With the turn of the calendar to September and cooler weather approaching, my thoughts often shift to school at this time of year. Continuous learning is the name of the game for many professional writers and content marketers. Even attending one conference or training course each year can help you stay abreast of the latest trends in your industry.
As part of this education theme, over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering different ways to boost your education. Last week, I shared tips about how to build your vocabulary. In case you missed it, you can find it here.
This week, I’m sharing a list of upcoming conferences taking place this fall. The early bird registration may have passed on some of these events, but all the same, they may be worth exploring.
Some events are higher in costs than others, mainly because they’re in-person. But even if you walk away from the event learning one or two new things you didn’t know before, it’s worth your while. And because we’re still experiencing a pandemic, most of these conferences are being presented virtually, which means you can attend a conference in New York City without leaving your home in Texas.
So whether you want to publish a novel, begin a freelance writing business, or learn about content marketing, there are plenty of conferences to get you going.
Editor’s note: Most conferences occur in the spring and summer, so look for an updated schedule in January.
As writers, freelancers and content professionals, these events not only keep you updated on the latest trends and practices in your niche, it gives you a chance to network with your peers, perhaps meet agents and editors who can help your career.
What about you? Do you attend conferences or workshops in your area? What is your favorite part about attending them?.
Remember to check out this week’s writing prompt on my home page.
Many of us have dreams of hanging out our own shingle and taking charge of our livelihoods. For most of us, that’s all it is – a dream.
Many people who have started a business often wind up closing up shop within a year or two. They had difficulty finding clients or lost money before deciding that they weren’t as prepared for the solo gig as they thought. So they went back to working for someone else, preferring the stability of a steady gig and paycheck.
Working for yourself is hard work. Harder than most people expect when they start out. The fact is, not everyone is cut out to own their own business. It’s more than the financial support and resources that can keep the business going; it’s your own mental and emotional make-up that can put a kink in your plans. Some people simply don’t have the fortitude, organizational skills and network to make the business work. Others don’t like the uncertainty about the future or fear rejection.
I fell into my solo writing career accidentally. I had left a job to manage a small business part time, but I was miserable. I quickly realized that this was not what I wanted to do. My former boss reached out to me to do a writing assignment for him, which led to other assignments. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do (although I knew I wanted to get out of the business management gig). Did I want to freelance full time, or were these writing assignments just a temporary fix until I could figure things out? Seven years later, I’m still trying to answer that question.
Looking back at that period of my career, I wish I had taken more time to think things through. I would have liked to have had a handbook or a self-assessment worksheet to help me figure out whether going solo was the right path for me.
The folks at the career site Vault have put together a really nice infographic that outlines a number of questions to ask yourself before deciding if freelancing is right for you.
Below are some questions taken from this infographic as well as a few of my own I wish I had asked myself. Hope these questions help you decide whether you’re ready for a solo career or not.
Why do you want to work for yourself? Knowing why you want to work for yourself can help you feel grounded, especially when things don’t go as smoothly as you hope. Whenever you feel lost on your solo journey, come back to your why. It will help you refocus on your career goal.
Do you have an established network and support system in place? Just because you decide to go solo doesn’t mean you work alone. You still have a support team around you, such as an attorney and/or accountant, a marketing person if you don’t plan to do it yourself, maybe someone to handle social media. Then there is your personal support team – your spouse, friends and family, and former colleagues who can pitch in when you need help.
Do you enjoy working for yourself? Some people love working alone and have no trouble being in quiet surroundings. Others need to bounce ideas off other people. They’re more productive working in a collaborative environment. If you need to be surrounded by people in order to be productive, you may struggle working on your own. Then again, there are always libraries and coffee shops to make you feel you are surrounded by “co-workers.”
How much of a financial foundation do you have? Most financial experts suggest having a nest egg of six months for living expenses while you launch your business. I would suggest more than six months, at least a year. For one thing, things are more expensive than you realize. Second, you’ll need cash on hand in case of emergencies, like a root canal or household emergencies.
