Jane Pauley, AARP’s Brand Ambassador
Antoinette Little of Antoinette Chocolatier
Kerry Hannon, writer and reinvention expert
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Jane Pauley: Hello everyone! Thanks for joining us.
I hope you enjoyed our Today Show segment this morning featuring Antoinette Little, a former law firm administrator who found salvation from stress in chocolate. After a blunt warning from her doctor, Antoinette retired early, went back to culinary school and in 2003 opened her own shop Antoinette Chocolatier. She’s found her dream job – she says that working with chocolate is like “zen,” and she’s felt that pounding stress just melt away.
Antoinette joins us in the chat this afternoon, along with Kerry Hannon, a reinvention expert who’s written about personal finance and retirement for U.S News and World Report, USA Today, Forbes.com, and AARP.org. She’s also the author of a terrific book called “What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.” She’s going to tell us all how we can find what Antoinette did, that blissful feeling of loving what you do.
Hi, Antoinette and Kerry! Great to have you here.
Kerry Hannon: Thanks for inviting me, Jane. I’m really looking forward to the questions. Just to let people know– I’m Kerry Hannon, the author of Amazon best-seller What’s Next? Follow Your Passions and Find Your Dream Job. I’m a personal finance and career reinvention expert commentator and journalist, contributing editor and retirement correspondent for U.S. News & World Report and a featured contributor for Forbes.com on my blog, Second Verse. I write about second careers, retirement and small business. I also write a monthly column for AARP.com on great jobs for retirees! My most recent is: Great Holiday Jobs.
Antoinette Little: It's great to be here today. Thanks for joining me :)
Comment from VS: I am a 30 year-old woman. I found all the stories so inspiring and I have been up and down and with my studies and career choices throughout my twenties. I married young and, trying and trying to be a supportive wife, put my studies on hold just to get by. Any professions you can suggest that might be worth my time and the money at the age I am?
Pauley: VS, welcome to our discussion. I have been pretty sure from the start that young people were going to notice what we’re doing and aspire to having the freedom to explore their own potential, as those of us who are over 50 are beginning to do. That said I’m going to refer your question to an actual expert and see what Kerry has to say.
Hannon: There are some good fields with jobs today. Healthcare immediately comes to mind. Eldercare is growing fast. There are a variety of home and personal healthcare jobs. Green jobs and education are both on the rise too.
Comment from Ted: I’ve heard conflicting reports over the years, but lately I’ve heard more and more that dark chocolate (in moderation, of course) is good for you. It almost seems too good to be true! As someone who works with chocolate all the time, what would you say about chocolate’s health benefits?
Little: Ted, it's been proven now that dark chocolate has similar benefits to red wine. As long as it's in moderation and I believe that the amount is 1 oz a day, it is healthy and beneficial.
Comment from Lisa: Ted, it’s true! My mom is a diabetic and it’s been her salvation!
Comment from Ashley: Kerry, is now the time to be starting your own business (and pursuing your dreams), or is it better to ride this down economy out and wait for a more small-business friendly economic climate?
Hannon: Ashley, bear with me for the long answer:
It is a great time to start, but I always advise people to go slow. Here are some things to think about:
1. Find a mentor. Connect with someone in the field you're entering for guidance. Check out StartupNation.com, a site dedicated to small-business groups, or SCORE, a nonprofit that provides education to entrepreneurs. At SCORE, working and retired executives and business owners donate their time and expertise free of charge in person or online. The Association of Small Business Development Centers, a joint effort of the Small Business Administration, universities, colleges, and local governments, provides no-cost consulting and low-cost training at about 1,000 locations.
2. Do the prep work. You may have to study marketing, finance, and employment law. Sign up for a community college or certification program to get the necessary skills. You can begin by contacting your town's or county's Small Business Development Center. A three-hour course in the essentials of starting a business or e-mail marketing might cost as little as $15 to $30.
3. Write a business plan. There's no strict model to follow, but in general, a simple plan—which you'll have to submit to get a loan or other financing—should be about 20 pages. Here's what you'll need:
4. Line up sources of funding. Here are some ways to find the money to get started:
--Savings: Most start-ups are funded with personal savings. (This is where a severance package comes in handy.) It's advisable to set aside at least six months of fixed living expenses. Try not to dip into your retirement savings: You'll be subject to withdrawal penalties and income taxes and lose the tax-deferred compounding that could serve you well in retirement.
