Old Fashion Soap Co.

LA Woman

Welcome to the first official Old Fashion Soap Co., blog post! When last we met, I was talking about my struggles to get a bank account opened up. A lot has happened since then, but just so you can rest easy: Yes, we did finally get bank accounts set up for both businesses. 😉

We are coming to the end of my fourth full month in business, and I have to say that so far, I’m fairly well pleased with how things are going. I have made many batches of soap, and I’ve sold a fair bit of it. We had a big month in July, more than doubling our small but attainable goal for sales and number of bars sold, and the reception has been great. People really seem to love the soaps, and that makes me really happy. My last  show was the Hempstead Watermelon Festival in mid-July, and my next one will not be until September 3rd, but that’s by design. It’s just too darn hot to be sitting out in this heat, and we found that for the smaller shows, you just don’t get a lot of people willing to get out and walk around in the blazing Texas sun. So, I’m taking this time to get ready for the Fall show season by making up a lot of soap, finding some bigger shows for us to go to, and doing some long range planning for the business.

I have come to realize that the smaller shows may not be enough to sustain a full-fledged business. They are probably fine for the hobbyist, who’s really just looking to sell some of his or her excess soap, or someone who wants to cut their costs for making soap by offering it to others. But I don’t think that they are enough for someone who wants to be the next Big Soap Maker, which is the direction in which I am headed. I’ve decided to take on some of the really big shows, like county fairs, larger festivals, and multi-day events. I think those will allow us to make more contacts and more and bigger sales.

Anyway, the soap featured in this post is called LA Woman. It’s a nice blend of geranium, jasmine and palmarosa essential oils, and it’s marbled with some wonderful Australian Pastel Pink Clay. This is the soap that I use to wash my face, both morning and night, and I just love it. It has such a gentle, unobtrusive scent. This one is a keeper, for sure!

 

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Business ideas

Even before I left BP, deep down I knew that I didn’t really want to go back to work for anyone else. This isn’t the first layoff I’ve been through, and frankly, I’m tired of putting money in other people’s pockets, so I knew that I wanted to start a business of my own. When I first started thinking about it, I wanted to do something creative, and since I’m a quilter my mind naturally gravitated to that. But the reality is, quilting is a great hobby but not such a great business. I use quality fabrics which are pricey, and a quilt isn’t something you can just throw together; it takes time, precision and a lot of work. For quilting to be profitable, I’d have to be able to make several a month and sell them for $1500-2000 each. So, yeah … quilting stays a hobby and I needed a different business idea.

Then I thought, well, I will start a business doing bookkeeping. Since nearly 90% of businesses in the United States are considered “small businesses” it makes sense that a good number of them would need accounting help. But the reality is, as much as I like that idea, I haven’t done any serious bookkeeping/accounting in a while. I’m going back to school for it, but it’s going to take me a while to get to the point where I feel comfortable doing someone else’s books.

Before I came to that conclusion, however, I’d signed up and paid for a small business course through the University of Houston. After paying so much for the course, I certainly wasn’t going to skip it, so I spent the last weekend learning about starting and running a small business. It definitely put ideas into my head, or maybe it just drew them out. See, a few years ago, I tried running a small candle & soap business from my home. Back then, I was working a full time job, raising teenagers, and in a new relationship. I couldn’t keep everything going, so I had to let something slide, and it was the business. I was  making decent sales, but I couldn’t keep up with the manufacturing side of things, and it takes time to make soaps and candles to sell. I really enjoyed it, though, and it was very creative; I loved coming up with different combinations of oils, butters, scents and colors to make unique soaps, and people seemed to really like them. During my small business course, I thought, Why not do that again? Now that I have the time to invest in building and maintaining inventory, and to go to shows, and a little money to put into the business, it seems like the obvious choice.

So now I’m working on getting things set up – bank account, business licenses, and the like. We have a spare bedroom that I can turn in to an office, storage area and shipping desk, and I’m about to put in my first order for supplies. I am unbelievably excited about this, and while I know it won’t rocket out of the gate, I have a lot of hope of steadily building a business. I’ll still be going to school, because even if this takes off and is really successful, I prefer to do my own books; I have trust issues when it comes to things like that. I won’t be ready to sell anything for a few weeks, because soap has a curing time, but I’m on the road to being ready for my first sale by mid-April.

So, here’s to my next Grand Adventure!

