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.

How Introverts Can Become Better Leaders

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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.

Workplace Trends for 2017

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As the world of work races toward the end of the first month, let’s take a look at some of the workplace trends that we may encounter in 2017, if they haven’t shown up already. Here’s a round up of these trends, as observed by three different sources: TINY Pulse, Greendoor and futurist Faith Popcorn. As the year continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how many of these forecasts come to fruition.

From employee engagement consultants, TINY Pulse:

* Co-worker connectivity will remain a key focus for many companies. In a study with Microsoft, TINY pulse found that employees with the most and strongest connections among their peers are the most productive. With the goal of maximizing productivity, expect more companies to shift to collaborative work environments.

* Employees will receive real-time feedback rather than annual reviews. Companies will realize the advantages of routine one-on-one feedback from managers. Research finds that employees who receive regular feedback feel they are being heard, feel more valued and are happier.

* The role of middle manager will expand and be more visible. Middle managers will take the lead in employee engagement, according to TINY Pulse.

* More companies will implement leadership development programs. As baby boomers retire, younger peers will need to step in to take their place. More companies will provide leadership programs to ensure a smooth transition.

* A better job market threatens businesses. More employees will be tempted to look for new jobs as the job market improves, and that can put a strain on employers to fill vacancies and keep the employees they do have.

From career website, Glassdoor:

* Say good-bye to excessive benefits packages. Over-the-top perks like on-site spa treatments and ping pong tables are more style than substance, say business experts. Employees prefer bonuses, paid leave and health care coverage.

* More companies will attempt to close the gender pay gap, and be more transparent about what they pay their employees.

* The just-in-time gig economy will still be around, but won’t likely plateau beyond the current task-oriented phase.

From futurist Faith Popcorn:

* More robots will replace humans, especially among unskilled blue-collar workers. Popcorn cites an Oxford University study that reports 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk at being replaced by robots.

* More than one-third of the U.S. workforce work on a freelance basis, and that percentage is likely to increase in 2017. People are also taking on side gigs to offset income.

* The businesses will become more tolerant of emotional expression in the office. With more women in the workforce, they bring more emotional intelligence – and more emotion – to work with them. It will be more socially acceptable to cry, laugh and get angry.

* Some companies will add “stress rooms,” a private place where employees can get away from workplace tension temporarily and chill out.

* The boundary between work and play will begin to erode. Technology enables global constant communication, so while that helps improve real-time communication with clients and employees across the globe, it means employees have little free time to play and relax. Say good-bye to work-life balance.

What do you think are trends we might see in 2017? Share your thoughts below.

Overcoming First-Day Jitters at a New Job

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers will hold at least four jobs before they reach the age of 40. In addition, the youngest workers – the millennials – will likely hold 12 to 15 jobs in their entire lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

That’s a lot of first days on the job.

Looking at my own career path, I can honestly say this is true. By the time I turned 40, I was on my 12th job. That’s counting temp and freelance gigs.

With so many jobs – short-term, long-term and in between – I had a lot of first days, and a lot of first-day jitters. It never gets easier as you get older. There is always a certain level of excitement, anticipation, and yes, anxiety, when starting a new gig.

Some anxiety is normal. It’s okay to feel nervous about meeting new people, entering a new work environment and facing new challenges without, hopefully, falling flat on your face. But if those anxious feelings are so overwhelming to the point where you can’t perform, let alone step inside the door to your new office, then it may be time for an attitude adjustment, or at least, better preparation for your first day.

Below are a few tips for overcoming the first-day jitters based on my own experience in the workforce. Each person is different, of course, so some of these practices may work for some people and not for others. Find the right balance that works best for you.

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Many studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is needed to feel refreshed and mentally alert. You may be able to get by on five or six; other people require more than eight. But ahead of a busy first day, going to bed a little earlier than you usually do and getting more sleep may be a smart way to start your new gig.

2. Eat a healthful breakfast. Another smart way to start your day is by eating a healthy breakfast, including some protein, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Avoid heavy carbs like pancakes which can make you sleepy. Instead, choose healthy options like fruit and yogurt or eggs and toast.

3. Dress for success. No matter where your new gig is located – even if the gig is a telecommute job from home – dress for the occasion, especially on your first day. Avoid overly casual clothes, like sweatshirts and jeans. Save the casual wear for another time. You want to make a good impression, so dress the part. It might also put you in a more professional state of mind.

4. Allow plenty of time to get to your workplace. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late on the first day of your new job. If commuting, check and double check train and bus schedules. If you ride a bike to work, get it tuned up beforehand so you won’t have accidents or breakdowns on the way to work. Ditto with your vehicle. Check traffic conditions and find alternate routes if the one you planned to take is blocked for some reason.

5. Go with the flow. Your employer or client will likely have an agenda that first day. So relax and let them take the lead.

6. Be an active observer. One of the benefits of being a new kid on the block is that you can remain detached and somewhat anonymous. By being an active observer in the office, you can learn a lot about a company. Pay attention to the office environment. For example, note how workers behave, not just toward you but also toward each other and toward their bosses. Are they friendly and treat each other with respect? Or do they gossip about co-workers and badmouth their bosses?

7. Smile and be friendly. Offer a firm handshake when you are introduced to other people on your team.

8. Listen, and ask questions. On that first day, you will likely receive tons of information about the company, the project and the team members. If you are confused about something, be sure to ask questions so there are no misunderstandings. Don’t start off on the wrong foot because you misunderstood an instruction.

Don’t let your nerves get in the way of a successful start at a new job or client project. Plan ahead and arm yourself with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast and a confident, get-it-done attitude, and you are sure to start your new gig on the right footing.

Should You Stay Friendly With a Former Boss?

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“Never burn your bridges because you never know when you might need someone’s help some day.”

I’ve never forgotten this tidbit of wisdom from a colleague many years ago. It seems once we leave a job for greener pastures, most of us are ready to put everything behind us, including our relationships with our supervisors and CEOs. We’re eager to start our new jobs or business opportunities. The last thing on our minds is keeping in touch with former bosses. As time passes, those relationships tend to be relegated to a dust pile, long forgotten.

But is that prudent? In an age when our business connections are vital to our success, shouldn’t our relationships with former bosses be a key component of our network?

Yet, how many of us keep in touch with our supervisors? It seems the only time we touch base with them is when we need their help – or a reference. That could be once every few years, or even a decade. Most of us prefer to keep our jobs and our bosses in the rear view mirror, with no intent to re-engage with them. But there are times when keeping those relationships alive can benefit you and your career.

I’m not talking about forming a close friendship with your former boss. But remaining friendly with them over time builds goodwill. With social media sites like Linked In, Twitter and Facebook, it’s much easier now to stay in touch with past supervisors than it was many years ago when I started my career.

A quick phone call every few months to say hello is always welcome. Another option is a brief email to recognize milestones, such as a birthday or a promotion. It’s not necessary to contact them often; usually once or twice a year is sufficient, more often if you had a much closer working relationship.

Keeping these relationships alive can benefit you and your career in a number of ways:

* It helps build goodwill for the long term. Express your gratitude for how they helped you in your career.

* They can be a source of support and professional advice when you need it. Likewise, you never know when they might need support and advice from you.

*They can provide a positive reference for you when you seek new job opportunities.

* It can open the door to new opportunities to rejoin the company working for your boss again in a difference capacity.

* It can present an opportunity to rejoin your supervisor if they move to a different company.

You don’t have to be close friends with your boss, but it does help to remain friendly with them. You never know when you might need their assistance, or how you might be able to help them.