Do you have your first client or project to start? It might help your solo venture if you already have a client or two in place. They’ll provide the moral and financial support you need to build on for the future.
How do you respond to uncertainty? Once you’re on your own, you’ll no longer have a steady paycheck, which means the future is very uncertain. That uncertainty can be too scary for some people. If you prefer the steadiness of a routine paycheck, then working solo may not be right for you.
How are your time management skills? When working on your own, you won’t have to follow someone else’s schedule. You’ll be in charge of your own, or that of your client’s. In fact, if you have multiple clients, you’ll have to juggle priorities and that means having solid time management and organizational skills to keep track of them all.
How much of a risk taker are you? This question might be easier to answer on a spectrum of one to 10, one being not much of a risk taker at all and 10 being “bring it on.” Knowing your comfort level with risk can help you determine what you’re willing to put up with as a solo artist – and for how long. Taking the leap into your own business is a huge risk, one that not many people are willing to take.
How long are you prepared to go it alone? Experts say that most businesses don’t last longer than one year. One year is the barometer to decide if a solo venture is going to work out or not. For others, they simply run out of money or they lose heart in the project after six months to a year. If you’re in it for the long haul, then going solo may work out for you.
How much experience do you bring from your chose field? Someone with only five years’ experience may not find as much success on their own as someone who has done the same work for more than fifteen years.
How do you respond to new challenges? Some people welcome new challenges, and in fact, actively seek them out to spice up their lives. These people are more likely to succeed as solo business owners.
How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is part of business. The most successful business owners will likely let the rejection slide off their backs or use it to fuel their next venture. They don’t give up. If you are easily discouraged by rejection, then working for yourself may not be right for you.
How confident do you feel about your skills and prospects for success? The more confident you feel about yourself, the more positive impression you will make on clients and customers.
How resilient are you? This question goes along with the rejection question. Are you able to bounce back after disappointment, such as a lost client or failed sales call? Most successful people working on their own are able to bounce back more easily because they understand that it’s only a temporary setback.
Are you comfortable wearing many hats? Working on your own means doing a variety of tasks, everything from accounting, marketing, recruiting, even housekeeping. All of this in addition to your own unique skill, whether that’s copywriting, graphic design or pet care. You might be good at what you do and the reason you want to work for yourself, but you may not feel comfortable or have the skills to do the other tasks. You’ll have to figure out what you are willing to do and what you should outsource.
As you can see, working for yourself requires more than just basic business skills. It requires emotional and psychological strength to withstand the challenges of business ownership. By answering these questions honestly, you can decide if working for yourself is the right career path for you.
I think I realized I was born to write when I was in seventh grade. My English teacher pulled me out of class one day and asked if I was interested in participating in an essay contest. I was flattered and said yes. Never mind that I never submitted an essay to the contest.
Over the years, other teachers expressed similar opinions about my writing skill. No wonder I wanted to write when I grew up. Everybody thought I was good at it.
That begs the question: how do you know that you were born to be a writer? The answer, I suppose, is as varied as the individual writer. Some people start creating plays and writing short stories as early as kindergarten. Others discover their writing hobby in high school when they begin keeping a diary or dabble in poetry. Yet many others don’t discover writing until well into adulthood.
The truth is there are signs that you are meant to be a writer, or at least love to write. (I believe there is a difference between the two: loving to write is more of a hobby while being a writer is a calling.)
Here are a few signs that convinced me that I was born to write. Of course, your experience may be quite different than mine.
1. You see stories all around you. No matter where you look – your backyard, the park, the school, or the grocery store – stories abound. You can find stories in the people you see on the street and in nature too. For example, there’s a story behind the couple arguing in a restaurant, and a story behind the family of raccoons that dig into your garbage cans every night searching for their next meal. When you see stories in people, places and things, you know you are a writer.
2. You’re a day dreamer. You could be sitting in a classroom, around the dinner table, or out on the patio with your morning coffee, and your mind transports to other worlds – some you know well, and others that don’t exist except in your own imagination. If you’re constantly dreaming of real or imagined worlds, you have the creative mindset to be a writer.