--Credit cards: Use plastic with care. It's fairly easy to tap into, but this should be a last option. Most cards have double-digit interest rates, a very high cost of capital to carry on your new company's books.
--Home equity loans: This is an appealing option because the funds are usually taken as a lump sum that you can pay off over time.
--Banks and credit unions: A tight lending environment has made borrowing a struggle. A solid business plan and a shiny credit record are prerequisites. You might try a bank that's familiar with you or your industry, or one that is active in small-business lending. To find a bank that offers SBA-guaranteed loans, check the "Local Resources" section of the agency's website. Keep in mind that a lender will still want you to put up collateral, usually in the form of a real estate asset. Plan to have some capital or equity that you personally put into the business. Lenders want you to have some skin in the game, so to speak.
Comment from Cathy: Hi Antoinette! Your chocolates look delicious! What’s your web site, and do you ship your chocolates?
Little: Hi, Cathy. Thanks for asking. My website is http://www.antoinettechocolatier.com.
Comment from Holly: Hi Jane, I just watched the Today Show piece on Antoinette. I was very inspired because I've been thinking about changing careers and starting my own chocolate business at home. Antoinette says in the piece that the health department would not let her do that...so any advice would be appreciated! Thank you!
Pauley: Holly, an important observation Antoinette made is that you should keep in mind if you’re serious about a ‘business’ that about 80% of owning Antoinette Chocolatier was not making chocolate.
Running a business is paperwork, customer service, designing boxes, taking orders, filling out government tax forms, etc. etc. In other words, making chocolate is 20%. Also I’m going to ask Antoinette to follow-up on this question, in particular the part about not being able to run her business from her own kitchen.
Little: Holly, you must check with your local Board of Health because every county or town has its own rules. I checked with the Board of Health and was given the strict rules, one of which was having a separate entrance from the outside directly into your kitchen. Make sure to check your town for licensing as well.
Comment from Ed: I am 54 and at a fork in the road, I have 20 years as a lawyer and feel it’s time to make a change, my wife is very supportive. I just can’t seem to make the leap. I guess fear is the major obstacle, fear of screwing up, failure etc.
Hannon: Ed, Change is scary. But it's important to have your wife on board. You need to go slow. No rash moves. It's tough after you have done something with success for so many years to start over in a new field. It's a psychological challenge. I advise people to take it slow. But do something proactive each day to start your path. Money is the biggest stumbling block to making a change. For most people, a career restart comes with a financial price tag, particularly if you don’t have the cushion of a partner’s income or a retirement or severance package. It might mean a sizable pay cut to pursue work in a more philanthropic field, the costs of a start-up if you're launching your own business, a hefty tuition bill for more schooling, or a temporary loss of medical and retirement
But the key is to get started on a path. Doing one thing each day.
Comment from Sam: Antoinette, do the many responsibilities of owning your own business ever keep you awake at night?
Little: Sam, Jane asked me to compare my wake at night factor now with the sleepless nights I had working at the law firm. I do think about the job and sometimes it keeps me awake, but it is creative thinking and not a worrying process. It’s a much more relaxed “wakefulness,” if that makes sense.
Comment from Paul: This question is for Kerry and Antoinette. What are some tips you would advise for a single person trying to make a reinvention like this without the help of a spouse’s income?
Hannon: Paul, It is harder to make a move without the back-up of a partner's income. But the other side of the coin is that you are nimble. And can make the moves you will need to make in order to make that turn. For most people, it means starting a lower salary at least initially. So I preach, financial fitness.
–Pay down debt. If possible, pay off outstanding high-interest credit card debts, college loans, and auto loans. Or at the very least take a good whack at right sizing. This can take some time, but starting a new endeavor with as clean a balance sheet as you can gives you a leg-up on success. One of my favorite lines: Debt is a dream killer. Repeat after me…
–Stash away savings. It’s smart to have a cushion of up to six months of living expenses in cash or cash equivalent funds set aside for transition costs, as well as unexpected emergencies. The key is to avoid dipping into your retirement savings--and paying penalties--later.
– Lower your housing costs. Depending on the real estate market where you live, it might make sense to move to a smaller home, or even relocate to a cheaper area.
–Refinance your mortgage. Moving is kind of drastic for most of us. With average rates hovering around 4.25 percent for a 30-year fixed loan and 3.62 percent for a 15-year fixed loan, refinancing is a great option, if you qualify. Figure out how much you can save over time with an online refinancing calculator. Check HSH.com or Bankrate.com for the latest rates and then shop around.
