MONEY Second Act

How This Woman Turned a Layoff Into a $3 Million Business

150209_CA_secondact_1
Sarah Wilson

After being let go from her retailing job, Heidi Rasmussen joined her husband to launch the health discount card freshbenies.

At age 15, Heidi Rasmussen began working in retailing, at the same department store where her stepfather put in 35 years. After eight years in store management and 12 years in corporate, Rasmussen had reached the rank of divisional vice president by 2012. Then, while she was out for a memorial service, she found out over the phone that she’d been let go—one of hundreds downsized that day. “Many people were just devastated,” says the now 46-year-old. “But that’s not my outlook. I’m always thinking, There’s something better.”

It took her a week to find it. Her husband, Reid, had already left his job as manager at an insurance agency to launch a business. His idea: Get insurers to offer workers discounts on expenses like prescriptions and urgent care. Struggling to get his concept off the ground, he appealed to his wife to apply her marketing brain. “I decided to transform the idea into an engaging brand,” she says. “It was a total step of faith.”

Working at full stride, Rasmussen came up with a card that bundles 10% to 60% discounts on vision and dental care with 24/7 phone consults with doctors and help with billing errors.

Employers who buy cards for their workers (typically $8.50 a pop) make up 90% of the business. Both the companies and their workers—who often get cards paired with high-deductible health plans—can save if an employee’s call to a doctor heads off an office visit. Likewise, pinpointing billing errors pays off for everyone.

Then she tested the pitch with 30 women she knew (women are behind 80% of family benefit decisions, she says). The group vetoed the name “concierge card” because “it sounded too hoity-toity.” Freshbenies’ original spokescharacter was blond, but Rasmussen made a switch to brunette after the group reacted negatively. And she learned that $12 was the most they could charge for their direct-to-consumer card.

Rasmussen expects freshbenies to bring in $3.5 million in 2014, up from $1.3 million in 2013. While the couple left higher-paying jobs, “that looks like a small tradeoff for the opportunity to work together on something that we love.”

By the Numbers

$82,000: how much savings they tapped to launch. That amounted to about 55% of her severance. About $25,000 went to a consulting firm that advised them to pitch to HR managers—a total bust. They had more success reaching out to insurance brokers who set up employer benefits.

2 years: how long they could have gone with no income. For their personal expenses, which came to $8,000 a month, they relied on the $350,000 they had saved, leaving their 401(k)s alone. “We were already very frugal and living below our means,” says Rasmussen, who lives in McKinney, Texas.

2016: when she hopes to triple revenues. In two years, Rasmussen expects freshbenies to bring in $12 million a year. The company is adding at least a dozen insurance brokers as clients every month. “Now that I’m starting to get in front of some really big brokerages,” she says, “I know they are going to want to work with us.”

MONEY Workplace

Why America Should Follow Japan’s Lead on Forcing Workers to Take Vacation

Japanese woman on beach
Getty Images/Flickr

Japan has plans to legally require its workforce to take a break. If only the U.S. would be so kind.

A law forcing you to take vacation days? Sounds like a bureaucratic gift, but in Japan, it’s meant as a workaholic intervention.

Legislation will be submitted in the country’s current session of parliament that will make it the legal responsibility of employers to ensure that workers use their holiday time. Japan has been studying such legislation since 2012, when a consensus concluded that the health, social, and productivity costs of Japan’s extreme work ethic were too high.

While it may seem crazy to Americans to require a person to take a vacation, we suffer from more than a touch of workaholism in this country.

In Japan, 22% of workers toil for more than 49 hours a week; in the U.S., it’s 16%. But in France and Germany, only 11% of the population puts in that many hours, according to data compiled by the Japanese government.

And when it comes to unused vacation days, we are second only to Japan among developed nations. The average Japanese worker used only 7 of the 18 vacation days allotted each year, or 39% of their annual paid leave, a survey by Expedia Japan found. According to a study by Oxford Economics, U.S. workers who had paid time off typically left 3 vacation days on the table. And if you look just at the 41% of U.S. workers who said they did not plan on taking all their vacation, the average number of unused days jumps to 8.

We’re also similar to Japan in another way: the percentage of workers who don’t take any vacation at all. A whopping 17% of the Japanese workforce does not take a single day of paid vacation, compared with 13% of Americans. Both of those figures are startlingly high in light of the fact that there wasn’t a single Australian in the Expedia Japan survey who didn’t take off at least one day in the past year.

Trending in the Wrong Direction?

While Japan is working on decreasing unused days, America seems to be heading the other way. Use of vacation days are at their lowest point in the past four decades, the Oxford Economics study found.

Fears of keeping your job, being passed over for promotions or lead projects, coming back to a staggering pile of work, or feeling like you’re the only one who can do your job all push Americans to stay at the office—or, when they do actually take a holiday, to do some work remotely. Employment website Glassdoor found that 61% of us have logged on while we were supposed to be logged off.

This shift can hurt us big time when you consider that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews, according to internal research by audit firm EY. Increased vacation time has also been linked to increased worker productivity, other research has shown.

Japan has another key piece of legislation that the U.S. lacks: It guarantees workers 10 paid days off a year.

Unlike most other countries with advanced economies, “the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time and is one of only a few rich countries that does not require employers to offer at least some paid holidays,” noted a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank. Nearly a quarter of Americans receive no paid days off at all.

Considering that workers in the European Union enjoy—and use—a minimum of 20 paid vacation days and as many as 13 paid national holidays, it seems Japan isn’t the only country that could use a little legal help taking a break.

Read next: How to Disconnect From Work (Without Getting on the Boss’s Bad Side)

MONEY first job

How These 4 Celebrity Chefs Broke Into the Kitchen

In any field, you need to start at the bottom. In the restaurant business, that can mean some dirty work.

If there’s one thing Reuters has learned from a year of asking celebrities about their first gigs ever, it is that you never forget your first job. No matter how famous or powerful they have become, America’s foremost achievers all remember that very first moment of bringing home a paycheck.

This month, to coincide with the monthly jobs report, we talked to the celebrity chefs who have taken over our airwaves. Before they started creating gourmet meals, they began at the bottom just like the rest of us.

  • Bobby Flay

    Bobby Flay works the line at Gato, his new restaurant, rated No. 9 on the New York Times' year-end list of the city's best new restaurants, on June 3, 2014.
    Evan Sung—The New York Times/Redux

    First job: salad chef

    “After getting kicked out of high school once, I finally dropped out as a sophomore. My dad said, ‘If you’re not going to school, you have to get a job.’ He wasn’t asking, he was telling.

    “He was a partner in a Broadway-district restaurant called Joe Allen, and I filled in as a busboy for two weeks. I was literally walking out of the restaurant when the chef said to me, ‘Do you want a job in the kitchen?’ I said ‘OK, sure.’

    “So I put on my cook’s whites and started working at the salad station. One day I woke up and thought, ‘I can’t wait to go to work today.’ I knew something was different.

    “I was paid $190 a week. I remember opening my first paycheck and being shocked at the amount of taxes they took out: $46. It was criminal. But this was around 1981, and with $144, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I could buy all the beer I could possibly drink.”

  • Thomas Keller

    Chef Thomas Keller arrives at The French Laundry’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, July 5, 2014, Yountville, CA.
    Alex Berliner—AP

    First job: dishwasher

    “I started out washing dishes, which turned out to have a huge impact on my life and career. This was at a restaurant in Laurel, Maryland called the Bay & Surf, which was run by my mother. The dishwashing station was next to where they cooked crabs, so sometimes I got to help the chefs.

    “I think my brother and I got paid a little something, but we were far too young to be on the payroll – I was only in 6th or 7th grade.

    “As a dishwasher I may have been considered the lowest person in that restaurant, but I learned that I was just as important as anybody else. If I didn’t do my part, then nobody else could do their jobs.”

  • Emeril Lagasse

    Chef Emeril Lagasse
    QVC

    First job: bakery assistant

    “I worked at the Moonlight bakery on Bedford Street in Fall River, Massachusetts. I used to go there with my parents, and one of the owners took a liking to me and gave me a job a few days a week after school. It was mainly washing pots and pans, and I made a dollar an hour.

    “I was infatuated with baking: the smells, the bins, the flour and sugar and eggs. Not a lot of guys there spoke English; these were hardcore Portuguese bakers. But I guess they liked me, because I started going on deliveries, and eventually they taught me how to bake.

    “By the time I was 14 I would work in that bakery from 11 at night until 7 in the morning, and then go to school all day. I would sleep after school, my parents would wake me up for dinner, and then I’d go back to the bakery to start all over again.”

  • Michael Chiarello

    Chef Michael Chiarello
    Dave Kotinsky—Getty Images for NYCWFF

    First job: dishwasher

    “If you ask chefs of my generation, probably at least half of us started out as dishwashers. I grew up in a small farm town in California’s Central Valley, and there weren’t many restaurants around, but I walked right into one of them when I was 14 and asked for a job.

    “Once the dishes were done, there was nothing to do, so at some point the cook asks you to help out. That was the goal, since I always wanted to be a cook.

    “I made less than minimum wage, and spent the money on fishing and hunting gear, since I was a country boy. Eventually I put myself through chef’s school by raising litters of golden retrievers.

    “Dishwashing is actually one of the most respected positions around. It’s the heart of the kitchen, because as that area goes, so goes the rest of the restaurant.”

MONEY Careers

Now Might Be the Time for a Career Change

Money's Donna Rosato tells Leigh Gallagher that things are looking up for job seekers as employers are looking to hire more full-time workers.

MONEY job hunt

Is Working at a Startup a Good Idea?

Money's Donna Rosato talks about the advantages and disadvantages of working for a startup, and how to make a good impression in any job interview.

TIME leadership

12 Behaviors That Successful Leaders Should Never Tolerate

messy desk
Getty Images

Tolerance is a virtue — most of the time

By and large, tolerance is a good trait. The differences we encounter enrich our lives and organizations. But to attain a successful life and meaningful leadership, we must refuse to tolerate the things that deplete, and ultimately destroy, us.

Start by declaring these things intolerable in yourself and those around you—and see what changes as a result.

1. Dishonesty

Living an honest life allows you to be at peace with others and yourself. Dishonesty imposes a false reality on your life and those around you.

2. Boredom

Successful people are generally exploring something new. Life is too short for inactivity and staying in your comfort zone.

3. Mediocrity

It’s easy, and a constant temptation, to settle for less. But what makes some people stand out is their willingness to make the hard choices that allow a life of greatness.

4. Negativity

Every negative thought keeps you from being your best. If you hear yourself complaining, out loud or to yourself, find a way to shut it down.

5. Toxicity

At work or at home, a toxic environment will literally make you sick. If it doesn’t feel right, if it makes you tired or fills you with dread, cut yourself loose.

6. Disorganization

Clutter and disorder cause stress and affect your emotional and mental well-being. Get rid of what you don’t need and keep everything else where it belongs.

7. Unhealthy anything

Unhealthy food, unhealthy relationship, unhealthy habits—choose what you do wisely. Remind yourself that you deserve better, and then give yourself better.

8. Regrets

We all have regrets, but you can’t move toward your future if you’re dwelling on the past. Learn from it, right any wrongs where you can, and leave it behind.

9. Disrespect

Relationships are at the heart of success, and respect is at the heart of good relationships. Disrespect—whatever the form and whomever it’s directed toward—is one of the most destructive forces you can harbor.

10. Distrust

Distrust often arrives through a succession of little compromises here and there, so be watchful. Focus on building your own integrity and surround yourself with others who do the same.

11. Anger

We all feel anger, and in its place it can move you to action. But holding onto anger is paralyzing and accomplishes nothing. Learn to direct anger toward problems, not people, and then get over it.

12. Control

Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Focus your energy where it can do good, and learn to let go of the rest.

Pay attention to the difference between the things that are truly positive in your life and the things you just let happen.

Remember, you are sum of what you tolerate!

TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Body Language Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making

Business people having meeting
Getty Images

How to make sure you’re always sending the right message to your colleagues

The Muse logo

This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

You’ve got a pretty mean poker face. You wouldn’t have made it this far in your career if you hadn’t become the master of stifling an ill-timed laugh or shaping your blank stare into something a little more musing.

But science has shown that’s not enough. Princeton University researchers have demonstrated that we subconsciously rely on body language more than facial expression for identifying emotions. This supports the oft-cited statistic produced by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, noted pioneer of nonverbal communication, that body language accounts for 55% of the messages you communicate.

Maybe you’ve heard a few maxims from HR professionals—“Don’t cross your arms,” or “maintain good eye contact”—but you don’t know exactly why these moves are so important in your work relationships. Well, it’s time you found out!

Here are the six body language moves that can seriously sabotage collaboration—and how to make sure you’re always sending the right message to your colleagues.

1. Pointing Your Feet Away From Others

Dr. Carol Kinsey Gorman suggests that while you’ll usually focus on the face you’re making as well as your upper body, you often ignore your feet—which are often just as telling of your emotional intentions.

