When my business failed financially, I had to choose between going back to a former career or finding a new way to support my family.

January 4, 2021 2:28 pm

By Shelley Hunter

Listen to the Episode

About Shelley Hunter

Content Marketer and Founder of Faithful Career Moves

When I graduated from high school, I had a plan to go to college, get my degree, and work for the biggest company I could find for the rest of my life. I wanted job security and financial stability. I did not want to be an entrepreneur, a consultant, or anything that implied risk. I was not interested in any profession that would land me driving unreliable cars, fixing appliances with duct tape, or going for long periods of time without a paycheck.

All went according to plan for several years...until I had my first child.

baby ally

The baby that changed my life.

After more than a decade of leaning in to my career, I started leaning out of it, arching my back like a colicky newborn, grasping for ways to make money and stay home with my girl.

Plan B

Initially, I went back to work, but got permission to switch to a part-time schedule and work from home. Juggling my job and baby took some effort, but I'm an efficient worker and Ally settled into a pretty predictable schedule, allowing me to fulfill my professional obligations with relative ease.

I think we could have kept this arrangement for a long time, but I'm a problem-solver by nature, and babies present all sorts of problems. Having watched too many "millionaire mom" episodes on Oprah, I got the notion that I could sell one of my "solutions" online, allowing me to quit my job in favor of starting a family business.

That's not exactly what happened.

baby carrier cover

The Out 'n About Baby Carrier Cover

Fix and Go Forward

I got the product made, got the website developed, filed for patents, paid for logos, created merchandise, and more. But when a pallet full of product showed up in my driveway a couple of months after delivering my second child, I realized I didn't have a solid business plan. I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I panicked.

baby working on computer

Ally and I "working" together

In this episode, I'll share what happened more specifically, but for the purposes of this post, I'll simply say that I eventually donated the inventory, took down the website, and shuttered the business.

Though in hindsight, the twists and turns now look like a well-executed series of internships designed to help me gather the skills I would eventually need to start a more successful business, at the time, it felt like chaos.

I often felt frustrated by the lack of clear direction. I got disappointed when ventures didn't result in financial prosperity. I got disheartened by dead-ends and disillusioned by deadbeats. But I pressed forward because, despite the hardships, I wanted to be home with my kids. I wanted to figure this out. I didn't want to give up the dream.

shelley with three little kids

Can't you just feel the chaos in this picture?

Before installing changes on a computer, you make a backup. After install, you test to see if the system still works.

If the test fails, you either reverse the changes or

"fix and go forward."

I had to fix and go forward.

- Shelley Hunter -

Two Books That Changed Everything

A couple of years later, a busy CEO asked me to research and help write a book on how the Internet created opportunities for ordinary people to start profitable businesses. I turned him down flat. Having recently slogged my way through an entrepreneur's journey, I didn't want to perpetuate the myth that you could get rich simply by using the Internet. But he persisted, and I agreed to write the book if I could find people making actual dollars via blogs, social media, and videos.

In doing the research, not only did I find people making money as everyday experts, but I also realized that I was learning how to do the same thing myself. After completing the book and waiting for my youngest to enter Kindergarten, I launched Gift Card Girlfriend, a personal brand website designed to solve a new problem--make gift cards more personal.

A couple of years later, GiftCards.com acquired my website and hired me to continue as the brand spokesperson--in exchange for a predictable salary and benefits.

Shelley Hunter on TV

Shelley Hunter in a news interview on gift cards

While writing that book, I also started reading another. After years of passive participation in my faith, I decided to read The Book of Mormon to find out if that story was true as well.

In reading that book, I discovered the truthfulness of the text, but more importantly, I discovered the power that comes from reading it everyday. I know for certain that I could not have written the first book without reading the second.

The first book changed my career. The second book changed my life.

mom and michael at lake

Yet Another Problem to Solve

Since trading my business suit for yoga pants and a sweatshirt, I have had the privilege of interacting with nearly all segments of the mom population. I have meetings with working moms on Zoom and I have chats with stay-at-home moms at the park. I've met freelancer moms, moms with side gigs, and ladies who have launched businesses too. What each woman does during the day varies, but all are working their hardest to do what is best for their families.

For the last few years, however, countless stay-at-home moms have come to me looking for advice on how to go back to work or earn additional money to help their families.  I am not exaggerating when I say that every one of them has said, "I need to go back to work, but I have no skills."

The statement shocks me because the women who claim to be without marketable skills and abilities, are the very same women who run the PTA program at school,  lead organizations at church, and make significant contributions to their communities.

