Taking Your First Steps + Entrepreneurship = Sustainable Career

By Phiona Martin, Career Coach & Industrial Psychologist

#Jobs #Entrepreneurs #Freelancing #SustainableCareers #V.I.P.S.

You have been looking for a job. The job searches have been grueling and the rejections painful. The days turn into months and months turn into years, yet you are still unemployed. Maybe it’s time to explore a sustainable career option, perhaps self-employment is your  destiny. The world of work is transforming from an ecosystem in which workers seek long-term or permanent employment to sustainable career paths, informal employment, micro- entrepreneurship, freelancing, and self-employment. It is now not uncommon for individuals to venture into a business completely unrelated to their field, e.g. an engineer opening a restaurant. A common reason for corporate workers who were once formally employed to enter the entrepreneurial world is as a result of a business that is no longer sustainable due to economic stagnation, and other factors. For some, corporate jobs are the polar opposite of their personality, values, interests, and work style. Whatever the circumstances that leads you on the “sustainable career path” it is important to consider the type of personal growth you are looking for, along with the financial gains and mental well being in the workplace.

When you make a career decision linked to your values, interests, personality and strengths (V.I.P.S), the first step is to ask yourself questions like – Who am I? Who inspires me the most? (family, friends, authors, artists, leaders, etc)? Which qualities inspire me in each person? What do I love to do in my free time? What do I care about? What are the skills that come to me without thought and effort (e.g. creative writing, working with numbers)? What things do people ask me to help with or do for them (consider you an expert on)? These may seem like very basic questions, but they play a crucial role in making sustainable career decisions. If you find the prospect of asking yourself intimate questions daunting, a good exercise is to set yourself a challenging goal unrelated to the world of work or formal education. Spend some time doing other activities not related to your job search e.g. set some fitness goals or learn a new skill. This will not only give you a sense of purpose, but it will ignite hidden “driving forces” and interests that aid you in becoming “self-aware”.

Once you have become “self-aware”, the next logical step is to define what your specialty is; preferably based on the skills that you already possess and something you are passionate about. This will help you identify the “expertise” you need to possess to offer clients a marketable product or service. Identifying your “expertise” is an important springboard for refining your ideal job and your  career trajectory, as well as what new skills and formal education you need to acquire. One element I consider to be a valuable metric to my professional growth and development is continuous learning and up-skilling. This means keeping up with industry trends through activities such as professional conferences, seminars, formal training, extra certifications, etc. Therefore, you must establish a “training budget” for yourself. If you invest in the right training and development for yourself, this investment will pay for itself many times over.

However, if you cannot financially invest in your formal education, find yourself a “mentor” or career coach through internships, job shadowing, volunteer work, or apprenticeship. A mentor can help you develop your skills, identify and achieve your career goals, advise you on your job and work-life balance, enable you to enhance your life skills, help you think more strategically and get the big-picture view, and assist you to access a variety of people and resources. Access to a variety of people is important because it helps you discover the hidden job market. Tapping into the hidden job market is not only about talking to people in senior positions within companies, it is about talking to as many people as possible to uncover potential job leads. It’s not about who has power, but who has information! Interact with many people daily (taxi drivers, hairdressers, security guards etc) because you may  come across information that leads to your next job.

Besides interacting with potential leads, it is essential you become proactive and expand your networks and broaden your horizons through attending industry conferences and events. This will help you establish relationships with people within your industry and through this you may get to hear about unpublished needs. Certain events will often activate opportunities within a company. Additionally, make use of online platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram to connect with people working at your target companies and develop a relationship with them through requesting information, asking for advice, and engaging with their posts.

The best way to tap into the hidden job market is to be proactive. This means you need to “fish out” these opportunities by making unsolicited or speculative applications. This requires approaching an organisation to ask whether they have suitable vacancies or needs and submitting applications when no opportunities for what you are providing has been announced. As an entrepreneur / freelancer, the goal of making unsolicited or speculative applications is to generate the attention and interest of a client in the hope that a need / role may exist in the company or one will be created based on your application. Some jobs / services do not exist until the right person appears! So, be resourceful and research hiring managers’ email addresses through LinkedIn, personal networks and company websites. Collect information about the types of companies who hire people in your desired role and make a list of them, use this list to research actual people working at these particular companies. Try find some commonality or something ‘personal’ between you and the company that you can use in your interactions, e.g. “I noticed that we both attended ABC conference”. This demonstrates real interest in the company or person you are approaching and illustrates your resourcefulness. After you have made the connection, maintain positive, productive relationships with people who can help you to access opportunities.

Probably one of the trickiest things to consider once you have entered the sustainable career space is setting a fee for your services. This is something that you should research well by speaking to other freelancers in the market and individuals within your network. The first step is to identify which type of companies will make use of your services and can afford to pay your rates. Consider the decision makers within these businesses and how you can connect with them. Take into account other costs such as administration, marketing, travel, rent etc. You need to be aware of taxes and other legal implications within the country. Determine if you will be trading as a business entity or as an individual and the tax implications thereof. Consider your business goals and assess the benefits that come with how you decide to legally trade. Finally, following the news is another great way to speculate opportunities. Pay close attention to developments in your industry and to the strategic direction of your career.

“Following current affairs allows you to understand your career’s core competencies – the parts of its operation that drive its competitiveness in the marketplace – and enables you to make sure you play a contributing role”. In conclusion, even if you are forced to close your business, the experience you would have developed during your entrepreneurial years can be of much value to the corporate world. When you re-enter the formal employment sector, it is your role to sell the value of the skills you gained as a freelancer, such as understanding the pressures of meeting payroll, branding, and paying bills, for example. In addition, you can solidify your credibility by providing references to corroborate your performance using your clients and suppliers. To reiterate, crafting a sustainable career means being proactive, maintaining a positive mindset and a collaborative tone. It is about creating your own solutions and not being a victim of circumstances.

DOWNLOAD the full ISSUE No.1 = Save Power, Save Power here.

Selected Sources:

CAREER GUIDANCE – THE THREE STEP RESOURCE FOR PARENTS [FREE EBOOK]

 ][ Monique Valcour (2013) Craft a Sustainable Career In: http://www.hbr.org  Available at: https://hbr.org/2013/07/craft-a-sustainable-career (Accessed 30 May 2019).

][ https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/true-love/20190901/282845077652122

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