Fresh Start to 2019: From Hobbyist to Entrepreneur

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For many folks, the start of 2019 means the start of a new career path. And sometimes that path may have started from the humblest of beginnings: a hobby.

Consider the story of an old acquaintance of mine. Janelle decided to turn her experience of completing her family’s genealogy into a new career for herself. She enjoyed the project so much she decided that she wanted to help others research their family history. Her plan, as Janelle explained to me at that time, was to move to Europe where she had traveled numerous times and set up shop in Germany to promote her services to American tourists and Europeans. She already knew French and German to communicate with the locals, and because she had researched her own family genealogy, she was familiar with the organizations she would need to contact for research.

Janelle also had saved up enough money to make the move to Germany. Once she had her plan in place, she bought an airline ticket with an open-ended return date good for up to a year. That gave her enough time to test out her business idea.

Janelle is one of thousands of people who have converted a hobby into a new career. But making the jump from hobbyist to a new career takes a major leap of faith and is not to be taken lightly. It takes guts, and it also takes a lot a creativity and planning. Janelle’s move occurred after long, thoughtful consideration of her priorities, abilities and goals. Experts say this thoughtful approach is necessary to make sure you don’t overlook any minor detail.

People choose to turn a hobby into a career for a variety of reasons: to seek more independence, express creativity, have a more flexible schedule, have more free time for family and travel, achieve greater work-life balance, or simply get more enjoyment out of the work they do. Many others do so because they are bored or dissatisfied with their current job, which can often backfire because you are running away from something rather than toward a new venture. Jumping ship to get away from an unpleasant environment without a plan or a safety net can quickly turn into a dead end.

Whatever your hobby may be, there is sure to be a way to earn money from it. Love playing piano? You can give piano lessons or provide musical accompaniment for live stage shows. Bakers can sell cookies at farmers’ markets, bikers can lead tours through the countryside, and writers can conduct writing workshops or help someone publish their life story.

The key to a successful transition from hobbyist to careerist is good planning, just as Janelle did. Experts at Legal Zoom suggest the following tips to successfully turn your hobby into a money-making venture.

* Go slow. Before taking the leap, try a short-term solution. Experiment as a side gig or get one or two steady clients before saying good-bye to your day job. By going slow, the transition is likely to “stick.”

* Establish a financial safety net. Make sure you have enough savings to support you or fall back on until you begin to earn income from your hobby.

* Brainstorm multiple ways to earn money from your interest. If you enjoy acting, consider doing more than just acting in plays. Consider doing voice over work, puppetry shows which require some acting skills, or teach acting classes.

* Have an emotional support system in place. Surround yourself with people who support the work you plan to do. During times of stress or self-doubt, these individuals can be a source of strength.

* Develop a business plan. No money-making venture should start without a business plan, which outlines your business goals and strategies for achieving them. Be sure to review the plan quarterly to make sure you are on track.

* Create a brand for your hobby-turned-business, and stick to it. Think about what you want your business identity to be. What do you want to be known for? Then use that brand to create your business name, logo and website.

* Learn to market yourself. This is especially important if you don’t have a marketing background. If you don’t market yourself, no one will find you or seek out your products or services. If you are uncomfortable with marketing yourself, have someone help you, such as a marketing college graduate looking for experience.

Want more help? Check out the Small Business Administration or local community college for workshops and classes about marketing and business development. SBA also offers a mentoring program to guide you through the startup process.

As the saying goes, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” By following these helpful tips, you can turn your passion into a more satisfying career that gives you greater independence, flexibility and creativity.

Should You Reveal Your Salary History to Employers?

equality-1245576_1280I’ve been completing a lot of job applications lately.  I am appalled whenever an employer asks for my salary history. I understand that the question is meant to weed out candidates who may be perceived as “too expensive” for the employer. But it seems that this outdated practice smacks of discrimination.

Attitudes appear to be changing, however. As many as eight states, jurisdictions and cities have banned questions about past salary from job applications, including the city of Chicago for its city employees, and more states and cities may follow suit. Many private-sector companies are doing it on their own without any legal mandate. The belief is that banning this question will help close the pay gap between men and women.

It’s a good move in a positive direction. Asking about salary history is meaningless in the current employment climate. There are too many career changers, too many stay-at-home moms trying to return to work, and too many professionals taking career breaks than ever before. How are these workers supposed to present their past salary when there are gaps in their work history? Does it really matter what a person earned in the past, and does that information have any bearing on their current or future employment? Maybe that worked in the past, but not anymore.

In a recent LA Times news article, employment attorney Jonathan Segal said older workers and those who have taken career breaks and are trying to re-enter the workforce at a lesser pay can benefit from the question’s ban because they are more likely to be subjected to bias. “Eliminating this question not only helps eliminate the pay gap for women but may help older employees who are being excluded because employers think they won’t be happy working for less,” he told the LA Times.