3. You love to read. Reading and writing seem interconnected; I don’t think you can do one without the other. If you enjoy reading full-length books, such as memoirs and nonfiction to suspense thrillers and science fiction, you are naturally going to want to write full-length books too. Reading helps you learn about crafting stories, essential if you want to be a writer.
4. You enjoy spending time alone. Recent research at the University of Buffalo finds that unsociable individuals who withdraw from society because of a “non-fearful preference for solitude” are more likely to engage in creative activities. Writers are by nature solo artists. They do their best work when they are alone. They don’t mind that alone time because it gives them a chance to hear their thoughts, organize their ideas and craft their stories, both inside their heads and on paper.
5. You’ve received compliments about your writing. You may even keep a file of papers and essays with teachers’ remarks on it that remind you how good you can be. Pay attention to the feedback you get from teachers and colleagues. More important, pay attention to what you learn about your writing from their feedback. For example, while the feedback from my teacher in eighth grade made me feel good, her observation about being verbose and repetitive made me more aware of what I needed to work on. To this day, I write with an awareness to be succinct. If so many people tell you that they enjoy your writing, that might be a sign that you were meant to write.
6. You always kept a journal. It seems many writers kept a journal when they were younger. Journals are a way to sort through your emotions, your ideals, your hopes and dreams. You might one day look back over what you’ve written so long ago to see how far you’ve come in understanding that time of your life. Making sense of nonsensical things is one of the strengths of writers. Keeping a journal to do that is one more sign you might have been born to write.
7. You are constantly reading and learning about writing. You attend workshops, conferences, lectures, and author readings. You join writing groups to get feedback for your work. You soak up all the knowledge you can about your craft. You don’t have to attend an MFA program to be a writer because there are plenty of other resources available, such as websites, magazines and writing studios. There’s a huge writing community, and we can all learn from each other.
8. You express yourself better in writing than verbally. Debra Lobel, an author at the Writing Cooperative, says when things get too emotional, she writes about those emotions and puts them down on paper. Sometimes she sends the note, but other times, Lobel says, she puts it into her fiction. If you were born to write, you probably find it easier to put your thoughts on paper than to speak them.
9. You had imaginary friends in childhood. Sure, you hung out with your school friends and did your homework together, but when you needed a good heart-to-heart chat, you turned to those invisible friends for comfort. At least, they never talked back to you.
However, just because you experience any or all of these signs doesn’t guarantee that you were meant to write. Conversely, you can still be a writer even if none of these experiences is true for you.
Think about your own writing experience. Were there any signs early on that you were meant to be a writer?
Come to think of it, there is probably only one true sign that you were born to write. That is making the time to write every day.
I’m stepping aside from my usual posts about the business of writing to explore a different topic – learning to pivot.
“Pivot” has suddenly become one of the common terms associated with the pandemic crisis that we’ve been dealing with these past few months. What does it mean to pivot? In today’s terms, it means repurposing skills and resources to address an immediate need. It’s the ability to switch gears, to shift from one focus to another.
It’s much like watching the weather change before our eyes, then taking steps to protect ourselves from the wind, the rain and lightning.
In the time of coronavirus, people are pivoting between careers, relationships and life goals. One day they may be serving meals to customers at their diner. The next they are packaging meals to deliver to healthcare workers working on the front lines.
Or one day, they may be operating a T-shirt company or work as a seamstress. The next, they may be making masks to meet public demand for face coverings.
Parents have had to pivot too, by becoming at-home school teachers for their kids.
Writers and creatives are not immune. They’ve had to make some rapid adjustments as well. A survey by Freelancers Union in early April found that 76% of freelancers lost business because their clients cancelled contracts or projects. Their clients were small businesses or travel/hospitality companies that were hit particularly hard during this time and couldn’t afford to keep them on. Further 65% reported that they could not find new clients as a result of the pandemic.
With those results, it’s easy to see how some writers need to pivot as much as restaurant workers and travel agents. At least, writers may have more options than those other workers.