Though I have helped each of these women realize their fears are unfounded, I wanted to solve this problem more broadly. So after much prayer and pondering, I started the Faithful Career Moves website to help people understand what I discovered for myself--the Lord has a plan for each of us. He cares deeply about our lives and that includes our careers. We do not have to figure out everything on our own. It took me years to figure this out. I'm hoping this website and podcast will help others shortcut the process.

Same kids, just a few years older.

If I could share stories of incredible people doing fairly ordinary things to support their families, I could help people who are struggling in today's economy to make ends meet.

- Shelley Hunter -

What You'll Learn in this Episode

  • Why I left my career as a programmer to be a stay-at-home mom
  • How I learned to create a personal brand
  • How reading The Book of Mormon every day helps me prosper
  • Why I started this website -- Faithful Career Moves
  • A leap of faith I had to take to advance my career
  • Most Importantly: How I has seen the Lord’s hand in my career

Mentioned in this Interview

Download the Transcript

 My Founder Story: Fix and Go Forward

Guest: Me..Shelley Hunter, Founder

Shelley Hunter: You're listening to the Faithful Careers Moves podcast. I'm your host, Shelley Hunter, and this is a place where we talk to people who recognize the Lord's hand in their lives and specifically in their careers. 

Thank you for joining me on Season 2 of the Faithful Career Moves podcast. I have several new episodes lined up for you, but I wanted to kick off this season by sharing my own story and telling you how I've seen the hand of God in my career. If you can stick around through that, I'll also share with you why I started Faithful Career Moves and the lessons I've learned from my guests so far, so here we go.

I'm a content creator. I blog, podcast, record video, do media interviews, and more. My kids will say that I “post cringe” for a living because no teenager wants to see their mom on YouTube, and it's true. Most of what I do is pretty amateur. I don't consider myself a writer, though I've written over 400 blog posts. I wouldn't call myself a photographer, but I do shoot almost all of the photos for my blog, and I'm certainly not a videographer, but you guessed it, I’ve shot, edited, and posted hundreds of videos as well.

In isolation, nothing I create is all that exceptional, but the combination of all the content I produce is what makes me pretty good at what I do. 

But my career did not start out that way at all.

I went to school to work in the computer industry. Having struggled financially growing up, I went off to BYU with one goal, to get my degree then work for the biggest company I could find for the rest of my life, no matter what. I would not be an entrepreneur or change jobs or take risks. I wanted a career that would provide the financial stability I craved, so off I went. All went according to plan for about a decade. I graduated in information systems, launched into the IT world, and started living my dream. I did switch jobs a couple of times, but all within my industry to increase my upward mobility.

At one of my performance reviews, my manager even told me I've been placed on an internal list they called future leaders of the company, which meant I now had access to additional training and some really great mentors. 

Then I got pregnant. 

I intended to go back to work, put my daughter in daycare, and stay the course. Somewhere between her arrival and the epidural wearing off, I realized that I didn't care about being the future leader of anything anymore. Though I still wanted that financial stability, I still enjoyed working and I still wanted consistency in my life, I wanted to be home with her more.

Let me pause here and say that some of the best moms I know went back to work after having children. I am not making a pitch for being a stay-at-home mom. I'm just telling you that I knew instantly, I had to reroute my life. I needed a plan B. First, I talked to my manager. I told her I want to transition to part-time and I want to work from home. Right now, the whole world works from home, but in 2000, nobody did. She agreed to it anyway, but I did have to change jobs internally and though nobody mentioned it, I'm sure my name got crossed off the future leaders' list, but that was okay. I happily made that move.

At the same time, I had this idea to make a baby product. I loved walking with my daughter in one of those front carriers, a Baby Bjorn is the one I use, but I didn't like that she was exposed to the elements. The sun without sunscreen or the cold weather without a bulky parka, so I started designing a cover that took care of her needs, plus had a pocket for my keys and other elements to make it more than just a cloth cover. When I wasn't doing my IT job and taking care of my girl, I started researching, sewing, filing patents, talking to importers, and the like.

Again, you can do this all on Google and Alibaba today, but in 2000, I had to go to the library. I had to enjoin inventor groups and make phone calls and meet people carrying suitcases full of products into hotel lobbies. I was pouring a ton of time and thousands of dollars into patents, photography, websites, and more. Mind you, this crazy scheme was my plan B for the girl who wanted a traditional job with total stability and no risks. Now it's 2002 and I'm about to deliver my second child, and here comes a semi-truck driving down every place in Danville, California, dropping off a pallet full of covers.