–Raise your credit score. Your eyes glaze over at the very sound of it. Mine do too. But that nebulous three- digit number, which generally ranges from 300 to 850, is one number you absolutely can’t ignore today. It impacts your entire financial life. Here’s why: If you need to borrow funds to start your own business, lenders use it to determine whether they should lend you money and what your interest rate will be. Landlords may use it when deciding whether to rent to you. And if you’re switching to a new company, many employers review it when deciding whether to hire you. A good score today is 760 and up.
Comment from Donna: I've been trying to start my own catering business out of my home, but the town I live in has restrictions. I want to change the laws regarding cottage industry food production. Do you have any suggestions?
Pauley: Donna, ever thought your second career could be politics? Just asking.
Comment from VS: Thank you! These stories give me hope and guidance, I keep them in my mind and heart every day. Thank you again for sharing.
Comment from Nicholas: For Antoinette: I saw in the segment that you went to culinary school. How much background did you have in cooking or chocolate making before you enrolled?
Little: No professional experience, but a lifetime of cooking and baking at home. The difference is the correct techniques – which are necessary for baking but not necessarily for cooking.
Comment from Diane: I'm 56 and quit my software training job 2 years ago to be with my dying mother. I traveled 5 days per week, 48 weeks per year. I do not have a college degree but have over 30 years of working experience. My husband and I have decided that I no longer want to travel and I feel lost. I miss my old job as Antoinette said she did, and I have no idea what direction to take. Financially, I have to return to work. What should I do?
Hannon: Diane, Find a place to start. You don’t need a precise definition before you get going. Start by making a list of what you do know you want in the next phase of your career. There is no perfect path or ideal starting point. What matters is that you somehow get moving in the general direction of where you want to go. This might be simply making a phone call to someone who works in a field that appeals to you. Take a class in something that interests you. Volunteer. One woman I profile in my book left the corporate world without a clue. She walked along the river each day with her dog. Then one day decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter near her. Before long, she was asked to be on the board and now she is the executive director. Things just evolve if you just reach out. Here some other thoughts.
–Don’t ruin your hobby.
–Stop your inner enemy. If you have a negative refrain that goes through your head and sabotages your efforts to make a change—“I’m too old to do that”—make note of it. Write that thought down in a notebook and reframe it with a positive thought, such as, “I have these specific skills, and I’m going to use them in a new career.” You need to get rid of that old blocking message to move forward with your dreams.
–Ask the basic questions. Does your second act fit your lifestyle? Can you afford it? What does your partner think? Ask yourself how a certain career will work with your social patterns, your spending habits, and your family situation. It will help you to dig deeper and get a clearer picture of what you truly want in your life and your options to get there.
–Start a journal. Journaling is a great way to map your new career direction. Make lists: the best times in your life, the things you really like, the experiences you’ve enjoyed, what you’ve excelled at, the best moments in your current career. These lists will help you hone in on your passion and visualize yourself harnessing it to pursue something new and exciting.
–Get a business card. Want to be an artist but still working as a lawyer? Get an artist’s card. As soon as you have a card, it makes the career real. Printing your new information on a card can be transformative.
Comment from Holly: Thank you Antoinette and Jane for your advice! So helpful. Best wishes with your business, Antoinette - your chocolates look delicious!
Comment from Bret: This question is for Kerry. How can I raise my credit score?
Hannon: Ahh, the all-important question. You can raise your score with a few tips. You may have some work to do. Today, 60 percent of all Americans have a score below 750, according to Minneapolis-based Fair Isaac Corp., which runs the FICO scoring system most lenders rely on.
Here are some steps to take.
–Check for mistakes on your credit report. Visit annualcreditreport.com to request a free credit report from the three major consumer credit reporting agencies--Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
–Don’t open and close accounts. If you know you're going to make a career change in three to six months, lay low. Don't open new accounts, transfer balances or close accounts. Closing accounts sounds like a good idea, but in reality, it lowers your available credit and pushes your current ratio of debt higher.
-Pay your bills on time. Miss a pay date, and you lose big-time –shocking, but true, your score could be zapped by 110 points. All it takes is one late payment to crush your score.
Comment from Leona: Antoinette, are you able to take some time off, being one person deep?
