How I Shifted My Career to Start My Own Business in the Middle of the Pandemic

Jilandra Coffin

This is a guest post by The Mom Project Community member Jilandra Coffin. If you are a Community member with a unique story to share let us know.

I have been working in the education and mental health field for about 10 years. Within my recent career as a school psychologist I enjoyed being able to give back to students and their families to help them through their learning difficulties and social emotional needs. Anyone working in education though can tell you that career burnout can creep in easily on an individual if they are not properly taking care of themselves. I will admit I have not done the best at this.

Returning from maternity leave

It was not too long after I had returned to work from maternity leave in October 2019, that I found myself in the backseat of my car trying to discreetly pump milk so that no one would see me before a professional development training that was scheduled off campus. I didn’t have a chance to scope out where I could possibly have a private place to pump beforehand and, unfortunately, this was an ongoing scenario since I had to travel to different schools throughout the week. It was untenable. 

I had underestimated the transition of returning to work and it turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. The mom guilt of wanting to be home with my little girl certainly did not help things either. Weeks went by at work where I conducted assessments with students, developed behavior intervention plans, attended special education meetings and completed all of my report writing and recording keeping tasks on time, but I was just going through motions. I seemed put together on the outside, but there was something changing on the inside that would lead me to where I am today. 

The day Google saved me 

One day after rocking my baby girl to sleep for bed, I took to Google to search for work-from-home jobs. I was met with tons of options; customer service, copywriter, social media manager and virtual assistant. I had no idea that businesses were hiring for many of these positions. I continued to passively research other opportunities outside of the school system but wasn’t serious. However, when the pandemic hit in March of 2020 and I was forced to work from home and care for my daughter full time while my husband (a nurse practitioner) still had to go to work everyday, I had to make some choices.

Three main takeaways from my transition to entrepreneurship

My decision to make a real change in my career in the midst of a pandemic was a change that I felt was coming and the pandemic was sort of my big push to get started. Leaving my current career was hard as I missed working with students as well as all the time that I spent in school obtaining my degrees but the decision was the right one for me right now. 

3 Takeaways

If you are considering a change too, here are my 3 main takeaways from my transition to entrepreneurship in the midst of pandemic:

Take an inventory of your skills

Just because you have a degree in one particular field doesn’t mean you are stuck in a box and cannot work outside of that industry. There are so many opportunities where you can teach your unique skills and previously learned knowledge and apply to new positions. 

This was the case in my situation. Initially I didn't think my skills and training as a school psychologist would match the skillset of a virtual assistant. I have been able to master managing 2-3 school caseloads, staying on top of report deadlines and keeping my documents and email organized. So I knew I had the skills to help others that struggled in similar areas in their businesses. 

👉 Ask yourself the following:

✅ What are things I like to do even if they were unpaid?

✅ What are my strengths?

✅ What am I known for in my current job?

✅ What am I not willing to do?

Narrow down on your strongest skills and see how they compare to current job postings.

Set realistic goals 

Setting goals was something I didn’t do much of prior to the start of the pandemic. Sure I had some general goals that most people say to themselves; graduate school, lose 5 pounds, pay off my student loans. Having these goals, albeit casual, were working pretty well for the most part as I had some success in my personal life and career. Why should I stop what I’m doing when I’m getting results?

💡 I stopped to get better results.

If I really wanted to make a lasting positive impact on my family during this pandemic, I had to stop with the old and start anew. I was a big advocate for creating SMART goals for student education plans but did not apply them to myself. That was about to change.

I used this goal format to help me transition from full-time employment with the school system to my full-time virtual assistant business. I didn’t just have goals stored in my brain - I put them on paper. That’s when my goals came to life and I haven’t looked back since.

SMART goals

What SMART stood for, for me personally

Specific: My goals needed to be clear and specific that answered the who, what, when, where and why.

Measurable: No more talk. I needed something that would objectively tell me how I would know when I accomplished a goal.

Achievable: I had quit goals in the past because they were overly ambitious and not feasible for me during that time. Nowadays, I consider the possibility of family or financial constraints before making goals and ask myself is this truly something that is realistic for me to accomplish without me going crazy in the process.

Relevant: Similar to the achievable step, I considered if my goals were worthy enough to finish them. Was it the right time to pursue this goal? Is my goal in line with our family principles?

Time-bound: Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, this was the part I struggled with the most but was absolutely critical for success because it forced me to put deadlines on myself. Whatever deadline I gave myself, that’s when I had it done.

Start now, and ask questions later

Self doubt and imposter syndrome can easily creep in and scare someone from starting their own business, but you have to take the first step. Yes, there’s a huge learning curve and there will be some struggles. Starting a new business is synonymous with struggles (especially in the beginning), but it’s a great opportunity to be in the season of learning. 

Reach out to other friends that you know that have their own businesses. Get a hold of a few good resources to study and take notes. Whether you like to read books, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos or even just networking within Facebook groups in your related field, there is plenty of information to get started. Find out the best way that you learn and absorb new information. 

Small steps can lead to big success

You can achieve success by starting with a series of small steps. With time, you will gain the confidence and motivation that move to take big leaps. 

Q&A with Jilandra

  1. How did you find The Mom Project? Instagram
  2. What motivated you to sign up? I enjoy community and the opportunity to connect with other moms. And The Mom Project is an advocate for proper paid leave for maternity leave. 
  3. What has been your favorite aspect, tool or part of The Mom Project? I love that The Mom Project promotes motherhood and all the triumphs and making it possible for us moms to overcome the obstacles within the workplace. 
  4. Do you currently use the resources from The Mom Project? I have signed up for job alerts which has been helpful for me to see what opportunities are available. I have also shared The Mom Project with other moms.

Jilandra Coffin is a full-time online business manager and virtual assistant, helping small businesses establish better organization and streamline their processes so that they can spend more time on their passions and growing their businesses. She specializes in working with businesses in the education consulting, parenting and health/wellness field. 

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