Career Transformation Specialist and Success Trainer – Mentor, Isabell Estes
Isabell Estes is the founder of Encore WorkLife. Prior to establishing Encore WorkLife, she was a franchisee and business coach for The Entrepreneur’s Source for 10 years and co-founded a volunteer organization called The Career Transitions Group of Oklahoma, a support group for professionals caught in the crossroads of sudden unemployment. She also had her own public relations and marketing consultancy called Estes Communications. Her corporate life was in marketing and public relations for Tele-Communications Inc., Tulsa Public Schools and TV Guide. She and her husband presently own the EnviroMaster franchise for Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
She has received many awards including the 2009 Women in Business Champion from the Oklahoma SBA, the 2013 Women Empowered by Business Crystal Award and the 2013 Marketing Trend Setter Award. Isabell entered career coaching after she had successfully made several major changes to her own career path transitioning from an aspiring singer to a business career where she quickly advanced though a series of marketing and public relation positions. She was featured in the Huffington Post in December 2014 where she discussed some of the ways she worked with people who were unemployed to get their careers back on track and ways she helps them move towards their long term career goals including helping those who want to become entrepreneurs evaluate various business opportunities. She also has special expertise using franchises as a way to start and expand business. Her article will be of interest to anyone considering making a major career transition to becoming a business owner.
Isabell is the U.S. born daughter of Filipino immigrants raised in a small town in Kansas. When she was a teenager, she wanted to be a pop singer. She had a good voice and enjoyed the way audiences responded to her music. Her father was a doctor and while he would have preferred her to pursue a singing career, he did not discourage her. Her father only asked that she go to college as a backup in case she found she couldn’t advance in her singing career to the point where she could support herself. She followed his advice and got a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration while she pursued her pop singing career. She felt having a business degree would help her on the business side of the music business unlike so many aspiring singers who typically got a degree in music.
At twenty-two, she wasn’t satisfied with the type of income she was making as a singer and felt her prospects of making it to the level she wanted were starting to dim. She changed directions and took a day job as a promotions director at a radio station for $5 an hour. She was able to quickly move from that job into a marketing position at a cable TV company where she worked for the next six years and eventually became the Manager of Community and Government Relations. Her job gave her different experiences from producing a “Teacher of the Year” awards show to lobbying government officials at the local, state and federal level as a representative of an industry that was going through re-regulation.
That hard work paid off when she was tapped to be part of an elite 25-member restructuring team for the entire cable television corporation which was the largest cable operator worldwide at the time. With the corporate office in Denver, she commuted to Denver for nearly a year because her husband had just started a new job and they were waiting for him to receive his transfer request. However, her pregnancy with her twin daughters required no airplane travel which put Isabell at a career cross roads. It was then she realized she wanted to remain in Tulsa with her husband to raise their children close to family. The local Tulsa office created a new position for her and she became the Creative Director for the Ad Sales Department where she helped them exceed their annual sales goals by acting as a closer and strategist writing and producing television commercials.
A recruiting call led to the acceptance of becoming the Director of Public Information at Tulsa Public Schools where she oversaw the revamping of their public cable television channel and raised $16 million for the district by negotiating their vending contract to go to Pepsi. Another recruiting call then led her to TV Guide where she became the Product Marketing Manager for TV Guide Channel.
A corporate buyout and motherhood put Isabell at another career cross roads. Her current line of work found her going in early for East Coast meetings and leaving late due to West Coast meetings leaving her very little personal time with her young daughters during the weekdays. The most recent company buyout also had everyone wondering if they were going to have to relocate to the other offices in different parts of the country or lose their job. She took the opportunity to forge ahead and take the leap of faith to start her own consulting firm, Estes Communications, in 2001 where she did overflow work for marketing and public relations corporate departments as well as work for small businesses. In 2005, she purchased a franchise called “The Entrepreneur’s Source” and opened up the Tulsa location. She worked with individuals and companies considering franchising as a way to become business owners as well as using franchising as an alternative method of expanding a business.
All these experiences combined led her to co-found a new company called Encore WorkLife in 2015. This company mentors professionals, business executives and business owners and helps them reach their professional goals.
Even when people have established a career, have solid work experience and a record of past successes, they are often unsure of what to do next and are overwhelmed by the thousands of options available. In some cases, they’ve delayed making a work life change until forced to by circumstances where like me they see downsizing that limits opportunity or face elimination of their jobs through a merger or acquisition. Career coaching is a way to help people address these challenging issues and to guide them through steps that clarify their priorities and develop a personalized plan. These steps include a series of evaluations, career surveys, assignments and self-directed Plan Modules designed to move them toward accomplishing their personal vision.
The core of the methodology involves three important stages: Evaluation, Talent Survey and Facilitation:
- During the Evaluation, individuals work one-on-one with a mentor to review career experience, professional skills, and personal aspirations.
- The Talent Survey helps individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses, define their core values and motivators as well of areas of development to assist them in their WorkLife Plan. A 50+ page report is generated from the survey and a debriefing session with each individual helps an individual decide next steps in their career endeavor.
