It takes one to know one. For 47-year-old Gwenn Rosener, it took not being able to land a part-time job for her to figure out the crying need for a company that could help people like her find work.
In 2001, Rosener pulled in $160,000 a year as an Ernst & Young senior manager with a Harvard MBA in her back pocket. She quit to be a stay-at-home mom. “I was traveling constantly to meet with clients, taking my young children on the plane with me, getting babysitters in hotels — all these gymnastics to try to keep everyone going,” she recalls.
Two years ago, though, she decided she was ready to end her hiatus. “I was shocked, somewhat naively,” she says, “to discover that there were no openings for someone like me.
Her dream job: a hybrid position that put her 15 years of experience and education to good work but also allowed her to be home when her boys, now 13 and 10, got home from school. “I found low-paying entry-level temp-type jobs, full-time opportunities and a smattering of short-term consulting projects,” Rosener says.
Nothing fit the bill. Her angst was in synch with two other fortysomething mothers, Sheila Murphy and Ellen Grealish, who faced a similar dilemma. All three wanted meaningful work but were not in the market for full-time positions. “Work-life balance. That’s what lots of workers are trying to find these days,” Rosener says. “We weren’t alone.”
The result: In 2010, the three women launched Flexforce Professionals, a recruiting and staffing company in the Washington, D.C., area that focuses on helping professionals find part-time work with competitive pay.
Rosener’s partners have comparable executive-level management and consulting backgrounds. Grealish has logged time at Hewlett-Packard and Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and Murphy worked in consulting posts with numerous government clients, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Although the trio’s primary motive was to help women like themselves, the service is geared to connecting employers with a range of highly skilled professionals looking for flexible work, including retirees who want to continue working but not at a full-time pace.
Rosener, Murphy and Grealish are clearly onto something. Across the country, a number of franchise operators, with names like 10 til 2 and MomCorps, cater to this same niche, steadily gaining momentum. Rosener explains how she and her partners got started.
“Aha” moment: “When one of the top-paying jobs I could find was selling my eggs to a clinic for a fertility study, I knew,” Rosener says with a laugh. “It was demoralizing.”
Idea: “I saw a need to connect educated and skilled women who want part-time work with small, high-growth companies who are desperate for expertise but can’t really afford it on a full-time basis,” Rosener says. “Both parties know the rules of the game.”
Target audience: Jobseekers: College-educated workers with 10-plus years of professional experience who are eager to work 20 to 30 hours a week at hourly rates ranging from $20 to $70. Clients: Small and fast-growing companies looking for experienced employees who can tackle a range of duties.
Startup: The big decision was franchise vs. independent. The women opted for independence. After six months developing a business plan, they settled on a fee structure they felt the marketplace could bear (a 30 percent markup for hourly pay and 15 percent for permanent hires). Then they hit the networking event circuit to find candidates and called on firms where they have relationships with top-level executives to round up clients. “That was harder,” Rosener says.
Investment: An initial investment of $24,000 ($8,000 from each partner) covered licenses, website development, office equipment, and legal and accountant fees. They also used startup funds to cover payroll for their first few placements until they started bringing in revenue. Bonus: A virtual company with home offices means low operating costs.
Payoff: Last year, revenues reached $140,000 with a profit of $47,000. This year, Rosener says, the business is on track to more than double in size. So far, they’ve placed part-time CFOs, HR managers, business development and proposal writers, web designers, analysts, bookkeepers and office managers.
Biggest business challenge: “Changing the paradigm of what part time means,” Rosener says. “It often translates to lack of commitment, temporary, low skilled, low rates, turnover. And there are some stereotypes with moms. Employers figure they don’t need to work, so they won’t stay. Their skills are stale. They’ve lost their edge and are insecure. Some of which is true.”
Biggest personal challenge: “Lack of control. We try our best to match candidates to clients, but chemistry, life issues, corporate cultures and office politics get in the way — all of that can derail what seems the perfect match,” she says.
Sanity clause: Rosener runs four to five miles four times a week. Nonrunning days: Sneakers hit the gym at 5:30 a.m.
What about her quest for a part-time job? “When I commit to something, I pull out all the stops. Let’s just say the three of us lean on each other heavily to keep the work-life balance…and remember, I don’t have any commuting time.”