Little: Leona, I take more time off during the summer months since from Oct thru June it’s chocolate season. Chocolate is not really a summer food (it melts pretty nonstop.)
Comment from Lisa: Antoinette - how often do offer cooking classes? And what are your typical course subjects?
Little: Lisa, with the exception of December, we hold our one-day classes once a month. The curriculum varies, but all classes will learn the proper method to temper chocolate and truffle making. In addition to this, some classes will learn novelty items (bunnies at Easter; turkeys at Thanksgiving, etc.)
Comment from Elizabeth: Thank you so much Kerry for providing such a large amount of specifically useful information for all those involved in today's live web chat! It is excellent!
Comment from Sabrina: I want to open a cupcake and more shop, but before I do I want to test the waters not sink a lot of money into something that might not work. The health department says you can't have a home catering license. How do you get started?
Pauley: Sabrina, Antoinette is a very upbeat, positive, optimistic, can-do person and says “Don’t listen to the naysayers.” However, in the next breath she said, “Do your homework.” For instance, are there already other cupcake businesses in your area? Are you prepared, as she is, to go several years working long hours with no paycheck in sight yet?
Hannon: Here's a piece I wrote for US News & World Report that I think you may find a help as you get started thinking about ways to start a business and steps to take.
My new book is What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job. I profile people who have made career changes successfully and offer tips and resources to help you do the same. You can find it online at Amazon and bookstores. Go to my web site for more info, http://www.kerryhannon.com.
Comment from Donna: I turned 56 last week...at 50 I earned my B.A. from Mount Holyoke (with honors), went on to earn my advanced culinary degree in 2007, worked as an extern at Blue Hill at Sone Barns, have been working/volunteering at farmer's markets as a chef demonstrator/marketer for grass fed beef. I want to take my passion to the next level, but want to work out of my home kitchen (updated and remodeled it will cost more than 30k) but my town has "rules" that I have to work around. It's difficult to "professionalize" myself with the current restrictions! Times aren't what they used to be -- so many rules and costs associated.
Pauley: Donna, as a journalist who’s covered a lot of food poisoning, salmonella and E. coli stories over the years, people have an expectation that our food sources are safe and reliable. So regulations may be annoying and unrealistic in some cases but very important in others.
Little: Donna: you may wish to consider renting out a commercial space. For instance we rented restaurant space when the restaurant was closed. They had the licensing from the Board of Health, so it was acceptable for me to use it as well.
Comment from Ed: I guess my biggest question is how to decide what else to do. Is there a process, or in your case Antoinette, did you just know? I am looking at freelance photography, because I enjoy it, but can’t decide if that is what I want to do, or if I can make it.
Hannon: Ed, that's a great question. I think a lot of people worry that they can't make it. Chances are it will take some time to get your feet on the ground.
The best advice I can give is to take it in stages. If possible, moonlight and work your photography business on the side while you still have a day job. You can slowly pick up the pace as you see where it leads. For each person, it's a different path and time frame.
Comment from Linda: Antoinette, how did you overcome being one of the oldest people in your classes? You mentioned in the video that that was a shock when you got to school.
Little: Linda, it was funny, but I think I felt the difference more than what the “youngsters” thought. After a while they were actually asking me for advice.
Pauley: Linda, I’m going to jump in here for a minute. Antoinette and I talked about this. Remember how she said there were 10, 20, 30 years difference in age when she enrolled in culinary school? The only person sensitive to that was probably Antoinette, who very quickly recognized her superior experience in so many ways (everybody was learning!).
And she very quickly became sort of a mother hen in the group. So think about the positives you take into that class and don’t be paralyzed by imagined negatives. P.S. take a friend, a daughter or a husband.
Comment from Barbara: Hi Antoinette, how is your health these days? Have you been feeling better since you opened the shop?
Little: Barbara: I am feeling better, thank you for asking. While I am still on meds, the doctor tells me that I am improving every day. I have to believe that it’s because I’m doing something that is almost Zen-like.
Comment from Elizabeth: Can Antoinette provide more specifics about which life experiences made a difference in her French Culinary Institute classes?
Little: Elizabeth, the French Culinary taught me discipline. There are very exact procedures to follow. It’s not like cooking at home. It taught me proper techniques. That’s important in whatever you do.
Comment from Guest: I also took a small business development course last January at a local career development center. It was very helpful in developing a business plan, and very low cost.