- The Facilitation is actually developing the career plan and helping individuals apply the practical as well as the aspirational parts of their plan. Each individual identifies the resources best suited to their plan, which may include resume review, S.M.A.R.T goals action plans or small business evaluation.
Evaluating a Franchise
Isabell owns her mentoring practice which is an independent business but she co-owns a franchise called Enviro-Master with her husband. She also was a franchisee as well as advised others who were looking at franchises or using it as a method of expansion for 10 years. Here are her thoughts on franchising:
For a person wanting to make the transition from the corporate world to running their own business, franchisees occupy an interesting niche. A franchise can help you avoid many of the risks of starting a new business that entrepreneurs face when starting a business from scratch. A good franchise company has already developed a method of doing business that produces successful results and should also have established a strong brand. The company will have training programs that show you how to run the business. In addition, you receive ongoing marketing strategies for attracting and retaining customers. Franchise companies can also provide help when choosing a location, something that requires experience so you locate where there is the optimum traffic pattern for your business. They also will work with you to design the layout of the business and select contractors to do your build out. As a franchisee, you can take advantage of the buying power of the entire system to negotiate prices for everything you need normally at significantly lower prices than you could get as an independent operator. This applies not only to initial furniture and equipment purchases, but also to the supplies, inventory, uniforms and everything else you'll need on an ongoing basis.
When choosing a franchise, vetting is critical to making a good choice. In my mind, the most important part of the vetting process is to talk to other franchisees and find out what is and is not working for them. You should ask them advice for your business plan, why they invested in that business versus others, and if they were in your shoes today, would they do it again. If possible, try to talk to other franchisees that have left the business and find out their reasons for leaving.
The rights of your territory is also important when you purchase a franchise. You want to make sure that you are not competing with a fellow franchisee which could in turn reduce the value of your franchise. You will often hear the term “win-win” in the world of franchising and you want to make sure it stays that way.
When you are vetting a franchise, look closely at all the ways the franchisor makes money. You will normally have to pay an initial franchising fee and then a percentage of sales in the form of a royalty. Make sure when you look at the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) that the majority of money the franchisor makes is from the cash flow from the royalty and not from the initial franchising fee. That means your interests will be aligned because they make money when you are successful and are growing your business. Again, this emphasizes the “win-win” relationship.
Understand that while as a franchisee owner you will have some flexibility in the way you run your business to allow for creativity, you are still going to be contractually obligated to operate within the franchisor’s guidelines. This assists in building the brand and assures you that you and your fellow franchisees are looking out for the best interest of the entire company so that together, you are driving the value of everyone’s franchise unit. Make sure that this is enough for your personality and that you don’t require more control of the business. Mavericks need not apply.
Starting up my own franchise at the beginning was difficult. I had to do everything including acting as bookkeeper, receptionist, marketer, IT specialist, etc. I also had a hard time turning off the "work" clock when I first started, and I had to find a way not to let all of those setbacks derail me mentally. So even though a franchisor gives you support, you have to learn general business principles and be able to understand the numbers so you can respond to trends in your business.
Owning any kind of business is not a 9 to 5 job and will often require you to work long hours particularly in the first two years. Your franchise business model, your style and your definition of success will dictate what you earn. However, you are the one who controls the hours. In my case, I may have worked a lot of hours but I did many of them in early morning or late evening hours so I could be at my son or daughters’ school events in the middle of the day. Flexibility for me was paramount in my decision to strike out on my own.
Financing your Franchise
You are normally going to need a cash down payment to cover 25% to 30% of the cost of an established franchise or most any type of business you want to purchase. You can then look for a traditional bank or SBA loan for the balance if you have a 750 or better credit score, a net worth high enough to collateralize the loan and a good business plan. There are also ways to use money saved in a 401K without early withdrawal penalties or tax implications. There can be special financing available for underserved markets from organizations similar to the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation. You could also consider equipment leasing, unsecured lines of credit and getting help from friends or family. Most everyone I’ve worked with uses a combination of the options mentioned rather than just one.
I have been so fortunate to have both female and male mentors. I had a female co-worker who was gutsy enough to approach her bosses with a proposal that would allow her to condense her workweek and work part-time from home so she could be there when her kids came off the bus. She paved the way for the rest of us and she parlayed that experience into what eventually became her full-time consulting firm. I can also thank a male mentor who told me that if I ever figured out my value, and decided to go out on my own, I would be a "rock star." I'm also grateful for the parents in my life who taught me to enjoy the short time we have with our children, to stay organized and to let go of the guilt.
I understand the personal struggles that go along with a career. I know what it's like to be worried about your job after your company has been acquired. I know the guilt you feel when you've been spared after a massive layoff and I know the pain you feel when you've been "transitioned" out. I know rejection, stage fright and self-doubt as an actor and singer who has been on hundreds of auditions. But I also know that it is possible to overcome these things. I have done it myself and so can you.