That Stuff Don’t Work for Me: Advice for Female Founders Over Forty

The problem with self-help books is that what works for some people isn’t necessarily going to work for me or for you.

As my friend, Aunt Chan, says, “That shit don’t work for me.”

Two years ago, I read a book that really inspired me at the time, though I found much of it — just dreadful.  The book was The Startup of You by Eric Reidman and Ben Casanocha.   Here is a totally hyper-superfast video that sums up the book in a frantic five minutes    Wow, lifelong learning!  Build your network!  Think of yourself as a “brand”  and “market” yourself! Reidman and Casanocha have filled half the book with great advice.  But the whole book is geared to helping their fellow fairly affluent “white guys/tech heads.”   Your mileage is definitely going to vary there.

Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Z

Reidman and Casanocha talk about having a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan Z. Plan A is your first choice, Plan B was your next best. My plan A was a tenure track job on the East Coast. My Plan B was a teaching job elsewhere. I ended up in the Great White North, hated it, and was soon on to what they called Plan Z — the worst case scenario, living in my mother’s basement. But I was forty. And I had two kids under ten. Lots of people don’t have mothers with basements. Or mothers. 

I was lucky to get a job at university when I finished grad school–but unlucky in that job was at that school that did not offer tenure. Everyone had two-year contracts. I had been at the top of my class at a prestigious university, but it was a brutal time. Like many people, I wanted what my parents had: stability, job security, a gold watch and a pension after twenty or so years. But like many of my generation, I was lucky to get any job at all.  Every good field was crowded by the baby-boomers ahead of us, many of whom took our entry-level opportunities by plonking down their ten-years-of experience and interviewing for entry-level jobs.  Starting over was their Plan B, when their first choice didn’t work out as planned. It was a serious leap-in-the-dark to take that job, and I soon regretted my choice. So there was another leap, to Plan Z.

Build Your Network

If I had had The Startup of You, I might have not had to make that last drastic step to my mother’s basement. As I’ve said, not all of their advice is good, not for someone who is not an affluent white guy with a tech degree. That’s their focus, white affluent guys,  under forty, really– that’s their primary customer for whom they were writing in that book. But at least a good half of their advice is helpful for the rest of us.

Their advice about building your network–starting where we ARE! And on building our skills and creating opportunities for ourselves–BEFORE you have to make the leap–that could’ve possibly forestalled some of the drama in my life. I certainly would’ve been better equipped for changing jobs and careers.

Blogging as a Side-Gig: Entrepreneurship and Female Founders Over Forty

Learning how to sell yourself is one thing.  But entrepreneurship? Thinking of myself as a brand?   That seemed like far too much risk and uncertainty.  And too weird.  Much too weird. Many of the people I mentor–about half, I’d say–would like to reject that idea as too alien and different.

Reidman and Casanocha’s concept of the “side-gig” or “side-hustle” gets the people I mentor a bit more intrigued, though, when it’s framed properly.  The “side-gig” or “side-hustle” is one way that people can try out new ideas about their “brand”  and develop new skills and experiences.  Blogging can be a good side-gig, but don’t think you’re going to make the vast sums people tell you about, even if you’re really good.  You have to build an audience–and your audience is your customer base.

Who are you writing for?  What do you think they want?  Do you have a good picture in your head of your “customer”?   You should!  As you begin to write your mission statement for your blog, consider those customers.  Write little bios for at least three “customer personas.”


Building A List of Customer Personas

Here, for funzies,  are my “starter customer personas”

Duke Fairington.  He is 45 years old and he’s been working as a salesman for a liquor store for the last ten years. He recently got cancer and was “let go” about six months after he returned to work.  Now he’s looking for work and starting a blog on local beers and brewpubs in Austin, Texas, where he lives.  He hopes to get another job in social media for liquor stores, bars, and brewpubs, where he has lots of connection.  A blog will help him establish himself as a local expert–an authority that will be portable for him as he goes forward–he won’t leave his expertise behind with his job title.

Marilyn Matthews.  She’s 48 and a paralegal in Miami.  She is bored with her job and needs another income stream.  She is doing Air BNB with her spare bedrooms in her house not far from the beaches. Her youngest is about to leave for college.  She’s looking to write a blog about vacationing in Florida, maybe attract some more people to her AirBNB business.

Tobie MacBrayer.  She’s a Navy reservist, 37, who is about to leave active duty in two years.  She’s looking to improve her resume so that she can get a  good job in public relations.  She thinks a blog will improve her writing and content production skills. It will also help her learn social media marketing–which would look good on her resume when it comes time to leave her current job in the Navy.  She lives in Norfolk, Virginia.

David James.   He’s a 19 year old college student who is thinking about writing a blog to help market his Youtube creations. He’s thinking about podcasting too. He wants to be a Youtube producer and he’s in community college.

All of these people are having a real hard time thinking “out of the box”  for their next career move.   They are composites of people I mentor or work with in “real life.”  I think of these people when I write this blog.

What do Our Imagined Customers Want? 

So what do I hope that Duke, Marilyn,  David and Tobie will get out of today’s piece?

  • Not all the advice you get is going to work for you.  You kind of have to figure out for yourself what fits, and what doesn’t.
  • Thinking about yourself as a brand is difficult.  Though you do have to reject some of the practical advice we get, no matter what we do going forward, we’re going to have to sell ourselves sometimes.  Thinking of yourself as a brand is basically “selling yourself” and that idea is old as What Color Is Your Parachute, that classic job-hunting handbook from 1980.
  • Blogging for an audience means that I have to think of who they are and what they want from me.  I want my audience to come back and get to know me — and I want to get to know them.  Writing “customer persona bios” can help me to focus my content better–and give them more enjoyment, too.

So, as you think about “what” you have to sell, think about who would possibly want to buy it.  How are you going to deliver content to them?  What do they want?  How are you going to find them?

Even if We’re in the Non-Entrepreneurial Job Market, Selling Our “Brand” Matters


Author: Lola

Recovering academic, real-life, honest to cornflakes anthropologist (Ph.D. and fieldwork and everything), tech-head and social media researcher.

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