By Biff Matthews
You are a prosperous merchant level salesperson (MLS) working with a thriving ISO that has a strong and successful bank as its primary sponsor. At least you were.
The bank didn't fare well on the recent U.S. Treasury Department's stress test and, truth be known, is on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s watch list - an unenviable distinction that, according to the FDIC, applies to 252 banks (3 percent of the total banks it covers).
Worse, your ISO, while still in reasonably good financial shape, is instituting draconian cost-cutting measures, including restructuring compensation, making layoffs and reducing its number of MLSs.
Month after month, you've brought in consistently profitable new accounts. You are not among the top 10 percent of the company's producers, but are far from the bottom 50 percent. You've done everything the company asked and have met your quotas; yet one day you find yourself jobless.
It's little consolation that you have plenty of company: Since this recession began, 5.7 million jobs have disappeared, leaving 8.9 percent of Americans without work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Businesses are widely expected to eliminate an additional 2 million jobs before the economy starts growing again and the unemployment rate begins to normalize.
The solutions you are about to read are not revolutionary. You are familiar with these ideas. But just as in sales, we all need an occasional refresher; those who are newly unemployed need reminders and support.
First and foremost, remember you are a successful salesperson. It's an identity you worked hard to establish, and nothing can change that.
Second, take a deep breath, and take stock of your new reality. That reality is that you actually do have a job - and it has the ultimate payoff. Finding another job is now your job, and the big payoff is landing a great-paying sales (or other) position that matches your skills and experience.
Assess your current situation, lifestyle, responsibilities, income, expenses and resources. Consult your spouse and even your children if they are old enough to understand. Work together to create a one-month, three-month and six-month plan for the unlikely event you remain without a position for that long. It's better to act with a plan than react without one.
Act quickly to reduce expenses, ensuring you have sufficient resources to enact your six-month plan, should it become necessary. If you have a personal financial planner or other trusted advisors, ask for their input on your plan to minimize the impact on your long-term financial goals.
As you seek counsel, consider that you are truly at a "fork in the road" and uniquely positioned to determine the next direction you take. Do you want to continue to sell bankcard processing and related services? Sell something else? Change to an entirely different profession? Or perhaps pursue an entrepreneurial venture you've long talked about?
In that regard, your local college or university has tools to help assess your strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes. There are numerous online resources as well.
Speaking of colleges, after-hours college courses present excellent opportunities for job seekers. Night classes are filled with working professionals and often taught by business professionals. These individuals have their fingers on the pulses of their respective companies, and they interact with their counterparts at other firms.
Spending time in the classroom with such people means simultaneously expanding your skill base and your network - an excellent investment of your time.
Use every resource available in choosing the right path. If owning your own business is your goal, use nonprofit organizations such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
A Resource Partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE can provide valuable guidance. Another exceptional resource is Aileron, an Ohio-based, nonprofit organization created to help business owners lead and manage their companies.
Whatever the direction you take, take on your next role in earnest. As an accomplished professional, shyness is not your issue. So, enlist everyone you know within your industry or field of choice to let them know you are actively seeking a position, along with mentioning your key assets and the contributions you can make.
What you're in now is the ultimate sales position, and the "spider effect" applies: reach out to one person who reaches out to two more, which then becomes four connections and so on.
Answer the following questions:
Wherever the answers lead, be there with your best foot forward (and shine those shoes), personal business cards in hand and resumes discretely available.
Just as there are formal networking organizations for exchanging leads and ideas, there are similar organizations for exchanging opportunities and support in the job-searching arena.
Join one, and if one does not exist, use your communication and organizational skills to create one. An informal breakfast or late evening group meeting once a week will bear fruit for all who join, but particularly for you.
Just as you did in your past position, reach out to those who can benefit from your skill set, experience and whatever else you have to contribute. Your job today is finding that right job where you can make the most significant contribution - and be commensurately rewarded.
While this may sound counter to your goal, don't be hasty in accepting an offer. Keep an open mind, and make sure the position is right for your family's future and your career. The fork in the road has tines that are just as capable of causing harm as they are of providing your best opportunity for success and a new adventure.
Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc., the parent company of CardWare International, based in Heath, Ohio. He is one of 12 founding members of the Electronic Transactions Association, serving on its board, advisory board and committees. Call him at 740-522-2150, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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