Other questions should also be eliminated from the hiring process, such as age, graduation dates, skills and experience. Hiring managers can still get a sense of candidates’ qualifications simply by asking performance-specific questions, says executive recruiter Lou Adler of The Adler Group. He says the banning the salary history question can open up the talent pool with candidates who would otherwise not have been considered for the job. Adler recommends that hiring managers ask candidates what they accomplished in their career that best matches the performance requirements of the job they are applying for. Their response often will reveal their level of experience, skill and knowledge without managers having to check off requirements from a skills list.

Think of this performance-based question as an essay question on an exam rather than multiple choice or true-false questions, which don’t always reveal how much a person knows about a subject. Adler adds that unqualified candidates will self-select out of the hiring process because they won’t be able to answer the performance-based question.

Age is another taboo question in the hiring process. I was surprised when a job application I completed recently did not ask my birth date. Only problem was they asked what year I graduated from college. It can be all too easy to calculate someone’s approximate age based on their graduation date.

So how should you handle these taboo questions during the hiring process? Employment experts suggest the following tactics:

1. On the application form, leave the salary history section blank or put in zeros.

2. Delay any discussions about salary until you’ve learned more about the job. Most likely that means waiting for the in-person interview. Example: “I prefer to table this discussion until I know more about this opportunity and determine if it’s right for me.”

3. Don’t ask about salary up front in initial conversations. Adler suggests candidates miss out on job prospects because they are so focused on salary that they disregard jobs that  don’t meet their own salary expectations. The best opportunity may offer less salary but also offer other perks such as education reimbursement, retirement savings plans or additional vacation time. When assessing a job opportunity, consider the entire package.

4. When asked about education, put only the school name and the degree received on your resume and application. Leave off the graduation date. If the online application form asks for a date, put in zeros. It’s far more important for employers to know that you did attend college and earn a degree, but they don’t need to know when you graduated.

Of course, there is always a chance that employers could disregard your application on the grounds that you are not revealing these details, but then you need to ask yourself if this is a company you’d want to work for anyway.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you want to create a level playing field. You don’t want to reveal more about yourself than employers need to know.

Can a ‘Returnship’ Help You Transition Back to Work?

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Mid-level professionals who have taken career breaks are gaining in popularity. So too are returnships, or sometimes called re-entry programs. Returnships sound a lot like internships, but they are geared toward mid-level professionals who want to return to the workplace after an extended leave of absence, whether to raise a family, care for an elderly parent, travel the world, pursue more education, or simply take time to rethink their career path.

The concept of returnships was developed in 2008 by Goldman Sachs’ execs when they found through their research how difficult it was for women to return to the workforce after a long break. Returnship programs offer short-term employment, usually 10 to 12 weeks, where returnees can become re-acclimated to the business world, update their skills and gain valuable real-world experience to close the employment gaps in their resumes. It’s especially difficult for mid-level professionals to return to work if they choose to pursue a different line of work or enter a new industry, and returnships can aid in that transition.

As I go through my own struggles to re-enter the workforce, the concept of returnships is intriguing. What I like about returnships is that they provide employers with a valuable recruiting tool to help them when hiring. Both the employer and employee can use the program to test out the working relationship to see if it can work for the long term.

But not everyone is sold on the idea and there are a few downsides. For starters, most re-entry programs seem to target financial and technical professionals and are sponsored by larger companies, such as GM, J.P. Morgan and Credit Suisse. If you’re not inclined to work for large firms or don’t have a background in finance, operations or tech, then these programs are probably not going to appeal to you. If more small and mid-sized firms offered these programs (and they probably do and I just haven’t heard about them), they might appeal to more people. (If you do know of a small or mid-sized business with a similar type of program, I’d love to hear about it.) The rest of us (including myself) may be better off pursuing temporary and contract gigs.

Some opponents suggest that returnships don’t always result in job offers at the sponsoring company, which puts you back to square one. But even if the program doesn’t result in a longer-term situation, returnships can open the door to other opportunities that you did not have before. With the new and updated skills you’ve acquired, an expanded professional network and valid work experience, you have more to offer future employers. Those are major pluses you did not have before. So in that sense, a returnship is not a total loss.

Another argument (see Working Mother blog) is that returnships are a waste of time, and you are better off skipping the temporary gig/internship route and pursue permanent placement right away. The theory is that you already have established skills and workplace experience, so a returnship isn’t necessary. But the truth is when you spend any length of time away from the workplace, there is always the risk that your skills may acquire a bit of rust. Also, not everyone has the confidence to leap back into the workplace after an extended break. Returnships allow returning workers the chance to get their feet wet, slowly at first, until they do gain confidence in their skills.

If you’ve been out of work for more than two years, it may be more difficult to convince potential employers to hire you. Perhaps too, your network of professional contacts isn’t producing the leads you had hoped, or you are trying to enter a new field. Returnships can ease the transition, but a lot depends on how comfortable you feel about returning to work in the first place, how much time you have spent away from the office, and how rusty your skills are.

If considering this path to a new career, here are a few additional things to keep in mind:

1. Do your homework. Just as you would research a potential employer, take time to research returnships. They are not all created equally. Find out what kind of work you’ll be doing, how long the returnships last, and what the pay would be. Also check out sites like iRelaunch.com which help  returnees navigate their way back to the working world and find an appropriate re-entry program.

2. Keep expectations low. Even if you are accepted into a returnship program, there is no guarantee that it will result in a job offer. You may very well have to start over with a new job search. See it for what it is – an opportunity to get re-acclimated to the workplace, update your skillset and gain valuable experience that may be a stepping stone to the next opportunity.

3. Have a Plan B. If you aren’t accepted into a returnship program or they don’t fit in with your career plans, consider other options. There’s always contract work and temporary gigs to help you transition back into the workplace.

Returnships are not for everyone, but they can be a viable away to return to the workplace and gain new experience.

Tips for Leaving a Job on Positive Terms

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My father used to say, “Always be kind to the people you meet climbing the ladder of success because you never know when you might meet them on the way down.” That is definitely true when leaving a job, even more so if you did not have the best experience working there. When you are miserable at the job, are eager to leave and don’t have the best relationship with your bosses, it’s tempting to walk away with little or no advance notice and with little thought or care as to how this rush out the door might affect you and your career down the road.

But that approach may not be wise, say career experts. If your personal integrity is important to you, you want to walk away from your job without burning bridges, if for any reason that it makes you look good.

If you are like most workers, you’ve changed jobs multiple times in your adult life. According to the Bureau of Labors Statistics, workers spend an average of 4.6 years in a given job. That’s an awful lot of job changes over the life of a single worker.

Granted, some of those situations may be forced departures – downsizing and firings – but for the most part, you’ll most likely leave a job for positive reasons, such as a better opportunity at another business, going back to school or starting your own business. And when you do choose to leave, you want to be sure you do so on the best possible terms. After all, you never know when you may need their assistance in some way, such as references or future employment.

Here are a few tips for leaving a job on the best possible terms. While some of these suggestions may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how much some workers overlook them.

1. Give at least two weeks’ notice. For most administrative professionals, two weeks’ notice is sufficient time to help you and your boss figure out the best way to transition out of the job and tie up loose ends. For those higher up in the organization, you may need to offer to stay longer, perhaps a month, to close out your term there. Giving less than two weeks is considered unprofessional. To show you are a true team player until the end, give the appropriate notice.

2. Talk to your boss first. Once you know you plan to leave your job, talk privately with your manager, explain your reasons for leaving, and start planning the transition out of the organization. Until you speak with your manager, avoid gossiping with co-workers, clients or vendors about your plans.

3. Be transparent about your reasons for leaving, but don’t badmouth the employer either, especially if you had a bad experience working there. According to the Harvard Business Review, don’t tell one person one reason for leaving, and tell another person a different story. Remember, once you’ve updated your social media with your new employment information, people will find out soon enough what you will be doing.

4. Don’t trash the business in the exit interview. Use the meeting to reiterate your reason for leaving, and express your gratitude for what you learned while working there. Any negative feedback you give about your bosses and co-workers reflects poorly on you, not on them. And any suggestions you might give about improving their workplace are likely to fall on deaf ears.

5. Don’t leave unfinished business. Complete all the tasks and projects that you are responsible for, or work with your boss to determine alternative arrangements, such as transferring the project to another co-worker. If necessary and if it will help your bosses, make a list of all your responsibilities, the reports and projects you do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. This step might be especially helpful in a small organization that has fewer resources to help them determine if outside support might be needed.

Another option is to offer to train a co-worker to do your tasks until they hire a replacement, or to return to train the replacement. While the employer may not take you up on the offer, making the suggestion leaves a positive impression and shows you are a team player until the end.

6. Be sure to contact all your vendors and clients that you worked with to say good-bye. Tell them why you are leaving, express gratitude for working with them, but don’t recruit them to your new business, which could be a conflict of interest.

7. Ask for references. If you had a solid working relationship with your manager, do ask for a reference in case you ever need one or your new situation does not work out. Ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn as a professional contact or if they will provide a testimonial of your skills. Most managers are usually open to maintaining some kind of connection with former employees. If you don’t ask at this point, when good will is at its peak, you might forget later.

