Escaping the entrepreneurial stigma: How the self-employed can return to the belly of the beast

It took Alina Berdichevsky six months to find a job, even though she was previously a successful business owner.

A marketing major who grew disillusioned, she trained as a life coach after graduating from university.

For eight years, she ran her own business. But when she turned 30 last year, she realised how burnt out she was.

“I was looking for a bit more stability,” she tells SmartCompany. “It was time for a change.”

Berdichevsky had experience in customer service, writing, strategic marketing, and all the other facets of business sole-traders have to pick up to survive.

Nonetheless, she couldn’t find a job.

“What I learnt is that the recruitment process follows a formula,” she says. “(It puts) people’s jobs progress in boxes. I didn’t fit into a junior position, and I couldn’t fit into a senior one.”

She tried to stay positive and focused on the roles where she thought she could make an impact. Finally Trudy Gilbert, an old business associate, gave her a call. Gilbert was starting up a new executive matchmaking service, and she wanted someone to handle the marketing. She thought Berdichevsky would be great for the role.

“Trudy is an entrepreneur herself,” Berdichevsky says. “She understands what I can bring, and is a lot more free-flowing and intuitive. She didn’t have this hierarchical idea in her head.”

Today, Berdichvesky is the brand manager for Ruby Radar, and very happy for it.

Yesterday, SmartCompany revealed the huge difficulties the formerly self-employed have in finding work if they decide to move away from running their own business. Overqualified for entry-level roles and under-qualified for jobs in management, entrepreneurs are often seen by large businesses as unable to work in a corporate environment, unwilling to follow corporate guidelines, and out of date in their knowledge.

SmartCompany spoke to several entrepreneurs who have had trouble making the leap. But of the ones who’ve succeeded, some common threads emerge.

Entrepreneurial companies hire like-minded people

It appears no one is better placed to value and respect what former sole traders and entrepreneurs can bring to their business than entrepreneurs themselves.

Brendon Booth, a founder and owner of recruitment firm pb Human Capital, tells SmartCompany that given a choice between hiring someone who’d owned their own business, and someone who’d spent their career working for other people, he would always pick the business owner.

An entrepreneur himself, Booth says the understanding of cash-flow that former entrepreneurs can bring to business is a godsend. But he admits most recruiters would not share his position.

Philippa Lowe went form managing her own PR agency to working in marketing and public relations for Red Balloon. Now self-employed again, she says working in an entrepreneurial culture at Red Balloon was a large part of why she was successful in the role.

“When I started at Red Balloon, I said I couldn’t have worked anywhere else. I don’t think anyone who’s worked for themselves can go back into 9-5 job, unless they can lobotomise the part of their brain that looks to improve things,” she tells SmartCompany.

“My skills as an entrepreneur were recognised because the founder of Red Balloon, Naomi Simson, is herself an entrepreneur. It was very ‘well, what else can you bring to the table?’ The beauty of small and medium businesses is that everyone isn’t so constrained by their job description.”

Berdichevsky concurs, saying that her experience left her pretty jaded with the traditional job-search methods.

“The traditional job-hiring route for an entrepreneur will never work. You just don’t fit into the box people are looking for. But there is a company out there looking for your personality and skills… Just put yourself out there in the same way you did when building your business. You need the human touch to vouch for you.”

Keep your options open

John Caldwell, the CEO of retail recruitment firm RWR Group, says the reason he doesn’t hire many entrepreneurs is simply because he fears their knowledge is out of date with the field they want to work in.

Most entrepreneurs start passion businesses, he says, and spend years learning a broad range of skills while not keeping up with the specialist roles they need to fit into a corporate position.

“If there’s any chance you’ll want to return to your field, do something to make sure you stay relevant,” he says. “It could be reading industry magazines, going to networking forums, taking online courses.

“People take breaks from time to time. But we always try to educate people to be very careful.”

This article continues on page 2.


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