So how can you pivot in your writing career during this difficult time? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.
— Ask yourself, “How can I help?” Look around at what is happening in your community. Is there someone who needs assistance? They may not need your writing and editing skills, but maybe they are isolating and need groceries or prescriptions. Doing something constructive can give you some peace of mind, even when you’re not writing.
— Brainstorm ways that you can repurpose your creative skills, or develop new ones. If writing assignments have dried up, look at other ways you can engage. Perhaps start a blog if you don’t already have one, teach a writing workshop to friends and colleagues on Zoom. Or read stories to your kid’s kindergarten class via Zoom. By repurposing your creative skills, you may discover a new talent you didn’t realize you had.
— Look at different industries. Believe it or not, there are some writers who are as busy as ever. Why? They write for companies in industries that are near-recession proof, writes Courtney Danyel at Freelance Writing Gigs. (Check out these tips for finding recession-proof writing gigs.) These industries include ecommerce, healthcare, technology, education government, legal, accounting and energy, among others. Look for companies that are established too. While small businesses and startups can make great clients, they may not be able to afford your services and they may not exist beyond a crisis, like a pandemic, says Danyel.
— Find a way to innovate. There’s an old saying you might have heard of: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When we are faced with challenges we’ve never encountered before, we learn to innovate to solve those challenges. We develop new systems for operating, invent new products, or experiment with different teaching methods to keep our kids interested in learning. We learn to pivot because a crisis calls us to do so. Look around you now. What can you do that will better serve your family, your neighbors or the community at large?
— Explore new career options. Pivoting can put you on a different career path, one you may not have ever considered. This time might be opportune to take an online course in a subject that interests you. Check out Coursera or Udemy where you can learn about grant writing, entrepreneurship, leadership, content marketing, and contact tracing — the decades old practice of contacting individuals to curtail the transmission of disease.
We are all learning to adapt to the new realities of COVID-19. Some of us are adapting more easily than others. It all depends on how quickly we can pivot
What is it really like to work as a freelance professional? It seems many Americans are gravitating toward that kind of work lifestyle these days. According to the 2018 Freelancing in America survey by Upwork, nearly 57 million Americans worked as a contractor or freelancer in 2018, making up roughly 35 percent of the workforce. That percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2027.
In Upwork’s survey, a majority of freelance workers work independently by choice, not out of necessity. While many freelancers surveyed admit they earn less money, they also enjoy better work-life balance (77 percent).
With so many freelance professionals flooding the workforce, it might be helpful to learn more about this independent work arrangement. What is so appealing about working freelance? What are the pros and cons? What type of work do they do? How do they find clients? What are the benefits and challenges?
A survey by Flexjobs.com of 1,000 flex workers and freelancers provides some valuable insights, including some that are surprising and unexpected.
According to Flexjobs, the typical worker whose freelance work is their sole source of income is a female, generation Xer working in the marketing, editing, writing and creative career fields, primarily for small companies and individuals and juggling two to three clients at one time. She has been freelancing for at least three years and plans to continue freelancing for the long-term.
Interestingly, that conflicts with the Upwork survey, which indicates that Millennials and Generation Z workers are the driving force behind freelance work. I suspect that many of Upwork’s estimated 12 million site users fall into those demographics, while Flexjobs’ users are older, more experienced professionals.
Flexjobs reports that while 45 percent of respondents have been freelancing at least three years, 38 percent have been doing so for less than one year. That’s an awful lot of newbies in the market. Interestingly, that percentage dips to 18 percent for one to two years. My guess is the drop off occurs because the newcomers have decided to return to full-time work or that the first year of freelance was to test the waters.
While most freelancers work in multiple fields, the highest percentage are writers (29 percent) followed by customer service professionals (23 percent) and administrative professionals (21 percent). While writing is still considered a valued skill by employers, it seems they’d rather hire them out on a project basis than full-time.