Taking care of business before you leave a job helps build good will for the long term. And like my father told me many years ago, you never know when you might need a former manager’s help at some point in the future. You don’t want to burn your bridges along the way.

 

Case Studies: Overcoming Event Planning Mishaps

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Photo courtesy of Hub Spot Marketing

If you’ve ever had to host an event or workshop for your company, you know that things don’t always go as planned. Events and workshops are prime settings for the unexpected – a speaker cancels at the last minute, the electricity goes out just as the opening presentation is about to start, or you inadvertently publish incorrect information on all your promotional materials.

The mark of a professional organization is not how well they put on a workshop or event, but how they respond when things don’t go as planned.

Recently, I attended two professional development workshops where I experienced firsthand how businesses deal with misinformation or miscommunications when promoting their events. One organization handled their mishap professionally, while the other seemed not to notice that anything was wrong.

Here’s a closer look at both scenarios, what they did wrong, what they did right, and what we can all learn from these experiences.

Scenario 1
My alma mater Illinois State University recently hosted a professional development workshop for women on a weekday afternoon. The email announcement showed that the workshop time was noon to 1 p.m., but the registration page on the website showed that the full program was noon to 4 p.m. with the luncheon taking place from noon to 1 p.m.

Naturally, the mistake caused a lot of confusion and upset individuals who could not leave their jobs to attend a full four-hour session.

How the university responded:
The organizers were genuinely concerned about the mistake and quickly rectified the situation. They worked with the speakers to restructure the program so it fit into a two-hour window, from noon to 2 p.m. The school then sent an email to everyone apologizing for the mistake and offered a full refund to everyone who planned to attend, whether or not they were forced to cancel or not. That meant they ran the program, including lunch, for free. Since this was the first time the university had hosted a professional development workshop of this kind, they used it as a learning experience for themselves to plan future events.

What they did wrong:
By all outward appearances, it seems one person posted the details on the website (which was correct) and someone else created the email blast. They failed to proofread and cross check the details to make sure the information was consistent.

What they got right:
The university immediately acknowledged their mistake, accepted responsibility and apologized. They went further by offering a full refund ($25) for every person who registered for the event, whether or not they cancelled or attended. They essentially ran the program for free – including box lunch.

Takeaway: By acknowledging mistakes and quickly rectifying the situation, you demonstrate your professionalism more clearly and directly. Clients and customers are more likely to continue working with you because of the way you handled the mishap.

Scenario 2:
Raby Institute, a medical clinic, hosted a free evening workshop about women, wealth and wellness. According to the promotional material, two speakers would discuss money management and workplace success for women. The promotional copy focused primarily on the money management aspect, but when I arrived, only one of the presenters spoke about networking etiquette and how to make stronger impressions in the workplace, not at all what was advertised in their marketing materials. The woman who was to speak about money management never spoke at all, but acted as a greeter and introduced herself to everyone as they arrived.

In addition, at the end of the program, they encouraged everyone to complete a “feedback form.” Fine, except the feedback form had nothing to do with the program. Instead, it looked more like a new client intake form for a local financial institution where the financial expert worked.

How the business responded:
Neither the office staff nor the speakers seemed to notice or care that the program did not match the advertising. Not even the attendees seemed to notice or care. When I mentioned to a young woman sitting next to me that the program was not what was promoted, I was baffled by her response. “Yeah, that’s true, but it was still a really good program.”

Not sure if there was a miscommunication between the clinic staff and the speakers about the topic of the program, or if the program was changed without the office staff knowing about it. In any case, I walked away feeling cheated because I expected one type of program and got something else instead.

What they did wrong:
Clearly organizers were either misinformed about the program or the speakers changed the format without notifying the office staff. It might have been an honest mistake, or it might have been an intentional move to mislead attendees. To make matters worse, the so called “feedback form” had nothing to do with the program but instead was an intake form for a financial services company. It was dishonest and misleading.

What they got right:
The third element of the evening’s program centered on wellness, which made sense considering the workshop took place in a doctor’s office. On hand for the program was a nutritionist and chef who brought in samples of healthy appetizers and refreshments, which we all enjoyed. She was the hit of the night. And the price for the workshop was right too – free.

Takeaway: Make sure your advertising matches what the program is about. Make sure someone is confirming the details about the workshop before promoting it, even if it means having the presenters review your marketing copy.

When planning and promoting workshops, it’s easy to let the details get away from you. Be clear in all your communications, get the details straight and have someone proof all the information before sending it out. If mistakes occur, accept responsibility and offer a genuine, considerate response. Offering a refund or a discount on a future events can also help restore customers’ faith in your business. Remember that everything you say and do reflects directly on your reputation and professional integrity.