Job search

I filed for unemployment a couple of weeks ago, and one of the requirements of receiving payment is to look for a job – at least three job search related activities a week. I’m not really sure what “job search related activity” might be – is it the act of looking for a job, like an online search, or is it actually applying for a job? Since I’m not sure, I’ve taken the safe route and decided to apply for at least three jobs a week to cover this requirement.

I mentioned in my last post that a new job isn’t a high priority. We have enough money to live on for a while, and we have access to more if we need it (though I pray that doesn’t become necessary). I think that making school the priority will allow me to get finished quicker so that I can return to the workforce sooner. This is the logical path, and as long as all the classes are offered in a reasonable order, I should be able to finish by May 2017.

But the less logical, more emotional side is freaking out a little bit. I’ve applied for dozens of jobs since the first of the year, and I have only received one invitation to interview. This is, quite frankly, a new phenomenon for me. In the past, I put my resume out there and within days (sometimes hours), the calls would start rolling in. I didn’t expect this time to be different, but it is. And let me just tell you … it sucks. I have not one, not two, but several great skill sets, and not a one of them seem to be in demand right now.

That’s why I’m going back to school at the age of 47. I’ve spent the last ten years playing with numbers, but I’m not technically an accountant, and for some reason, people think you need an accounting degree to be an accountant. For 20 years before that, I was an administrative assistant/secretary/receptionist/whatever you want to call it, but since I haven’t been one for ten years, I think employers are concerned that I won’t stick around if “something better” comes along.

The other thing I’ve found in this job search is that an inordinately high percentage of prospective employers ask about your current/previous salary. Used to be this was an “optional” question – I always put down that I was open to salary discussions on an application – but now with today’s online process, that’s no longer an option. It’s also not an option to answer questions about your current salary. Personally, I feel like it’s an invasion of my privacy and none of their damn business how much I made when I was with a former employer. Shouldn’t it be up to me to decide if I can live on the salary they’re offering and not them? Has it never occurred to anyone that not everyone lives above or even at their means??

The other thing that I have not been impressed with is the number of prospective employers who ask for my social media information. I will gladly give them access to my LinkedIn profile; that’s what it’s there for, but my Facebook and Twitter feeds are strictly off limits and that’s not negotiable. I refuse to give up my right to privacy to get a job, and should I ever be in the position to employ others in my own company, I will not be asking for this information from applicants. /end mini rant

This afternoon, my mother very graciously pointed out that I’m not as young as I used to be, and getting a job at 47 is far more difficult than getting one at 27 (thanks for that, Mom). And maybe she’s right, though I think if that’s the case, employers are incredibly short-sighted because I still have a lot to offer. So, if that’s the case, I will gladly offer my services to others as a consultant and eventually, hopefully a CPA/CPB. Because while employers seem to really worry about their employees being young, no one wants to hire a young consultant because they “don’t know enough about the business world.” Ironic, isn’t it? You never see 20- or 30-something freelance/independent consultants in business, but there seems to be a proliferation of consultants who are 45 or older.

So, if you know anyone looking for a cost accounting consultant, or a bookkeeper, keep me in mind. I wouldn’t mind chatting with them. 😉

Transitioning

This is my third week of unemployment. I’ve spent the last two weeks filing for unemployment, preparing to return to school, being sick, cleaning house and helping my husband Chris through some surgery. He’s on the road to recovery, but between his surgery and my job loss, I think I’ve experienced a bit of depression. He’s fine; it was elective surgery, and his prognosis is fine, but still … it’s slowed him down and I sort of feel like time is just dragging on.

At first, I thought my depression had more to do with losing my job, but honestly, I don’t think that’s the problem. Although I do miss some of my friends, I don’t miss the work. It took losing my job to realize that I really didn’t enjoy the work I was doing, and a lot of that has to do with  the fact that in the almost six years that I was in that job, I worked myself down from a 50+ hour a week job to something that wasn’t even full time. When I first started that job, it was a bit of a mess. The guy who did the job before me wasn’t a cost manager; he was more interested in procurement than controlling the costs, so there was a lot of clean up I had to do when I took over. It seemed like every week (sometimes every day) there were new costs showing up that I wasn’t expecting, and it seemed to continue for months. There were some practices that I wasn’t comfortable with, and it took some time for us to get everything worked out. After more than two years, I finally felt comfortable with the state of things. But once all of that was done, I was a little bored. And as time went on, I got more bored. And still more bored. It was grueling, really, and a relief when it was all finally over.

