Alright, I am going to go out on a limb here and say it; a liberal arts diploma from most colleges is worth about nothing. It teaches nothing and the folks that walk out of college with that type of degree have virtually the same skill as they did when they walked in 4 years before. I’m not being critical of folks that want to go to college for that type of degree; I attended college for like, too many years and there’s something to be said of a well rounded education (and the social life and keg stands are fun….just not sure they are 10k+/year fun.)
In fact, a liberal arts degree pretty much guarantees you that you will be dependent on someone to employ you….that is, unless you learn another skill. In fact, most degrees don’t teach a skill. And that is the problem that most people are facing now that the economy is in a crunch and businesses are purging rather than promoting. -Degre’ed with no skill….
Just to give you a better perspective-
Marketing degree = No Skill
Computer Science degree= Skill
HVAC certificate = Skill
As you can see, both the computer science degree and person who knows how to repair air conditioners have not only a defined skill for the workplace but also a skill that could be beneficial to the community. It’s really no wonder people are struggling to find jobs. Most don’t really have a definable skill.
If you want to build a career on your own, you need to have a skill that can be done in a self employment setting as well.
This is the part where you think I am going to tell you everyone should be self employed. Well, not exactly. I don’t think that most have the drive to get up and do it themselves. From my rather limited view of being employed (my wife works), it appears that what happens at work, happens at school; people hang out, work a little, check their status updates, work a little more, go to lunch, some nap (and then work to catch up).
But more specifically, most don’t have the skills in order to make something a reality in the first place and would rather lean on the no one is hiring complaint rather than actually build a skill others in their community would be willing to pay for.
This IS the part where I tell you everyone should make themselves as valuable as possible. As in having a skill valuable to a community, not just a “job”. The skill should be able to transfer over as a commodity (service, product, or both) in your life and not just be valuable to a workplace. In other words, improving your excel skills may not be considered a “skill” unless you can find a demand out there in the consumer or B2B economy. Just my take though.
I am not going to go into the benefits of working for yourself. Truth be told, there are just about as many downsides as there are upsides. But I do want to talk about what it takes to build a career using a skill set as your centerpiece.
If you want to take the leap….
How to build your (self made) career
There are several elements that are important to building a successful career for the self employed.
Figure out what your skills are
Sometimes it is glaring. (for instance, if you know how to program). But most of the time it isn’t. For instance, my Realtor is self made. But truth be told, her talents aren’t in her real estate knowledge. Her skill is interpersonal. In other words, she could sell anything but is leveraging real estate sales to make a living. And she is doing very well, despite the housing crash. In fact, she got into it just as the crash was happening.
I’m currently working with an insurance agent who wants to start a consulting business in which she matches the best insurance options with her clients needs, cutting out the stuff that doesn’t really matter. Her skill set is 2-fold.
1. She deals with people so she has interpersonal skills.
2. She understands the insurance language to the point where she can convey what it means in layman’s terms for homeowners (and medical, life and auto).
If you don’t have a definable skill, learn one.
Skills service a need. But in entrepeneurship, some needs don’t translate well into the community. For instance, being a wizard on excel may offer some benefit to office work but doesn’t serve a greater need for the community at large (unless you are teaching how to get better at excel).
A business degree is not a skill. Soapmaking, on the other hand is. My friend, Lela, started learning how to make soap in her bathtub, joined the soapmaking community and eventually wound up starting a company based around natural beauty products…to the tune of 2 mil a year. (she also just published a book for anyone who is interested.)
The point is, you have to have a skill that centers around a demand and simply learn how to do it.
You don’t have to be a master at it either. You just have to be good enough (ie. better than the person you are doing business with)
You can also do what others don’t want to do
I do web design and SEO and other internet type services, which is skilled based. But one thing that I didn’t mention is that you can get by without a skill as well. Case in point, a friend of mine who owns a landscaping business. He started out primarily because he couldn’t find a job. Actually, his blue mohawk and sleeves of tattoos kind of made him un-hireable. With 2 lawnmowers, a truck and a bunch of yard tools, he was able to make close to $100k in his first year. His second year, he had to hire people (which is another part of the equation of building a career if you are self employed- expansion).
