No matter how you slice it, 2009 was a rough year. I could see it coming. I knew the economy was headed south and that’s never good for someone who makes a living getting people jobs. I spent the latter part of 2008 absorbed in a worry so deep it didn’t even register in the front of my brain.
The first half of the year was the worst of it. There’s nothing like watching more footing fall away as every month ticks by. For over eleven years I had worked for two people I trust to the core. The person I worked closest with in the office was a good friend and I enjoyed her company every day we worked together. I liked the engineers I worked with and I liked my clients. I even felt close to the folks in our Chicago office, even though we’d only seen each other face to face a handful of times. This was not the job I had dreamed about when I was younger, but these people kept me from feeling down about it.
As I said, though, it’s not good to be in staffing when everything heads south. I had made it through a recession before, but we all knew this one was worse. A handful of months into the year, I was laid off. I was still working for the company, but no longer as an employee. I was 100% commission and I kept at it, knowing I could turn it around. I even got hired back for the month of June, which I really appreciate because I know what a stretch it was for Jim and Pam (the owners). After that ended, I made the decision to look for something else. They understood completely and I didn’t realize it then, but that’s when it started to turn around.
I managed to survive based on a couple of things. One is that I had a lot of room on my credit card. When we went short several weeks it was how we got groceries. I’m paying for that now, but it allowed me to get by then. Second, I got unemployment. Not much money in that, but it was something. Third, I was in a reasonable mortgage, the cars were paid for, and other expenses weren’t through the roof (even if it sometimes felt that way). Last, and most importantly, my wife had a steady job with benefits. Beyond that, she always told me I would come out of this just fine. I don’t know what was happening in her head, but all I ever heard was that I wasn’t useless, had what it took to make it, and would find a way to do well again. Thank god for all of it, because I know a lot of people who had a lot less and have been hurt in ways that may never totally heal.
So I went on the hunt for a new job, while still trying to make some money doing the recruiting thing. Where did I go first? Movies of course. Michigan now has a film industry and I saw the chance to take the sales, management, and overall business skills I had earned and put them to work in my original field of choice. Before too long I actually found myself interviewing with companies I found and marketed myself to.
This was where things got snagged. Yes more movies are being made in Michigan but there is not an established industry here yet. What I found were a lot of companies talking about all the great things they could do, but no word on anything they had done. There were a couple promising opportunities, but they were in no place to bring me on board.
So I started looking for any jobs that can use my skills. Let me tell you something; when you’re a sales person and things are bad, 90% of what comes your way sounds like a scam. Another 5% aren’t a good fit. The next 3% you apply for, but you pray you can find something better. The next 1% seem tolerable and the last percent sound like a good deal.
By working through LinkedIn, I found myself with a software firm and a production company offering independent, 100% commission opportunities. I also still had the possibility of recruiting work coming in the door. While pondering all of this, I had a Facebook chat with Todd, who was a friend back from my freshman year at WMU. He asked me why, with my ambitions and knack for networking, wasn’t I just going into business for myself? It was a good question. Later that week I was talking to my cousin, Jonathan, about starting up my own thing like he had done. By the next week, I accepted the two sales opportunities, kept going on the recruiting leads through PRA, even wound up writing some ads freelance for a friend’s company, and sent the paperwork for Trudeau Sales and Consulting LLC to the state. I was now my own business, working out of my home office.
The production firm opportunity dropped off fast. It was probably a good thing considering how hard it was to juggle the other two as time went on. So I was spending half my time on staffing and the other half on selling software. The first several months were an uphill climb, but at least I was doing something. Making it really tough was the fact that we couldn’t afford full time day care yet. I had to pack as much as I could into the morning, go get Evan at noon, do lunch with him, and pray he took a long nap. They were never as long as I hoped and he oftenrefused to sleep for me at all, blowing the second half of the day. When Beth got home, I’d break away for a little longer and see what else I could get done.
This was stressful and I wasn’t making much money doing it. As the end of the year neared, some things started to break. I placed a contractor with a wind power company in Ann Arbor, finally bringing some earned money in. I also started to make some progress with the software sales, though not as much as I wanted. As December neared, I was really feeling the pressure. Unemployment would stop at the end of the year. I didn’t know if I could survive without the little money it brought in.
I tried to not let it get to me, though I know it did. I was more angry than I needed to be. All I could think about was how much wasn’t getting done and how much money wasn’t being made. I was snapping at the kids and Beth way too much. It’s sadly ironic that in order to keep from aiming your frustration at your clients, you wind up blowing it at your family. I’m not saying that I was screaming at them all the time or they lived in fear of me, but I didn’t like how I was acting towards them while at the same time not knowing how to stop. I even got some help to sort that out. My dad often says that Trudeaus don’t get depressed, just angry. It’s sadly true and I started actively working on making that better.
So there I was, a couple weeks left in the year. I felt like I was getting somewhere, but didn’t have a ton of money to show for it. Then something weird happened: my old clients started calling. One had multiple jobs to work on now. One was giving a heads up they were going to open up many positions after the first of the year. I even got an email from a contact I had made, but never done business with, that he was at a new company and wanted my help with a bunch of openings. On top of this, it looked like I was going to finally close on a decent amount of software business.
So the holidays came in with me feeling a bit more confidence and come the week after Christmas, I found myself busy as hell for the first time in forever. I had a decent placement at a client, did close some of those software deals, and made more in the first quarter than I did last year (though that wasn’t a hard target to beat). April also turned out to be my best month of the year. In the end, the software work wasn’t bringing in enough money for the time I committed to it, so I dropped it to focus on the staffing work which was continuing to ramp up.
I’m not out of the woods yet. I’m a week into May with nothing solid closed for this month, but there’s enough activity to keep me confident. I’m actually making it. Between the money I’ve made and the tax refund Uncle Sam delivered, we were able to put in the kitchen Beth had been dreaming of. Though I also enjoy having a modern kitchen my main motivation was to thank her for keeping me from going completely insane through this whole thing. It’s true a good wife keeps your feet on the ground but she can also prop you up when things get too low. She definitely did that for me.
So what’s life like in May 2010? I have to work my butt off for every penny. Things are better, but it’s not like employment is booming quite yet. I have a lot to be thankful for. I have the family I always wanted. Even though I’m independent, I’m working with my old bosses (Jim and Pam) and enjoying it. Today I worked in a Justice League of America shirt, zip up Tigers sweater, and a baseball cap in my home office surrounded by action figures. Working independent means I get to visit my son at school on special days or go grab Evan when he’s sick with little fuss. Sure, I may find myself working at 9pm on a Saturday but the rest makes it alright.
You know what else? I’m also getting things done on the creative side like I haven’t in forever. No details yet, but you’ll probably hear something soon.
From the late Forties to recent times, our country had mostly steady growth over several generations. It led us into a false sense of stability. The world isn’t stable. Your life could be up-ended any day by events completely beyond your control. The only thing you can control is how you respond to it and how you treat the people around you. Concentrating on that is what kept my head above water at my lowest points.