Pauley: Elizabeth, I’d like to add a post script to what Antoinette just said. She is a great and enthusiastic cook but I totally respect and urge others to follow her example that taking what she could do to the next level is what entitled her to wear that professional label, ‘Chocolatier.’
Comment from Diane: Journaling is a great idea. Thank you. I have been volunteering and have been networking. My friend who is an Admissions Dean at a local college wants me to complete my degree. I think your suggestions are great. Thank you.
Pauley: Dianne, another thought inspired by next month’s Your Life Calling story. Our subject is a woman who had been laid off from a job and invested five years in volunteer work. No it wasn’t paid work but she couldn’t find paid work.
The point was, in volunteering, she discovered some things she was very good at and found the courage to enroll in a two-year community college program (which she completed in 18 months). And with her experience in volunteer work and her new credential, she had a job before she even graduated.
So five years of exploration is not, in my experience, an uncommon story. So look for a bridge and start walking, even if you don’t know where it’s going to take you. People who are ‘lost’ can sometimes find themselves by just starting a process of looking.
Comment from Pip: Thank you so very much for doing this series.
Comment from Bill: Antoinette, congratulations on all of your hard work. What’s up next for you?
Little: Bill: I’m not sure – who knows, maybe my own TV show?! Coincidentally, that’s the name of Kerry’s book, "What's Next?"!
Comment from Elizabeth: Thank you Antoinette and Jane for showing how important having both the desire and courage to learn is in making a life change!
Pauley: I have a question for Antoinette. Why did you pick Phillipsburg, NJ to set up your kitchen and store?
Little: Phillipsburg, NJ is a UEZ (Urban Enterprise Zone). It’s a wonderful town, but financially hard hit at present time. Because of this, there are special tax advantages as well as available grants. We needed to take advantage of these monetary helps in order to start our business.
Comment from Sabrina: Do you know of any government grants that are available to women wanting to start a business? I am a woman and a minority as well American Indian I was told there are options available to us. Is this true?
Hannon: Sabrina, federal and state government agencies do not provide grants to women to help them start a business.
Grants may be available from non-profits and private organizations, However, these are very rare and usually focus on helping minority women and women in economically disadvantaged communities.
However, there are a limited number of loans available to specifically to help women start and expand their businesses. A good place to get start looking for government loans for women is the Small Business Administration (Office of Women's Business Ownership)
Comment from Kay: Hi. I'm a Licensed Practical Nurse & I want to be a Registered Nurse, but because of my age (56), I have to wonder if it's even worth it. Anyone here have any ideas on that?
Pauley: Kay, I think you need to do some research on that point, weighing the investment financially and time-wise against how many working years you expect ahead of you and would working as an RN be better paid and more satisfying? I suggest you visit my reinvention group at http://www.aarp.org/jane and throw that question up for discussion.
Comment from Elizabeth: The website http://www.createthegood.org is a terrific place to find local places to volunteer right where you live!
Pauley: Wishing you happy holidays! And tell your friends about our monthly web chats. We cover a lot of interesting territory so the more the merrier!
Hannon: Jane and Antoinette, it’s been terrific to be here with you today. For more on my work and insights on career reinvention, retirement and personal finance, please visit my web site, http://www.kerryhannon.com and my Second Verse blog.
My new Amazon best-selling job-hunting book is What’s Next? Follow Your Passions and Find Your Dream Job.
There’s a fantastic foreword by Encore.org, http://www.encore.org, founder Marc Freedman too! It’s available online and in bookstores across the country.
Makes a great holiday gift for the job hunter or retiree in your life looking for what’s next! Lots of great tips on finding your passion and work you love. Happy holidays all!
Little: On a side note, my former law firm had a “viewing” party this morning and I am so honored and personally touched that they did this for me. And I do still miss my job and my friends. Thank you for inviting me here today. It’s been a pleasure answering all your questions. So, from my family to yours, happy holidays!
Pauley: Well, it looks like it’s time to say goodbye. Thank you so much for participating in this chat as a part of our “Your Life Calling” series on the TODAY Show and here on AARP.org. Antoinette and Kerry – thanks for being with us!
By the way: here’s a little promo piece for the video of Antoinette and I making truffles. It’s called the Truffle Shuffle!
I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. After the holidays we’ll be back on the TODAY Show on January 11, when I’ll be bringing you another great story about someone who is hearing their life calling in a new and different way.
Stay tuned to aarp.org/Jane for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention.