a detailed plan

I started to build my new business informally first while still at my corporate job but on my own time.  I had to decide whether to sign on with an already established agency or go it on my own.  So I met with counselors, backers, employment agencies, women business leaders. I did my research and found there would be too many restrictions working under someone else’s overhead.  I also found out the pitfalls of launching a company on your own.  Why recreate someone else’s mistakes when I could learn from them?  So if I was going to create my own solo business, then I had a lot more to think about and I came up with five areas that seemed the most challenging to me.

Conquer The Fearful Fives or Five Things You Need to Consider When Leaving a Corporate Job and Becoming a Solo Entrepreneur

1.  Finance
I asked myself how much money did I really need to get my company off the ground and what did I need it for?  So I put a budget together and was able to bank my whole paycheck for a year before I left my job to see if our family could live without it and to have it as a cushion for my startup business.  I started shopping my closet and made a few other sacrifices but I was able to do it.  I realize not everyone can do what I did but you need to have some savings put away before you start because you won't be making any or enough money to live on right away.

2.  Benefits
Of course I would lose my company benefits when I left my job.  I was fortunate though because I could go on my husband’s health plan.  It was still going to be more expensive so I did something else.  I became more knowledgeable about what my yearly medical expenses really cost and whether or not I needed a whole plan or a lower priced major medical one.  You can lose sight of this when you have your employer picking up most of your health care tab.

3.  Technology
I had two assistants in my corporate job.  Trust me bringing in the Geek Squad just isn’t the same thing.  So I needed to step up my technology know-how because there was a lot I didn’t bother paying attention to.  Technology can take the place of some of the functions an admin would have performed for you in the past and you won’t be able to hire one at least right away.  So I figured out what I knew and what I didn’t and who I could go to for help.  I barter for some of these services, i.e., I will coach someone in exchange for her helping me build my Facebook page.

4.  Solo Brand
You need to build your own self brand; you’re solo now.  I was no longer identifying myself as Marsha Haygood, New Line Cinema.  It was now Marsha Haygood, StepWise Associates.  Who?  With no big name after yours, people will think you can't help or be of service to them anymore.  You have to be ready for that and not take it personally.  I also had to be ready for those who I thought were my friends and had my back but who never bothered to call me back.  And then others I wasn’t that close to that reached out to me and sent me referrals.  So you have to be willing to revamp your roster.   Learning whom you can depend on and whom you can’t in the end is a good thing.

5.  Perkless
That’s what you are now.  I was no longer able to have access to the nice little perks of a corporate job.  I had to start paying for movies, no more Oscars.  If I wanted a break from the office to meet with clients or attend a conference, guess who was now going to have to pay?  So instead of a lunch meeting that you had been reimbursed for, you have to start thinking about meeting for a coffee.  It’s more of an adjustment than you think.

Kickstart your startup plan

Aside from the basic marketing tactics on how to get clients, a lot of how I got started was serendipitous.   For example, I didn’t know much about the business and financial ends of starting my own company.  I was attending an entertainment conference while still at my company job and I met a journalist.  We hit it off and I told him of my plans.  In a follow-up meeting, he convinced me that I needed to consider some sales training.  So I attended a Dale Carnegie course, participated in webinars on selling, read books on the best selling practices and it made all the difference.  I now continue to read at least a book a year on the topic.

Also as part of my separation package from New Line Cinema, I negotiated services with an outplacement firm. My counselor led the entrepreneur practice.  She required and motivated me to write my business plan as a way to document my dream and to better see the potential obstacles.  In one particular session I distinctly recall she told me to think bigger and consider writing a book as a way to get my name out there.  Right after that meeting I had lunch with a friend who knew about a book project on leadership and the publisher was looking for contributing authors. That’s how I wound up writing a chapter for Speaking of Success along with bestselling author Steven Covey. From there I became involved with two co-authors on my second book, The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women.

And you never stop marketing to and renewing your client list.  I speak at conferences and online teleseminars, do book signings, blog on Huffington Post and recently I was one of three coaches selected by Essence magazine for a three part series mentoring and coaching women who needed a job jolt.  I believe in mentoring ….both ways.  I recommend and have mentors 15 years older and 15 years younger then me.  That way I feel I am always covered.

Consider the whole family unit

My husband is my best friend and together we have four sons who are all now living outside our household.  He worked in transportation for the NY Transit Authority and retired 20 years ago just as he was starting his own travel agency, Haygood Travel

So I asked myself what I ask my clients:  what do you want your end result to be.  In our case we wanted to be able to work from home and a warm climate to spend half of our time in.  We looked at the Caribbean as a possible location but phone and computer service seemed to be unreliable at the time.  We decided on Florida and built our house a year ahead of my corporate retirement.  Try and get a mortgage when you’re not taking a salary!  We have two offices, one on either end of the house with an intercom system.  Sometimes we break for lunch together and sometimes not depending on work loads but dinner is always for the two of us.

Assess your status regularly

I do a self audit twice a year in June and December.  I am six years into my business, StepWise Associates, now and I can tell you I work as hard now as before but I work differently. My to-do list is still big, but it’s all mine.  I can plan ahead more easily since I alone control my workload and schedule and not some corporate milestone chart.  I regulate my personal time; last year I took a month off for a cruise in Asia.  I make one day a week my administration day and I keep my weekends free.

I am excited everyday because I am living my dream although currently I'm not reaching my financial goals.  Coaching individuals is in my comfort zone and I wanted it to be 80% and 20% corporate executives.  I've learned that that split isn't as lucrative as I would like and am planning to try a 50-50 one between the two groups this year.

I look at it this way.  Travel is one of my personal goals.  I’m making less money but my husband owns a travel agency where we can take advantage of some of his perks.  In fact this spring we’ve organized a Self Empowerment Getaway Cruise to Bermuda for women to explore options and next steps in their careers while onboard.  So in a couple of weeks I’ll be sailing off into the sunset with a group of  clients and friends.  I guess you can have it all when you work solo as long as you are willing to redefine "it".  Wish me bon voyage.


  1. This is a wonderful recounting of a smooth transition from corporate job to self-employment ... with the benefit of planning, outplacement, a second income and a year of salary set aside. Oh, but that they were all this smooth! Unfortunately, we have many accidental entrepreneurs these days trying to sort things out as they go. Their Fearful Fives rapidly become their Terrifying Tens!

  2. This is a great read for anyone looking at that transition. I moved from the corporate world to entrepreneurship myself about 8 years ago and am so glad that I did!

  3. It is always fearful to make a leap from the familiar to anything new but making a "just in case" plan before you need it helps you quiet some of your fears and helps you think through the small steps you can take to work through them. Asking yourself: What are the things that I fear the most? What is the worst that can happen? And what steps would I take if it did happen? helps you to begin making a plan to start putting in order the things that you will need.