Roughly 24 percent report that their work is a combination of freelance and employee jobs while 45 percent choose to freelance full-time. While 39 percent of freelancers work between 21 and 40 hours per week, 35 percent work less than 20 hours a week. I suspect those working fewer hours are new to freelancing and have yet to build up a steady client base. Or perhaps they choose to work freelance on a part-time basis.
More than half of respondents said they found gigs through networking (56 percent) and from job sites (47 percent). While you would think large companies would be the source of most assignments, that isn’t the case. Instead, most freelancers work for other individuals (56 percent) followed by small companies (46 percent), and mid-sized companies (30 percent). Freelancers worked for large companies only 17 percent of the time. The takeaway from this is if you want to find work, the best sources will be other professionals or small businesses.
Another surprising tidbit: Three-fourths of freelancers do not have a website to support their freelance business. If your work is good and you perform client assignments well, word gets around. Clients will find you. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong referral. A website may not be as necessary for your long-term freelance success as you might believe.
The biggest benefits of being a freelancer are flexible schedule (84 percent), work-life balance (66 percent), freedom to work where they choose (61 percent) and no commuting (60 percent). The desire to be your own boss was cited the least (49 percent)
The biggest challenges for many freelancers are finding clients, cited by 65 percent, and having a steady income, cited by 64 percent. That’s nothing new. Despite the romanticized view of freelancing, often by traditional employees working 60-hour work weeks, freelancing is hard work. One critic of the Upwork survey and the rosy picture it painted of the freelance industry said this: “People who don’t have to freelance love to romanticize freelancing – the actual truth is that making a living as a freelancer is harder than hard and sucks a ton of the time.”
Bottom line: Not everyone is cut out to be a freelancer or entrepreneur.
Despite the challenges, two-thirds of freelancers in the Flexjobs survey reported a better overall quality of life. Sixty percent said freelancing helped them become healthier, 66 percent are less stressed than when they worked in a traditional job and 59 percent are less financially stressed.
Anyone considering freelancing needs to consider the good, bad and the ugly side of the business. For all its outward glamour, the freelancing lifestyle still requires a lot of hard work just to make half of what you earned in a steady gig. Upwork may boast 12 million freelancers using the site, but only 400,000 of them actually earned money in 2018, says Stephane Kasriel, Upwork’s founder.
“Like any business to be successful, specific competencies are required, and our most successful freelancers are painstakingly aware of what they need to do to remain successful. That means having and investing in the right technical skills. But it also means having the right entrepreneurial skills, the ability to sell, deliver, evolve your skills and keep improving over time,” says Kasriel in a Forbes interview.
Which might explain why so many freelancers and small businesses struggle within the first year. Freelancers don’t think about the extra time and work involved to evolve their skills or to sell their services when they set up shop. It’s important to think about these factors when considering joining the freelance movement.
When it comes to maintaining a writing practice, we tell ourselves a lot of lies – not being good enough, not having enough time to write, not having any good ideas, writing is easy, etc.
Why do we tell ourselves so many lies? More important, what are we basing them on? Whose voices do we hear when we hear those lies? Perhaps it was some offhand comment someone said to you many years ago that you took to heart? Or perhaps it’s someone else’s belief that you adopted as your own, even though that person is no longer alive?
Those lies often act as barriers to your writing. If you get too far ahead of yourself, you may hear that voice again. That’s when self-doubt kicks in. You slow down or stop writing altogether. That’s no way to engage with your writing.
Maybe it’s time to dispel those beliefs and get real about your writing practice. Maybe it’s time to re-frame those internal messages into more positive ones so you can enjoy writing again.
Below are the most common “lies” that you may have told yourself at one time or another and how you can dispel them once and for all.
Lie #1: “There’s not enough time to write.”
An old friend of mine once told me that he didn’t realize how much time he wasted until he started grad school. Once he started classes, he became more aware of how he was spending his time. “We waste a lot of time,” he told me with a shake of his head.
The truth is we fill our days with busy work, much of it meaningless. If you claim that you’re too busy to write, what are you “too busy” doing? How do you know that you don’t have time to write if you have never tracked your activities throughout the day? Are you using your time as efficiently as you could?
