Build Your Future Now
Having long yearned to start a human-resources consultancy, Lisa Bing went and did it--with more than a little help from her former employer
(MONEY Magazine) – Lisa Bing's defection from the corporate world 10 years ago is a study in patience and meticulous planning.
The 15-year veteran of Prudential Financial knew early in her career that the corporate world wasn't the best fit for her. She'd been thrilled to get a job in the company's New York City office at the age of 22. But by the end of a three-year management training program that cycled her through most of Prudential's financial units, she still hadn't found a career path that looked satisfying. "No matter what I did, it wasn't quite right," she says.
Convinced, however, that a big company such as Prudential still had a lot to offer her, she began to look for the perfect job within its walls. She spent the next few years working her way up the ladder while going out of her way to take on projects that would give her glimpses into new areas. Finally, she had what she calls her "head slap" moment. She'd been tapped to create and lead a six-part diversity workshop for managers and staff. The project involved teaching and business skills plus creativity, a blend that struck her as just what she'd been looking for without quite knowing it. "I suddenly saw a clear career option in an area I never knew existed," she says.
Even then, it would take Bing another six years before she fully realized her goal of launching an organizational-behavior consultancy. She set her course carefully, using existing resources to get the skills she needed. She went to graduate school on the company dime, attended every available training program in her future field and found a mentor in the consultant she'd originally hired to help create her workshop. She credits that relationship, which spanned most of her career at Prudential and still thrives today, as a crucial element in her growth. She and her mentor met regularly over the years to talk over goals and share resources and contacts. He sometimes even took her on sales calls and let her sit in on workshops he conducted.
Growing more confident, she built what amounted to a shadow consulting practice within Prudential by approaching department heads and offering customized workshops. "Because I knew our business from the inside, I understood what they needed," she says. She led communication workshops and leadership training and helped mediate disputes. "I could deliver results because I understood the culture."
In 1995, Bing saw an opportunity to launch her business while part of an HR team handling layoffs following a corporate merger. She volunteered herself and left with a modest severance package and a readymade client: Prudential. Her first project was working as an independent contractor for the consulting firm that she had hired while at Prudential to help laid-off employees with the transition.
Despite her careful planning, there were some rough patches. At first uncertain if her business would be a solo operation or grow larger, she didn't focus her marketing enough. "I didn't know if I wanted to do career development or coaching or lead workshops," Bing recalls. And she made a classic mistake by failing to get the right accounting advice and had to pay penalties to the IRS for a late return. "I didn't have a good grasp of the nuts and bolts of running a business."
Today, though, life is good. Bing, now 46, had approached but never cracked the six-figure mark at Prudential. Her current practice, which focuses on executive team development, coaching and teaching, brings in twice what she was making when she left. What's more, she's free to set her own schedule, so afternoon golf outings and the occasional matinee with her aging parents are not out of the question. "I've found a good balance between work and living my life," she says. "Being able to do what you enjoy and schedule your own time is a remarkable freedom."