Reinvent Yourself Richer

Four women who left behind a five-figure salary, took a daring leap into a new career, and now make from $150,000 to $1 million.

By Kate Ashford
Photograph: Illustration by: Darren Braun

Gault envisioned the Grocery Game as a Web site that would offer regional lists of supermarket deals, coupons in local papers, and special offers. Members would save hundreds of dollars on groceries by paying a $10 to $20 fee every eight weeks to access their local lists. On her 40th birthday, Gault bought herself a business license with $65 she’d saved from spare change. She found a company that offered free Web hosting services for three months and, with help from its tech support team, taught herself to build a Web site. "From midnight to four in the morning, they were bored and they’d teach me how to do it," Gault says. "That was my schedule for about two weeks." She took out an ad in a local paper for three weeks, and after that, word of mouth took over. "Soon after I launched the site, I’d heard from shoppers in almost every state in the country, wondering if I had lists for their area," she says. She began the process of franchising her business, and in three years the Grocery Game was available in every state. These days it’s especially active. "We are the kind of business that does well in a recession," she understates.

As the CEO of a company that grosses more than $12 million a year, Gault pays herself a salary that’s more than 10 times what she made as a musician. "It’s wonderful to be able to call a plumber and not cry if the bill comes to $350," she says. She still performs music but only takes gigs she loves. Although the Grammy dream is history, "That’s okay," she says. "I’m enjoying life in a totally different way now."

From Executive Secretary to Publicist

Makes four times her old income

Success strategy: "I’m not afraid of cold-calling. I don’t fear rejection."

Carrol Van Stone, 50, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was an executive secretary for nearly two decades, but her passion was tracking the news. Sometimes she’d even take a sick day so she could watch breaking news on TV. Still, she was the opposite of a bad employee: She’d often notice how current events tied in with what her bosses were working on, and she began coming up with creative ways to generate press for them. In other words, she was thinking like a publicist.

Once, when Van Stone worked for a nonprofit think tank and the news was filled with stories about troubled schools, she pitched her boss to the local TV and radio shows as an expert they could interview. Van Stone’s success at winning him visibility made her realize that she was "maxed out as a secretary" and could be earning much more money as a publicist.

At 41, Van Stone revamped her resume and aimed for a PR job. Calling herself an executive secretary/scheduler ("Being a scheduler means your external contacts are significant," she says), she moved her publicity achievements to the top of the job description. "Even though it was the smallest part of my 20 years of experience," she says, "it was the most important part for the transition." Then she applied to a one-man firm that could only afford to hire someone trying to break in. It was a perfect match. When she became so successful that her boss couldn’t continue to pay her bonuses, she found a position with a company that allowed her to take on freelance contracts. In 2002, she went entirely freelance. Her reinvention took all of two years.

Van Stone believes the shrewdness she developed as an executive secretary helped her market herself. She lands clients at networking meetings, through Craigslist, from referrals, and by plain old cold-calling. "I’m not afraid of picking up the Yellow Pages and just phoning people," she says, "and I don’t fear rejection."

In 2008, she made over $200,000, more than four times her executive secretary salary. This year, she expects to do even better. "I’m flexible and a bargain compared with a full-service PR firm," she says. "Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it allows you to go out and buy a Cadillac, so you can drive around and look for happiness."

From Psychotherapist to Real Estate Broker

Makes eight times her old income

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