Try this exercise: For three consecutive days, keep track of how you spend your time. Include one weekend day (for example, Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Set up worksheets from midnight to midnight with fifteen-minute increments for each day. Be honest with yourself. Once these worksheets are completed, take note of any gaps in your schedule. Are there pockets of time where nothing is happening? Can you split up a segment of time? For example, if you get an hour for lunch, can you set aside a half hour for writing? Or if you spend most Saturdays watching marathon episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, could you swap out one hour for writing instead?
By seeing your activity in print, you’ll likely find ways to re-allocate your time so you can spend more valuable time writing.
Lie #2: “Writing is too time-consuming.”
How much time do you think you need to establish a regular writing practice? Thirty minutes? An hour, perhaps? Many people believe writing is time-consuming based on some preconceived idealistic vision of what a writing practice looks like. They imagine an overly large oak desk in a drawing room with lots of bookshelves and French doors that open up onto a garden with a view of the lake in the distance.
This scenario is far from the truth. (Hence the schedule assessment). More likely, writers are squeezing in a writing session during their lunch hour or on a bus ride to work in the morning. Most have full-time jobs, families to raise, obligations to the community. They don’t have a lot of time to indulge in fantasy, but they do make time to work on their craft.
The truth is, many writing experts say you only need ten to fifteen minutes a day to establish a regular writing practice. If all you need is ten minutes, you can write anywhere. Check your activity assessment again. Are there gaps in your schedule where you can squeeze in ten minutes of writing?
Lie #3: “There is nothing worthwhile to write about.”
Many aspiring writers stop writing because they think they don’t have anything worthy to say, no interesting stories to tell. But ideas for stories are everywhere if you remain aware and alert for them.
Engage with the world around you. Notice the people walking in the park or through your neighborhood. What are they doing? Riding a bike, feeding the birds, playing with their kids? Observe the other passengers on your next train ride to work or in the coffee shop you hang out. How are they dressed? How are they spending their time? Quietly and unobtrusively listen to the conversations around you. Note how two people speak to one another. In hushed tones so as not to be overheard? Or loud and emotional, as if they are having an argument?
There is plenty to write about. You just have to be aware of your surroundings to be inspired.
Lie #4: “Writing is not a worthwhile career.”
If you believe that writing is not a worthwhile career, go to the nearest bookstore or library, open up a magazine or newspaper or browse the Internet. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for writers. Sure, it may be tough going at the start of your career, or even in mid-career. But that has never stopped writers from writing. You may have to work a dull nine-to-five job to pay the bills while you hone your craft. But ask anyone who has ever been published and they will tell you that writing brings them joy. That in itself makes it worthwhile.
Lie #5: “Writing is for sissies.”
Writing is not for the faint of heart. Especially if you are writing a novel or a work of non-fiction, writing is a slow, agonizing process, complete with false starts and writer’s blocks. Your first draft is usually junk, and you’ll have to go through several editing passes before an editor or publisher believes your latest project is worth sharing with the rest of the world.
The key to progress is consistency. You can work on your latest masterpiece and still it may not be good enough to be published. But writers are the most courageous and heartiest of souls. They risk rejection constantly. Even after they’ve received fifty rejection slips, they dust themselves off and try again.They’re willing to toil for years on one project that is close to their heart, just to see it come to fruition. This writing life is definitely not for sissies.
Remember you are in charge of your own writing practice. You set the schedule and the parameters for success, however success means to you. Once you become aware of the self-defeating beliefs, myths and assumptions affecting your writing, you can flip the script. Rewrite the assumptions as fact-based truths. Then use them to redefine your writing practice.
Are there any lies that you used to believe in that nearly derailed your writing career?
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.
I’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.
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.
Who says you have to be an extrovert to be a good leader? Some of the finest political leaders and corporate CEOs are renowned introverts, including Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to name a few.