Here is where the story gets real because I have a product to sell and a website to sell it on. Only then do I realize that I am in way over my head. Knowing what I know now and the benefit of today's technology, I would have created an Instagram account and started creating content on how to protect your baby while you're out and about. I know exactly how I would market that product today and get visitors to the website and sell my product online, but I didn't understand content marketing back then, it was hardly even a thing, and social media didn't exist. I had to go to stores and try and sell these covers.

At this point now, I have a toddler and a newborn, making it very difficult to shower, much less become a traveling salesperson. A long story short, I eventually got a licensing deal with a major juvenile products company, giving the story an excellent outcome on paper. Few people can say that they've invented, patented and licensed a product. In reality, I just didn't make any money, so that decision to be home with my kids drove me exactly to the one place I vowed never to be. Struggling financially, driving a van that could break down at any moment, juggling the house payment and grocery bills and diapers.

I knew that I could go back to work at any time and get the salary and benefits I had held on a pedestal throughout my young adult years, but I didn't want to. Hard as it was, I wanted to be driving that crappy minivan with my kids, driving to look for the zonkey and the hills near our home, going to the park, peach picking, and doing all the cheap things you can figure out to do in the Bay Area. In computers, when you make a system change, you first make a backup of the existing system, then you implement the changes and test to ensure the new code works as expected. If the test fails, you have two choices, reverse the changes and go back to the old system, or fix and go forward, meaning you keep the new code but you start fixing what's broken.

That's what I did. 

Fix and go forward.

I thought about the parts of the journey I'd been good at. I like the problem-solving, I could do the computer part, I enjoyed the research, so I started looking for at-home opportunities that involve those things and yes, I also did a ton of IT projects too. I would say it was definitely onto plan C at this point. Pretty much doing anything anyone would pay me to do within reason as long as the work could be done at home. I developed a couple more products strictly to license though never to manufacture and sell. I took a magazine writing class and wrote a few articles for an inventor magazine.

I wrote press releases and website copy and marketing materials for other inventors. I moderated some online focus groups for an innovation company. I even designed teddy bears and plush toys for a local manufacturing company. In the midst of this juggle, gift cards started to become a thing. Given my practical nature, I love the idea of receiving gift cards, knowing you can pick out exactly what you want or need. No more keeping gifts to avoid hurt feelings or standing in the return line to be told you can have $8 for the cashmere sweater you returning without a receipt. As much as I loved receiving gift cards, I found that giving to be a little lackluster.

I did it anyway, but rather than just tuck a gift card into a greeting card like most people did, I would craft them up into little pairings. A movie gift card with movie treats, or a bowling gift card with funny socks to wear to the bowling alley, and so forth. While working with this plush toy company, I got them to start designing gift card holders. Teddy bears, I've been met all sorts of things that would make the gift card delivery a little more thoughtful. We made some progress, but the idea fell short because I discovered two things. One, giving a gift card and a teddy bear didn't make the gift card more personal. It just made the gift bigger, and adults generally don't need teddy bears or stuffed animals.

It really wasn't a great solution. More importantly, I recognized that to be successful selling these gift card holders, we needed to do what I hadn't done with the carrier cover. We needed to create content to show consumers how to make gift cards more personal. The company didn't understand. They just wanted sales and eventually dropped the project. A short time later, Mike Collins, a longtime mentor of mine, sometimes an employer, and always a good friend asked me to help research a book he was writing called The Million-Dollar Idea in Everyone.

"The premise of this book," he said, "was that people are newly using blogs and social media to become everyday experts online. People are creating businesses for themselves and making lots of money." I said, "Absolutely not. I am not doing this. I have lived this. There are maybe a handful of people making a million dollars, but most people are making 73 cents a month on some affiliate marketing program. I'm out." He persisted, and I said, "All right. I will do some research. If I can find people actually making money, then I'll write the book."

I started to dig and I found some amazing stories, but what I loved about each of them is that they were really simple. The Hot Sauce Blog, created by a college student for a class project turned into a blog where he rated hot sauce against a scale he'd created, and he was making well over six figures when I talked to him. Ciao Bambino, this is a woman who discovered that hotels in Italy claimed to be family-friendly if they supply the crib upon request, so she started reading hotels based on an actual family experience, and now has morphed into a family-based travel agency. I talked to Lisa Lillien, founder of Hungry Girl, before she went big. She created a recipe website based on creating healthier versions of her favorite foods.

As I started to interview these people and write the book, I realized that I was being given the steps I needed to do this myself. I was being given the steps I didn't have when I created the carrier cover. It was a recipe I needed to be a consumer guide to gift cards. Most importantly, to me, this was a business model that did not require selling inventory.