Understand what your “Job” is
A friend of mine’s wife does “paint parties“. You could say that she teaches people how to paint. But the reality is that it is more than that. Basically, she rounds up a bunch of soccer moms into a central location and they drink wine and paint a picture. It’s a party. A mother’s night out. She, herself, is marginally good at art (I had an artist friend of mine cringe at some of her paintings and her technique). But that’s okay because she isn’t in the teaching art business; she’s in the party business.
And there is big money in parties…..
The point is that most of the time, what we offer is more intrinsic than the obvious “I mow lawns” or “I teach art”.
You have to think about an advertising medium
Without this, you go nowhere. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. Perhaps the hardest work you will ever do is promotion and I firmly believe that outside poor money management skills (taxes will kill you if you aren’t careful), promoting a new business is serious hard work. In fact, I would probably recommend that nearly 60% of your time / energy / budget go to advertising in the beginning.
It doesn’t have to be traditional as in the yellow pages. It can be something as simple as utilizing your network to start off (something I have talked about several times now). Without it, you never actually float to the top and aren’t visible.
Partnerships within vertical markets are way underrated. For instance, if you are in the chemical / lawn business, then it may not be a bad idea to find a landscaping company to partner with and exchange clients. In my business, I work with a couple non-profits in my area and give better deals to their members which in turn, makes membership more appealing to potential members and gives me more word of mouth exposure.
You need to minimize personal expenses
If you are carrying a ton of debt with you, chances are good you will experience many more hiccups and roadblocks than if you aren’t. In my opinion, everyone should be going for debt free because it frees your capital to actually do things that you need to do.
The personal debt load you carry could kill your self employment options.
You need to run it on a dime (or two)
The less you have, the less you have to manage. Even things as small as $20 a month add up quickly. If you don’t need a computer, then you don’t need the expense. If you are local and don’t need a website (and believe it or not, you may not need one in the beginning), don’t make it an expense.
One of the death nails I have noticed with working with rapidly expanding restaurants locally is that they build more to grow more capital. What happens is that expenses grow as well and eventually catches up and surpasses income creating a money crunch. From a personal perspective, I hate it because I eventually lose a client.
Time constraints are another big problem. I can’t tell you how much time I have wasted on clients that either didn’t work out or “quit” because they weren’t serious enough. I have had to learn the hard way to make it a mutual commitment. Other time constraints include too much work / not enough time. If that is the case, then expanding is an option.
Expand when there is a need to expand
A lot of the hoopla surrounding the internet centers around the ability to reach far more people than a traditional business. From my experience, serving local needs first is better though. Local businesses are a microcosm of a national and international business ; if you can do well locally, you can probably compete on a bigger stage. If you start big though, with little capital, chances are good, one of the bigger companies are going to eat your lunch.
Sometimes a permanent expansion is unnecessary. For instance, you can use temporary help (outsourced if online) to help buffer those moments without making a huge commitment of hiring employees (they depend on you) if there are seasonal spikes or if you get unexpected traffic from an advertising source.
A lot of times you can build a very healthy income just locally. Depending on your lifestyle goals, you may not want to expand at all and may be happy with what you have.
A small business owner friend of mine (local) once made the statement that the key to making more money is leveraging people who work for you to do the major lifting. Ideally, your role is eventually to become the manager of this.
Build a base to gain confidence.
Then expand when necessary.
The benefits of self employment is that the ceiling is much, much higher than working for someone else but the responsibilities grow as your ceiling grows.
As you can probably tell, I am not big on being employed. For the record, my wife has never shared my sentiments in spite of the fact that I am the “bread winner” in our household.
I think that for most, the illusion of having a job is false security and I think that anyone with a skill that has a demand should make a stab at doing it themselves.
For one thing, you cut out the middle man (businesses pay you a certain fee and skim something off the top for your production much like a brokerage service). For another thing, I think few self actualize in a job, which is dangerous because you wind up attaching identity to someone else’s dream. And finally, I think that colleges don’t do enough for what they charge to successfully prepare a person with a definable skill that is valuable in the work place.
What do you think?
image attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/70815929@N07/6991176310/
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