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My Encore Career: What I Did Right and Wrong

You can learn a lot from her encore launch steps

By Judy Nelson

In a recent study conducted by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, 80 percent of working retirees say they continue to work not out of necessity, but out of a desire to keep working. As one of that 80 percent, I can’t imagine not working.
After retiring from my job as CEO of a nonprofit caring for abused and neglected children (due to the stress and the three-hour daily commute), I launched an encore career as an executive coach — I described the transition in an earlier Next Avenue article. I love my encore career. But it isn’t perfect, nor have I been perfect creating it.
Looking back at my encore career launch, there are some things I would do again, some I wish I’d done more and some I would never do again. Let me tell you about them, because it could help you get your second act going.
(MORE: Career Shift: Becoming a Life Coach)
What I Would Do Again
One thing I’d do again is something I actually did before my encore career began. I took a “practice retirement” from my traditional job (also known as a sabbatical) of three months — in fact, I did this twice over 30 years.
During these practice retirements, I discovered that I loved working alone. And I then took that knowledge when deciding to become an executive coach as my encore career.

Based on my experience, I think everyone who can practice retirement should. And then when you do retire, I would play for as long as possible (or affordable). I’m glad I took a month to do nothing related to work before embarking on my encore career. But I was busy during that time — with art, photography, writing and travel. I even took a history class. It was incredibly freeing to do this type of “work” before launching an encore career; I learned and laughed a lot.
(MORE: Career Shift: Living the ‘Tapas Life’)
Something else I’m glad I did: a professional assessment, to help me zero in on what my encore career would be. It was a huge help. I took the Workplace Big 5 Profile assessment and was astonished how accurately it described my personality at work, the things that energized me and the things that drained me. (I learned that I’d probably been in the wrong job for 30 years!)
What I Wish I’d Done More
There are also a few things I wish I had done more of when beginning my encore career. If I had to do it over, I’d use my network more effectively. Had I identified and narrowed my niche and then tested it out on potential clients, I would have saved a lot of time and money on marketing. 
I also should have researched marketing options more, certainly prior to spending money on any of them. I didn’t need to market my services, but didn’t know that during the first year of my encore career.
In addition, I wish I had spent more time on getting organized, starting with a business plan. If you’re considering starting a company in your encore career, I recommend you either create a real business plan or pay someone to make one for you. Then, use it.
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It’s also important, I learned, to keep that inbox clean; it’s an inbox, not a storage box. In addition, looking back, I would use my calendar more to set a work schedule. It’s really helpful to determine what’s important and calendar it — whether that’s the gym, doing research, walking or carving out personal time.
What I Would Not Do Again
Then there were the things I wish I hadn’t done and would not do again.
One thing I wouldn’t do again: sit all day. It’s essential for your health to set regular times to move around, pull yourself out of your chair and change your neck position. This also means going to the gym (maybe four times a week) and scheduling a regular daily walk. Exercise and weight management are key for a successful encore career. If you’re not healthy, you won’t do your best work.
Another thing I wouldn’t do again: forget to set aside money for the slow times. There are feasts and famines in an encore career, I’ve discovered. In my new business, the famines are when there are no referrals coming in.
I would also not spend so much money at the beginning on certain things. For instance, I bought an 800-number initially, but later realized a regular phone number was fine. (Unfortunately for me, the 800-number was confused with a porn line. I cancelled it.)
If I had to do it all over again, I also wouldn’t pay for extensive web development and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) right off the bat. If most of your referrals come from your network, these are unnecessary. What I should’ve spent more money on: business cards. I bought cheap versions, which didn’t give off the right image.
And I shouldn’t have tried going without IT support. Trust me, unless you have a high toleration for frustration, an IT person is a great investment!
All in all, remember that when you begin an encore career, you want to be energized and enjoy life. So, as much as possible, do what’s energizing and fun for you. I’m happy to say that I’m 95 percent there.

Judy Nelson is an executive coach, consultant and motivational speaker who formerly worked as a nonprofit CEO. You can learn more about Nelson at and request a free no-obligation 30-minute consultation.

Judy Nelson is a certified executive coach, consultant and motivational speaker. You can learn more about her at Read More
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