Now I’m just trying  to figure out what to do with my time. I look for a job, and I do a little housecleaning. I run errands, and I plan to do a little sewing. I say “plan to do” because I have been too sick and too tied up until now to actually do anything sewing related. Yesterday, I got my books for my two classes that will be starting in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already started reading the principles book. I took Principles of Financial Accounting right after I got out of high school, and that’s been nearly 30 years ago, so I thought it would be a good idea to take it again as a refresher, because I’m not sure I can get through intermediate and advanced accounting without it. This course will be online for just eight weeks, so I think it might be a good idea to get a head start on the reading.

The other class I’m taking is a course on tax filings on individuals (there will be a corporate tax course at some point in the future). It will be a face to face class on campus, but also eight weeks in length. I’m not sure how I feel about this course, but it’s a required course for the professional accountancy program.

The thing is, I’m ready to start the courses, but I’ve got three weeks to kill before they do. So I guess I’ll read the books at least once, do some more housework and maybe some sewing. I am looking for a job, but it’s not actually a priority right now. I wouldn’t mind a part time job, but I am thinking of putting off the full time search until mid-summer at least. That way, it will be easier to do the six week summer session I plan to take starting in early June.

Unemployment ain’t all it’s cracked up to be … but I’m trying to make the best of it I can.

The lay off

In my first post, I mentioned that I was laid off in February. What I didn’t mention is the roller coaster ride I experienced before I got to the lay off notice, which happened in November.

I first went to work with BP in April of 2010, just two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon incident that pretty much set the theme for the entire time I worked there. I will talk about the incident in future posts, but for now I will say that I was appalled by the incident and it gave me serious concerns about BP’s safety protocols, but I needed a job and at the time, this was it. At any rate, I didn’t work in exploration and production, I worked in the corporate support area in the IT group as a cost manager. A lot of people think that “cost manager” is another term for “accountant” but it is a different discipline. The easy way to explain it to people who aren’t familiar is that cost managers/engineers are concerned about where we’re going to spend the money, while most accountants are concerned with where we spent money. Accountants generally prepare reports that show where the money has gone; cost managers prepare budgets and forecasts that show when and where money will be spent.

Anyway, this really isn’t about a lesson in the difference between the two; it’s more about the roller coaster ride of lay offs in my group. As I said, I joined BP in April 2010 as a contractor, with an understanding that if things went well, I would be made a permanent employee six months later. I was offered more money than I’d ever thought possible as a contractor, and since it was the only offer on the table and I was unemployed at the time, I jumped at it. I mean, who wouldn’t? I had been offered nearly $20,000 more as a contractor than I’d made with Chevron as an employee, and I thought Chevron paid me well. I put in my six months, and just about the time we should have been talking about making me a permanent employee, the talks of “re-organization” started. Now, I wasn’t naive; I knew that things like this happened regularly. I’d been through several re-organizations while at Chevron, but the difference was, I’d only seen Chevron lay people off when they merged with other companies (I myself came to Chevron by way of the Texaco merger). I had never seen them outsource anything, though I’m sure it happened. But I was about to have my first up close and personal encounter with corporate outsourcing.

The group I worked for was split between the UK and the United States, with most of them being in London. It makes sense, doesn’t it, being a British company, so I was surprised to hear so many complaints about how “uneven” the split, and how unfair it was for the majority of the group to be in the UK. I can’t recall exact numbers but I think there were 50 to 60 employees between the two locations, but there were less than 15 in the United States, most of whom were in Houston. The manager of the group at that time was American, but he was based in London, and he more or less decimated the US team during the re-organization. The head of the US team was laid off, while all of the operations guys were outsourced to the new data center contract winner, HP. In one fell swoop, we lost more than 75 years’ worth of BP/Amoco experience. My position survived the round of lay offs/outsourcing, but it wasn’t completely unaffected. Instead, it was moved to a different group, with a manager in London. I finally was hired as a permanent employee nearly 13 months after starting with BP. The team rebuilt and added new expertise, and we hovered at around 12 employees in the Houston office.

Things were fairly quiet for a couple of years, and while I went through many managers and small re-organizations, there were no further rumblings of lay offs until late 2013. We began to hear stories of other groups and divisions going through lay offs and re-organizations in the late third quarter of 2013, but we didn’t seem to be on the radar, so we carried on. But by mid-2014, lay off talk had reached our area. It became a reality when we were informed during the summer months that there would be a reduction of force that would take place somewhere around the end of the year. I’m not going to lie; it was probably one of the more tense times of my career. We were told it would be a 10-15% reduction, out of a group of about 400 employees. We sat and waited. You could see the strain on people’s faces, and the tension was so thick you felt like you were swimming upstream against the current, every day. When the cuts came, it took out colleagues that I was sure would be safe. It didn’t seem to matter how long someone had been around – there were people who’d been with the company for a couple of years, and ones who’d been there for their entire careers and were approaching retirement. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more indiscriminate cut. The worst part was, they did the notifications right before the holidays. How heartless can a company be, people wondered. How can they drag out the decisions for so many months, then tell people three weeks before Christmas? It seemed cruel and heartless, and it shattered the morale of everyone in the group – not just those who were laid off, but those of us who were “safe.” I had once again slid through unscathed.

