Cooking Up New Opportunities

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Lisa Woodie earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a specialization in marketing and public relations. She spent the first half of her career in corporate and non-profit marketing, and as the owner of a marketing business.

Lisa found the creative and strategic planning part of marketing to be very satisfying. She liked starting with a challenge and coming up with a program to address the problem, and then seeing success. The variety kept the work fresh. What drove her crazy was the industry’s volatility. When business was bad, companies laid off marketing people. Lisa had been with a major business newspaper, but when her boss retired and the paper got a new publisher during an economic slump, the new publisher laid off multiple staff members across many departments, including Lisa.

Lisa always loved to cook and enjoyed using her creativity in the kitchen. At one point, she left marketing to own and run a restaurant, only to discover that while she loved cooking, she didn’t like running a restaurant. The day-to-day management issues took too much of her focus away from cooking.

Then, Lisa hit several life transitions in a row. After the layoff, her sister died, and her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lisa was the caregiver for both her sister and mother until they passed away. For a while, she went back to marketing, putting her marketing skills to use as a consultant, and she did some soul searching over her next move.

When Lisa began marketing a wellness company, the experience led her to research holistic nutrition, natural medicine, and environmental toxins. Health was uppermost in her mind, after her recent caregiving experience. Lisa decided to marry her interest in health with her love of cooking. Lisa considered going to culinary school, but decided against it because classic French/gourmet food wasn’t a good fit for her business vision. She decided to explore becoming a personal chef and took a personal chef course at the local community college to see if it would be a good fit. Lisa was confident that between her prior entrepreneur experience and her marketing background, she had what it takes to run a successful business.

At the end of 2011, Lisa founded Homemade Fresh Chef Service to provide personalized meal planning and preparation in client homes. She was still caring for her mother at that time and then needed to provide care for her father. Even with those other responsibilities, Lisa started planting and watering the seeds of her new career in 2012. The slow start frustrated her because she was eager to follow her passion, but she knew she had to be patient. Lisa’s father and grandparents were entrepreneurs. “It was in my blood,” she says. “This time, since it wasn’t my first time starting a business, I knew what to expect. I believe everything happens for a reason. Hard work and passion lead to success.”

In the end it worked out, and several years later, she is even more passionate about healthy cooking than she ever was about marketing. Now Lisa is a personal chef. She has regular clients, and she goes to their homes once or twice a month to prepare meals for them. She customizes the meals to each family’s personal taste and dietary requirements. Then she packages, labels, and freezes/refrigerates the meals, provides reheating instructions, and cleans up the kitchen. Her company also provides in-home catering, and Lisa works with wine consultants to pair food and wine for tastings.

Her income has grown steadily. In 2013, Lisa’s company did four times the business of the previous year, and in 2014, her revenue jumped one and a half times that of the previous year. “Business started to explode, especially in 2015,” she said. “I’m on track to get the business where I want it to be.” Lisa knew that personal satisfaction was key to making her next career jump. “I’ve been a business owner for half of my career,” she says. “Money is important, but it’s not the only thing. Happiness is key, along with a supportive partner who has a good job!”

Lisa’s clients either don’t like to cook or have no time to spend in the kitchen. “My food makes my clients happy, and it helps them experience the benefit of fueling their bodies with real, high quality food instead of processed ingredients,” Lisa says. “I get personal satisfaction out of helping people eat better, be happier, enjoy meals and time with family, and be healthier. I make it possible for my clients to enjoy real food made from scratch with heat-and-eat convenience.”

In 2015, Lisa won the Rising Star award from the National Association of Women Business Owners, Charlotte Chapter. The award is presented annually to someone who has demonstrated entrepreneurial creativity and determination in successfully managing a business that is less than five years old.

After all her career shifts, Lisa sees work philosophically. “I’ve never understood people who were unhappy with a job and kept on doing it,” she says. “We get one go-round at life. It’s short and there are no guarantees. I am blessed to be able to work at what I enjoy.”

If you’re planning your own Fresh Start Success, take a moment to view your past experiences as stepping stones to your next opportunity. Life rarely moves in straight lines, and we often encounter setbacks and obstacles as we pursue our dreams. Sometimes the most valuable insights we gain are from the things we’ve done that didn’t quite turn out the way we planned. Lisa’s prior experience with marketing meshed with what she learned about herself from her previous entrepreneurial endeavors helped her to figure out where she really needed to focus. Look for ways your own past experiences—good and bad—can help you define and refine your path to the future.

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