That's what I did, I conned my little sister into creating the initial website and tried to learn as much as I could so I could take over updating and adding content. It's interesting because through all of these side gigs I'd done, I'd actually learned how to be a better writer, a content marketer, and though I still had a lot to learn, the darts I'd felt I'd been throwing randomly for years, all showed me that I had actually been picking up the skills needed to create a viable content business.

In 2009, I launched giftcardgirlfriend.com and started a personal brand as a consumer guide to gift cards. A few years later in 2013, giftcards.com acquired my site and hired me to continue on as Gift Card Girlfriend. Then, in 2016, Blackhawk Network, the largest gift card company in the world, acquired giftcards.com and, again, hired me to continue as the brand spokesperson.

Now, sometimes it's hard for me to believe this, but for over a decade now, I've been helping consumers pick out the best gift card for any occasion and use the gift cards they already have. Although my blog brings in millions of visitors and it's sold millions of dollars worth of gift cards, I have a salary and benefits. It's not a massive paycheck, but it is the stability I wanted. In short, the cringe I post pays the bills. That's my career so far.

Now, if you're still with me and you've indulged me this long, what I'd really like to do is share how I've seen the hand of God in my career and why I felt inspired to create Faithful Career Moves, the podcast and the website. Now, the story is more personal, so, nervously, I'll share this. I grew up a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I went inactive, however, at Brigham Young University.

I never left the church over some faith crisis, I just didn't go. I didn't go for a variety of reasons, but in a nutshell, I just didn't get it. I didn't understand the gospel. I understood what we were asked to do, but I never understood why. I went to school to get my degree, and that was it. Well, if you go to BYU and you aren't attending church or going to devotionals, you meet all the other kids who aren't there either, and they become your people. For some people, I guess that works out okay. They meet guys working the system just like I did and still manage to stay on course, but not me.

After I graduated, I got married for the wrong reasons, then got divorced a couple of years later. Eventually, I remarried outside of our faith, and that seemed fine enough for me. It was fine until I had that first baby. In the same way that becoming a mom made me rethink my career, having that little girl cracked my heart wide open to anything that could help me be a better parent, and I started to wonder if I had my foot where it needed to be in all aspects of my life.

By the time I had three kids, I knew I'd built my house upon the sand and it was time to do the work necessary to figure out where I stood with my heavenly father, with Jesus Christ, and with the church I'd grown up in. I wanted to figure it all out for myself once and for all. I studied it out and prayed, and read, and pondered, and I got my answer, which meant for me that for the second time since becoming a mom, I had to fix and go forward again. I had to examine the parts of my life that were in harmony with the gospel and aligned with the savior and what parts I needed to improve.

Though making a major life shift like that isn't simple, in many ways it was incredibly easy because that's the year I stopped walking alone, that is the year I learned to involve the Lord in all aspects of my life. Though we have faced many challenges as a family since then, I have seen the hand of God guiding and directing me over and over again.

Here's one example. Writing that book, the one that changed the course of my career. It terrified me. I'm not a writer, and I had three little kids at home, but I felt inspired to do it, and so I trusted it. Before I started writing each day, I read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and I prayed for inspiration. With my time being so precious, it took incredible discipline to delay the start of my work by those few minutes, but I promise you, the words flowed out whenever I did.

Other aspects of my life got more efficient. During that time, a dear friend would often reach out to me and ask if she could take my littlest when she knew my other two were doing something, giving me even more time. Instead of wasting time on ideas that would never materialize, I got inspiration for others that did net rewards. Instead of taking side jobs with toxic people, I got opportunities to work with people who helped me grow. By partnering with God in all things, including my career, I saw that he cared about all of it.

Perhaps the biggest tender mercy of all this stuff is having this new career lineup, having a salary and benefits, the cringe that pays the bills miraculously come together just as my marriage of 20 years started to fall apart, giving me the freedom to go when it became clear we had no other choice. I see the hand of God now in all aspects of my life, and especially in my career because this isn't just a side gig anymore, this career I have is my livelihood. There you have it, that's the behind the scenes.

I won't be offended if you sign off at this moment, but if you'll indulge me for just a few minutes longer, I want to share with you why I created the Faithful Career Moves website, my goals for this podcast, and what I've learned so far. Well, a few years ago, a venture capital firm asked me to host a podcast. If you're not familiar with venture capital, an overly simple explanation is that wealthy individuals invest in start-up companies that they believe have the potential to go public or be sold for a substantial amount of money.

Now, many startups fail, but those that succeed are often highly innovative, producing staggering returns. Now, on that podcast, I interviewed both the investors and the founders of venture-backed businesses. All of the people I spoke to are truly remarkable with incredible stories, but as inspiring as those stories are, for me the journeys were just too aspirational.