Safe. What a joke. In Corporate America, there really is no such thing as safe. It’s a lie to think you’re safe for even a minute when it comes to the almighty dollar. Or, in this case, the preservation of stock dividends.

Even before people started to exit the company at the beginning of 2015 (BP gives a 60 day notice to people in the US, so even though they were informed in December that they had no job, they were still around until sometime in February), there were rumblings of “round two.” The ink wasn’t even dry on our colleague’s walking papers before we heard there would be another round of lay offs. This one would encompass a bigger group of people, and would be a higher percentage of lay offs – around 25-30%. No sooner had morale started to improve just a little, and people began to understand their new jobs than we were told that things would be changing again. So we dug in and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

The rumblings of round two started shortly after the pink slips were handed out in December 2014, but we didn’t get official word until mid-summer 2015. And it seemed to drag on interminably, until we heard about the first group – high level management – sometime around mid-September. We heard about the second group – mid-level management – around the first of October. But it wasn’t until late November – late in the week before Thanksgiving – that non-management heard about their fate. This time, I wasn’t so lucky. Out of my team of eight, I was the only one who didn’t have a job in the new organization. There were others, of course, but it felt like a dagger through the heart to learn to that I was the only one in my particular team who was out. The official notification came on December 17th, again just before Christmas. I honestly don’t believe there is a worse time of year to make notifications of this sort, and BP seems to excel at it.

Who says roller coasters are confined to amusement parks? While there was nothing amusing about this ride, it did serve to scare the bejezus out of people …

 

The first post

Earlier this month, I left my job in a major oil & gas company after being laid off. While my experiences are not exactly unique or new, I’ve been considering the last couple of weeks if I should document my path in my current blog, or if I should start a new blog. Since you’re reading this, you have probably figured out that I decided to start a new blog. My existing blog is really more about artistic/crafty pursuits, and is a reflection of  a different part of my life, and I don’t think that the same audience will necessarily be interested in both. So, a little about me to start, I think.

I was in the oil & gas industry for more than 15 years, with three major oil & gas companies. During this time, I went back to school to get a degree in Business Administration (Project Management emphasis). Prior to going to work in that industry, I floated around from place to place, most of them small to mid-sized companies. I worked for the state for a while, a few petrochemical companies, a promotional items company, medical, legal … you could say that I made the rounds when I was younger. I changed jobs every year or two, until I got to the oil & gas industry, which started with a two week temporary assignment with Texaco in Houston. That two week assignment turned into an eleven year career. My most recent employer was BP, also in Houston. Now in my late 40s, I’m faced with starting over, as I have come to realize that I can’t compete with the younger kids who have recently left school. My job search has been disheartening, to say the least. Jobs that were once available to people with practical experience but no college degree now ask for (and are getting!) people with degrees in accounting, preferably master’s degrees, and/or CPA.My more than ten years’ of experience in cost engineering/management no longer seem to matter.

Because of this, I have decided to return to school to do the coursework for an Advanced Technical Certificate in Professional Accounting. In the state of Texas (and perhaps elsewhere; I don’t know) if you already have a bachelor’s degree, you cannot go back to school to get a second bachelor’s degree in accounting. Nor can you enroll in a master’s program for accounting if you don’t have either the bachelor’s in accounting, or this certificate. You also cannot take the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam, nor the Certified Public Bookkeeping (CPB) exam without one or the other. So I’ve enrolled in two Spring late start classes that will put me on the path to this certificate; it should take me about a year of going to school full time to complete the program.

I plan to use this blog to document my journey from Corporate America to college student to my new career. I’ll share memories of my old life and jobs, as well as stories about things that are happening to me now as I make the transition. I have no illusions that this will be easy; I have serious concerns about going back to school. This was not where I thought I’d be at this stage in my life, but I think I’m ready to move forward, even if it means stepping back and feeling like I’m backtracking sometimes.

They say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Well, here’s the first step … now to see where the road leads.