Just because you consider yourself an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to be a good leader. And in fact, you don’t need to be the CEO of your company, or even a manager, to be a good leader. A good leader makes solid decisions using the talents and ideas of those around them. You can find good leaders at any level of business, even among administrative employees. The only difference is the job title, and really, what’s in a job title anyway these days?
But back to my point. You can find people with good leadership ability at any level in the organization, and they aren’t necessarily the most outgoing, extroverted personalities on the team. Being introverted is not the same as being shy or timid, although many of them are. Introvertism, as I call it, is a way of interacting with the world. For example, introverts may socialize as often as an extrovert, but introverts tend to meet fewer people and prefer to have more meaningful conversations with them, while extroverts tend to spread their net far and wide. After an intense meeting or attending a networking event, introverts are more likely to “chill out” in a quiet corner to regroup and gather their thoughts, while extroverts tend to thrive in social settings. Introverts are more likely to patiently listen to multiple opinions and seek input from different parties before making a decision, while extroverts may find it easier to block out outside opinions and simply move forward on their decisions. There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert; it’s just a different way of interacting with the world around them.
Unfortunately, it is the more outgoing, extroverted personalities that seem to grab the promotions and higher-level visible positions, leaving behind equally qualified introverts behind. But introverts can still achieve success in the business world; it just takes a bit of courage and common sense. So whether you want to lead an organization or simply develop better leadership skills in your current role, here are six tips for becoming a better leader.
1. Know your strengths — and embrace them. Do you know what your best skills are? Why do people enjoy working with you? What would they say your strengths are? Once you understand what your best assets are, play them up. For example, if one of your strengths is being a good listener – and many introverts are good listeners – use that skill to build empathy in business relationships. If you are naturally curious about new people and new ideas, embrace that curiosity by asking lots of questions and showing sincere interest in the people you work with and the ideas you hear. That curiosity can lead to the development of innovative products or services that can be prosperous for your business.
2. Volunteer on team projects. Show off your skills or gain new ones by volunteering to be part of a team project. When you join a team or committee, you show you are willing to take on additional responsibilities. Higher ups will appreciate your initiative and willingness to share the workload. If you succeed in the task you volunteered for, colleagues may keep you in mind when they need someone for a specific task.
3. Honor your commitments. Nothing says you take responsibility seriously than keeping your word. If you say you’ll get the report done by Monday morning, do so. If you promise to make follow up phone calls to your best customers, do that. Every task you can do on time and without complaint leaves a positive impression and adds to your credibility. Honoring your commitments and following through on tasks is another way to show your leadership.
4. Lead by example. You’ve heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” That is true in the business world as well as in your personal life. Sometimes it’s best to let your actions speak for themselves. Good leaders don’t have to boast about their activities; they let their actions speak for themselves. Sometimes the best leaders are the quiet ones; they don’t necessarily have to act as a cheerleader. They demonstrate their leadership by simply going about their business quietly and unobtrusively and with little fanfare or drama.
5. Find someone to be your champion. Quiet introverted types aren’t comfortable blowing their own horn. Find someone to do it for you. Sometimes you need someone who knows you well, has worked with you previously, and knows what you are capable of; they are the best people to speak on your behalf. Good leaders surround themselves with people who are willing to champion their cause. Look around your office or among your peers. Is there one, two or three people you can identify who can be your champion? When you need that extra support or buddy to help you in a pinch, for a project or promote your cause, call on them to do some of your dirty work. That’s called having a strong support system.
6. Network for meaningful connections. Introverts tend to prefer small groups or one-on-one encounters with people, so attending conferences can be a bit intimidating. Look around the meeting room. Identify one or two people who may be there by themselves and approach them and introduce yourself. They may be just as intimidated by the prospect of networking as you are! Making small talk isn’t always easy for introverts but it is a necessary part of building relationships. You never know if that initial conversation can potentially open doors to more meaningful and profitable business partnerships.
The path to a more visible, leadership role can sometimes be a bit rocky for introverted types. But with a little courage and patience, you can build better leadership skills and more self-confidence to be the leader you believe you can be.