While it's cool to learn how someone is growing micro brains in a lab to create personalized medications, or developing a smartphone that can smell, or totally disrupting the hair salon industry, most people I know need help learning how to become self-reliant like I did, most people I know are just looking to pay their mortgage, most people I talk to will never have a million-dollar idea, they just need a good job, or a job they love, or a little extra money to cover the kids' college expenses.

I know because many of them have come to me over the years and asked, "How have you done this? How did you go back to work? Can you help me find a job?" While I'm interviewing these incredible people for this venture capital podcast, I'm thinking of the remarkable people I know who are doing less shocking but more ordinary things to support their families. These people are no less inspiring, having created something, or persevered through challenges, or applied their talents in a unique way, but the what and the how is something others can actually learn from and emulate.

For example, the stay-at-home mom who started a youth performance company in her garage, the realtor who dug her family out of a devastating financial pit, the landscape designer who followed the church's self-reliance program to start a business, and the geologist who fought against the way it had always been to be both a mom and a scientist, and the list goes on.

I thought, "These are the stories I want to tell," both because they're real and incredible, and also because they create roadmaps for others to follow. There's no way you could listen to a podcast about the invention of a spectrometer and get to work, but you can absolutely get inspired by a woman who went back to get her master's degree after 15 years as a stay-at-home mom because that's something you can do as well. You can listen to the woman who created an improv company and start thinking about what things you might teach people.

I started to think, "If I could share those stories, I could more broadly help people who are struggling in today's economy to make ends meet." Having been a public spokesperson for over a decade, one who has to remain incredibly politically correct, I also wanted a place where I could speak openly about how true inspiration has played a role in my life and in others, I wanted a place to share my faith.

I created Faithful Career Moves to provide a faith-based resource for people who need to go back to work, or up-level their careers, or leave a job they don't love, all knowing that they don't have to make these moves alone. We have heavenly parents who care deeply about our ability to provide for earthly families because here's the nugget, here's the most important thing I've learned so far.

I started this podcast to provide multiple examples of how faithful people have partnered with God in turning their passions and interests into jobs they love because I know we've each been given the ability to do so. I started this site thinking of jobs and careers, jobs we sometimes do to pay the bills, and careers are hopefully something you love doing, something that taps into your unique talents and interests, something that feels a little less like work simply because you're good at it.

When I talked to Jeffrey Thompson in episode six, he reminded me that there's a third thing, a calling, something you feel you were born to do, something that connects so deeply to your spirit that you can't not do it, it sits at the intersection of your passion, purpose, and place. The reason it's so important to find that calling is because when we do, we are able to use our influence to serve others.

Linda Evans in episode four said almost the same thing. She said, "We need to have a firm grasp on our self-worth and knowledge of our divine potential, otherwise we won't have the confidence to go out and serve others. Bettering ourselves is not selfish or self-centered, it's gaining a foundation for ourselves so we can lend a hand."

Cami Bruschke in the first episode, quoted Mark Twain when she said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why." This she applied to her new career as a senior consultant, working on mental health and wellness issues at one of the largest health care organizations in the country, and you can believe she is serving others. That aha moment shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. Of course, a loving Heavenly Father wants us to learn and grow to become our best selves.

I had my head so buried in the day to day of my own life, and kids, and bills, and career recovery, that I hadn't put the most important piece together until I virtually sat across from these great teachers. It just hadn't occurred to me that once we become proficient and support our families, we are in such a much better position to help others. As we go into 2021, and season two of this podcast, I hope you'll see that God has a plan for each and every one of us.

If you partner with him in the process and give him your humble offering of time, talent, and tithes, he can prove you now herewith. He will pour out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it. I know it because I've experienced it myself. If you don't feel like you're in a place to do that, either you don't believe the Lord has a plan for you or you don't think he cares about your career.

You just haven't seen it all come together yet, well, maybe this is the year you need to step back, evaluate your goals, and make the life changes you need to fix and go forward. [background music]

Thank you for listening to the Faithful Career Moves podcast. It's my hope that listening to this episode will inspire you to think more broadly about how your career and your spiritual journey intersect. If you like that idea, then please share this podcast on social media, leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts, or leave a comment on the website. Doing so will help others find this content as well.

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Shelley Hunter

About the author

Shelley Hunter is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach with a passion for helping people up-level their careers, return to the workforce with confidence, and identify their strengths so they can find the career they were born to do. She is also a work-at-home mom who left a traditional career as a programmer to be unapologetically home with her kids.

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