Sue Ann Kern has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia. After graduation she easily found a job in the defense industry working for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis. Later, that engineering position led to an even more lucrative stint in technical sales support for a computer component distributer. Life was good. As she steadily worked her way up the high-tech corporate ladder, it seemed that nothing could stop her.
Nothing that is, except an adorable little baby girl.
“I loved my job, but when my daughter was born, it was hard to juggle career and family,” remembers Sue Ann. “My husband was a successful dermatologist, so we could afford to live off his income. However, he traveled weekly between our two-state offices, so it was difficult because of the hours our new family had to spend apart. It made sense for me to quit, travel as a family, and begin helping manage the medical practice.”
Soon another daughter came along and her husband’s practice continued to grow. Sue Ann stayed busy being both a mom and office manager. But eventually things changed and after 14 years of marriage Sue Ann and her husband separated in November of 2007. Their plan was to sell their house, split their nest egg, and then both sides could live comfortably, sharing joint custody of their daughters.
But then the stock market and housing crash struck in fall of 2008.
Life Hits Hard
Literally overnight the nest egg cracked, the value of their home dropped, and although their house was undervalued it still wouldn’t sell.
At first Sue Ann thought about picking up where she left off in her career, but even with her engineering degree she couldn’t find a job.
“I had been out of the industry for so long that my skill set had diminished,” says Sue Ann. “Technology had changed while I was changing diapers. I’d have to go back to school to get the type of job and salary I had before.”
But on top of that, Sue Ann was worried that if she went back to the demands of the corporate world, it would mean getting home late, going on business trips, and possibly working weekends.
“I wanted to avoid putting my girls through that, if I could,” she surmises.
Networking Pays Off
In March of 2009 a friend who worked in IT needed someone to teach his marketing department how to use Facebook, which was still relatively new to the business world at the time even though the social network had been in existence for a few years by then. Sue Ann had taught herself how to use Facebook and since 2008 she had occasionally worked independently as a Facebook consultant. Her IT friend saw potential in Sue Ann’s social media skills, so when he asked her to do some corporate training. She rose to the occasion.
“I developed a Facebook training course geared toward business marketing, and wrote an accompanying training manual. When the day came to give my class the training went really well.”
A New Career is Born
Word of mouth quickly spread, which led to other training opportunities. She started her own successful social media campaign and in short order her consulting business grew to become Face It! Social Media Marketing.
In addition to training, Sue Ann expanded her services to include building and maintaining businesses’ Facebook pages, as well as offering business consulting on Twitter and LinkedIn. Eventually she joined Toastmasters (to help perfect her pitches and improve her classroom training skills) and now she’s added paid public speaker to her list of services. Her clients to date include professionals in the fields of radio, health care, restaurant management, networking, tourism, event planning, real estate, retail clothing, public recreation—and even a shaman! She’s trained groups as diverse as a city chamber of commerce to the Korean Young Entrepreneur’s Club.
So does Sue Ann miss her previous career?
“I don’t miss being an engineer, because my career in social media has been a great way to combine my technical and marketing skills, making use of all of my diverse experience. My job now is much more people-driven. I love getting to know my clients and helping them get their businesses to where they want them to be. Plus, I’m doing my own thing on my own time, so I can be there when my girls need me.”
But the biggest lesson she learned by unexpectedly going from corporate techie bigwig to successful entrepreneur?
“Don’t follow the paycheck. Instead go after what you enjoy. If you love what you do, you’ll find a way to make a living at it,” she advises confidently. “And when someone does finally pay you to share your knowledge, don’t doubt yourself. There’s a reason you’ve been invited in. Remember YOU are the expert, so have confidence in your expertise and ability. Those are the two distinct things that only YOU can bring to the table.”
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