You might think that sounds absurd: Who would notice something as trivial as where your feet are pointing? But foot-positioning is a signal that we all register subconsciously in social situations. For example, maybe your body is facing the person you’re talking to, but your feet—or even just one foot—are pointing away from him or her. This is an obvious signal that you’ve already checked out of the conversation.

So, next time you’re trying to look fully engaged, make sure that both of your feet are pointed at the person you’re speaking with.

2. Crossing Your Legs, Arms, or Feet

Unsurprisingly, physically closing yourself off suggests to others that you’re also mentally closed off. Crossed arms, for example, are often perceived as a signal of distance, insecurity, anxiety, defensiveness, or stubbornness.

If you want to encourage open communication and participation, you have to first signal that you’re open and engaged. Standing at the front of a room giving a speech? Focus on your body language and resist the urge to cross your arms or legs while taking questions.

That said, while crossing your arms isn’t good in a group setting, it does have its neurological benefits. Research completed by Ron Friedman and Andrew J. Elliott found that individuals are 30% more likely to stay on a difficult task if their arms are crossed. So, feel free to cross your arms while you think—in the privacy of your own cubicle.

3. Striking a Power Pose

Power posing—or puffing up your chest and stretching out your limbs to make yourself seem larger—is great way to pump yourself up, whether before a job interview or prior to public speaking.

But, doing this in public is equally as likely to stifle collaboration as closing yourself off. Connson Locke and Cameron Anderson recently published a study that showed that leaders who demonstrate a powerful demeanor inadvertently stifle participation. Locke and Anderson found that the more powerful a demeanor the leader displayed, the less likely followers were to participate in joint discussions.

So, if you want to hear what your team thinks, lean in toward others while they’re speaking, especially if you’re seated or at a table, which signals that you’re interested and invested in the conversation. Resist the urge to strike an alpha pose: If Superman would do it, save it for when you’re flying solo.

4. Looking Uninterested (or Too Intently)

Yes, it’s obvious that ignoring people will make them feel, well, ignored. You’d never do that. You may multitask, but—oh wait—yes, reading emails while listening to someone is the same as flat-out ignoring him or her.

The thing is, it just doesn’t look like you’re invested in the conversation. Remember that 55% of communication we talked about earlier? Even if you’re listening, you’re sending the message that you’re not interested. So, put down your laptop, phone, or any other distractions, and make eye contact with your colleagues.

Just don’t go so far as to overdo the eye contact. In a recent study, psychologists Julia Minson and Frances Chen demonstrated that people are less likely to be persuaded to agree with you when you make eye contact—it triggers a primal reaction, and people feel like you’re trying to dominate them. Experts suggest that making eye contact about 60% of the time is optimal.

5. Forgetting to Nod

Nodding is almost universally perceived as a sign of encouragement and acceptance. Robotics researchers seeking to facilitate smooth human-robot interaction have identified head nodding and tilting as essential components of successful dialogue.

If nodding can humanize a robot, imagine what it can do for you!

While leadership experts may advise against nodding (as it detracts from your leonine image), it’s an essential tool for encouraging collaboration. Particularly when asking a shy employee to contribute, nod or tilt your head to establish agreement and encouragement.

6. Failing to Mirror

Limbic synchrony, or “mirroring,” naturally occurs in conversations when you feel connected and engaged. Mirroring is as it sounds—it means reflecting the gestures and postures of the person you’re engaging with. On the flip side, a failure to mirror the body language of your team members subconsciously communicates disengagement and dissent.

For example, if you notice a notoriously hard to engage co-worker is resting his chin in his palm while he listens, you might do the same. Look to see if your teammates are taking notes, or if a potential client uses a lot of hand gestures when she speaks (or none at all). Mirroring these actions will make others feel more comfortable with you.

Additionally, scientists at Stanford University found that “matching” gestures between team members was indicative of increased creativity and problem-solving. Scientists tasked a pair with brainstorming and found that the more a team’s movements were synchronized, the more creative the ideas the pair came up with.

Sometimes, it can feel like you’re just not clicking with your team. Practicing the techniques above can help you be more successful with future collaborations.

More from The Muse:

MONEY Workplace

Here’s How to Deal With Noisy Neighbors at Work

How should you deal with a loud co-worker? MONEY's Donna Rosato gives some tips on how to stay productive with noisy colleagues.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser