Self-starters Also Have to Self-stop

It’s so true it’s a cliché: successful self-employment is grounded in work ethic, commonly crystallized as the discipline of self-starting.

But for sustained self-employment, self-stopping is just as important.

Boundaries dissolve when you work from home. You change up the location: desk, sofa, porch.  You change what you wear: business casual  or just casual. You change hours according to the urgency of the project and clients’ and co-workers needs.

And without the discipline of walking away, work attaches itself to you like a label that just won’t scrape off, as I and others discussed in this Bloomberg Businessweek story.  

Suddenly, commuting, in a car, on the actual road, starts to look pretty luxurious. The distance and time separates you from work. You have a chance to clear your thoughts, shift gears, cleanse the palate.

The traditional advice is to draw clear boundaries, but especially now, in a pandemic, that’s hard to do. Rapidly shifting client needs and a trembling economy force rapid response.

Here’s one trick that can help you make a clean break. It’s counterintuitive, but that’s why it works.

Typically, it’s a good habit to finish a section of work to close out the day. You need that sense of finality, of crossing an item off the list.

But try this: open tomorrow’s work. Start a sentence or a design or a line of code.

Walk away.

Breaking the compulsion to finish is integral to sustained self-employment.

The work is never done.

Never.

But you must be done, at some point.

As hard as it is for self-starters, practice stopping. Pausing mid-thought or mid-sentence is a good place to pick up the next day. It’s not really stopping. It’s suspending that thought and resuming it. This process makes it easier to walk away and walking away makes it easier to come back, day after day.

Pivot or Poverty? Recession Forces Pre-Retirees to Choose

This pandemic-induced recession is especially cruel to people ages 55 to 65 – those on the cusp of retirement.

Millions will lose current and future income, right when they need to be stoking savings for retirement. The choices are plain: accept the financial losses and downscale retirement accordingly, or pivot to continue earning.

A new study by the New School   outlines the double whammy for middle-income earners who have retirement savings and who are hoping to continue working:

  • Older, middle-income* workers are more likely to be laid off. Up to 22% of such workers are likely to lose their jobs in this recession.
  • Retirement savings will erode as markets flail. Though middle and upper-income families have retirement savings, their portfolios are likely to lose value. “A household earning $100,000 a year would lose $10,000 in annual retirement income,” according to the study, and “A household earning $200,000 a year would lose $20,000 in annual retirement income, falling to $86,000 from $106,000 before the recession.”
  • As the Federal Reserve pledges to stay in low-interest, emergency gear for the forseeable future, interest rates on safe, insured savings vehicles, such as certificates of deposit,  will continue to hover around 1%. That is below the inflation rate.  Families will have to choose between putting savings in investments in a highly volatile market in an period of unprecedented risk, or see their savings erode as the interest earned is overtaken by inflation.

Not a pretty set of circumstances. And that doesn’t take into account the cost of medical care, especially for the nearly retired forced into the private insurance market because they haven’t yet aged into Medicare.

Lateral career strategies can provide direction for a late-career pivot. The key is to start plotting next steps now.  If you are concerned about having  a looming job loss, start scooping out possible moves now. Here are three considerations that can help you see potential ways forward.

  • What market opportunities have you detected in the pandemic chaos, that might tee up either a lateral move at your job or potential self-employment?
  • Who have you met through working remotely and on pandemic projects, that you might not have otherwise, either within your current workplace or business partners? If you’ve made a new work friend, would that person be open to brainstorming lateral or self-employment moves with you (and you, for them?).
  • Has working from home or on a pandemic-adjusted schedule been a change for the better, the worse, or neutral?  Figuring out what you would like to keep and what you would like to change about a dramatic change in work place and conditions can yield clues as to how you might pursue lateral moves or structure self-employment.

*(The study defines middle income households as those with $48,000 to $137,000 in annual earnings.)

There’s No Such Thing as ‘Working for Yourself’

There’s no escaping the come-ons flooding our social feeds and inboxes: lost your job? So what! Work for yourself!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? You’ve always thought your boss should do things your way, anyway. If you work for yourself, you’ll have the best boss ever. If you even count yourself as your own boss.

It’s all a lie.

Unless you were born independently wealthy, there is no such thing as not having a boss.

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When you become self-employed, you trade one boss for a few – if you have clients – or a lot – if you have customers.

And if you think bosses are demanding, try clients and customers.

The truth is, the person who pays you is your boss.

Clients, who buy services, are bosses for the duration of the project, and if you like your clients, as I do, you get to renew your contract with that form of boss.

Customers, who buy things or commodity services, such as utilities, are bosses of the transaction. They can return something that isn’t what you promised. They reasonably expect you to stand behind what you sell. If they like you and become repeat buyers, you get them as bosses again and again, for each transaction.

The ‘be your own boss’ mythology is deeply rooted in American culture of independence. The framing view of the Revolutionary War was preponderance of colonists telling King George III that he wasn’t the boss of them.

The trouble with today’s pitches that appeal to those of us who don’t do well with traditional bosses, is that they perpetuate the myth that self-employment is all about you.

It never is. It’s all about the relationship. And relationships go both ways.

Let’s take a look at one pitch that fell into my inbox this morning. “Tired of the corporate grind? Four career ideas where you work for yourself

Why, yes, I am tired of the corporate grind! Let’s get to these ideas that will spring me from the evil eye of the boss.

Here goes:

  • Blogger – about what? Who knows?
  • ‘A career in health care,’ perhaps as buying a health care franchise (whatever that is)
  • Consulting ‘in a specific area’ – and by area, the writer means, geography, not area of expertise
  • Freelancing – as what? You decide

This is spectacularly unhelpful advice and not just in the lack of specifics. It’s unhelpful because these are business models, not professions. And these four options are presented with zero reference to clients or customers, who are the other side of the equation.

Self-employment is a completely different mode of work. You have the chance to build equity in your own name, to choose whether you have clients or customers, and gain much more control over your daily schedule.

But don’t buy into the lie that you will be your own boss. Your customers and clients put the ‘employ’ in self-employment. Without them,it’s just you, alone by yourself.

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Working From Home Long-Term Is Going to Be Hell for Introverts

Working from home is going to be hell for introverts. 

It’s only a matter of time before they take to the streets, a ragtag army in coffee-stained pajama pants, demanding human contact, even if it is from a social distance.

Yes, I know: the corona-virus-imposed heaven that is working from home is their dream. They’ve been preparing for this all their lives. The crafters are giddy with the prospect of boss-directed time inside, with their fabric, beads and endless unfinished projects. The book-addicted swoon at the notion of curling up with their stack of to-reads and a bottomless pot of Earl Grey. The Netflix-addled are in heaven at the notion of binge-watching from the sofa, laptop open, remote in hand.

But sinking into a crumby cocoon is an overcorrection. Introverts have to work harder to connect with people. Those who fantasize about their virtually people-free nirvana are going to find that going to work actually created the social equilibrium that makes them love being alone.

I know and love many introverts. I married one. I gave birth to two. One of those gave birth to another one. But as a confirmed extrovert who has worked from home for 39 years, and who studies and writes about career growth, I give introverts a week before home purgatory turns into home hell.  

Extroverts love to work from home, too, and they are better at it because distance is no barrier for a determined extrovert. They’ll talk on the phone, they’ll burn up Slack, they’ll text, email, and videochat all at the same time.  In my ongoing exploration of lateral career moves, I talk all the time with employers trying to figure out how to respond to employees’ requests to work from home. People who most successfully work from home are extroverts, who are naturally propelled to connect with others. Introverts don’t do themselves any favors, professionally, by giving into their urge to hide.

Working from home frees up commuting time that can be used for career development, professional learning, and to connect with people in other departments. Smart organizations will rally short-term assignments that both solve virus-inflicted operational problems and convert the suddenly-virtual workforce to an opportunity for cross-functional collaboration that pulls everyone together in new ways. You’d think that introverts would lead the way so they could further the business case for working together separately, but it’ll be the extroverts who pioneer ways to bridge the distance.

When we all emerge, blinking and sun-blind, into that brave new day, when corona virus is something we work around, extroverts will simply transfer their ongoing conversations to real life. Many of them will claim that they were more productive than ever while they worked from home. That’s because they found ways to be with others, alone together, in some newly created virtual space. Church groups, study groups, bowling leagues, golfers, gardeners, runners, not to mention work teams, will all pivot, led by extroverts, to virtual meetings, group chats, and instant Facebook groups.

 It won’t be long before the new normal will be established.  I’ll wave to my introvert neighbors as they head back to their offices and I’ll look forward to hearing about their reluctant re-entry, over a pitcher of margaritas on my front porch….for about twenty minutes, before they go home to recover. 

How working from home doesn’t prepare you for self-employment

Looks idyllic, right?

Who doesn’t want to work from home, if their job allows?

Nobody, which is why so many people are so giddy with the prospect of starting the day in pajamas, working all day in pajamas, and working from bed in the same pajamas. Every publication, online and in print, is rife with advice on managing your time, not eating at your desk, communicating with co-workers via teleconference and Slack, and wearing pants.

Mastering your time, taming the refrigerator, maintaining boundaries with family, neighbors and pets: that’s half the battle of working from home, right?

No. It’s not.

If you’re working a traditional day job from home, you are transferring your corporate culture to your personal space. You will learn invaluable skills for virtual collaboration, managing by results, and prioritizing tasks.

But you will not be tackling the single most important thing you must have to be self-employed, and that is, winning clients.

To be self-employed, you have to have clients. It’s that simple and that scary.

Clients are great. I love mine. But they can harsh the mellow of working from home. Deadlines, and all that. Invoicing. Calls. Finding new ones. Keeping old ones. They’re high-maintenance.

By all means, make the most of your time at home. But don’t think that you can expense your pajamas as a start-up cost. To be successfully self-employed, you’re going to have to put on pants. And leave the house. And get clients.

You can do it! The upcoming Career Lattice online course, Staff to Self-Employment, will show you how.

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Date Entrepreneurship Before Committing

Do you have what it takes to start a company or employ yourself? You can “try before you buy” by taking on a self-contained side hustle.

Making fancy cakes just for graduation season or dog-sitting as a backup to an overbooked dog caretaker forces you to think like an entrepreneur. If your Career Lattice skills inventory turned up worrisome weaknesses, a small, short-term side hustle will make you backfill those weaknesses. Hate bookkeeping? You’ll get over it quick when you realize you won’t get paid for your side hustle unless you invoice and manage the related paperwork.

Side Husl is a terrific source for pickup work that can enlighten you about your entrepreneurial abilities and potential gaps you need to fill. It’s run by a longtime business journalist whose no-nonsense approach to work, career and income is a real-life as it gets. Use the Side Husl tools to zero in on a gig you’d like to date before you commit to entrepreneurship as your sole occupation.

Time is your boss’s money: Spend it on yourself

How much power do you have, really, over your time when you are an employee?

You don’t set deadlines. You often report to more than one boss (thanks a lot, “flat management structure,” for all those dotted lines on the org chart that mean you have to get sign-off from people who technically aren’t your boss but somehow have veto power over your work, amirite?) .  Often, deadlines are set by outsiders – clients, customers, the IRS. 

All these forces can collide in your calendar.  But to free up time for a side-step that can give you new skills and help you meet people essential to networking to a new job, you’ll need to master time management skills that prove you can handle the lattice assignment.

Here are three ways to do that.

  1. Group like work and functions together. The temptation is to tackle the project for Client A, finish it (or, at least get it far enough along to dump it on somebody else’s desk), then pick up work for Client B. Look under the lid to find similarities so you can do similar work in a single pass. For instance, if you have to get signoff on a few paragraphs from legal, bring legal all the sign-offs at once. You’ll have more leverage to push to the top of legal’s priority list when you’re doing so on behalf of three clients, not just one, and you’ll move ahead with all the projects at once while driving for the first deadline.

2. Analyze your “flow state” so you can protect productive time.  The “flow state” is your groove: when you’re clicking along, ignoring the clock, getting the coding or writing or analyzing or calculating done in a glorious, sparkling steam of productivity. Some people can turn their flow on like a tap  (I’m one of those lucky ones). Others find their flow in a quiet office before others have arrived or after others have left. Chances are you love the work you od in the flow. Treat yourself and block out the flow on your calendar for uninterrupted, closed-door, flow. Save the petty, annoying, paperwork and inbox-pecking for your door-open time.

3. Track your time so you can identify bottlenecks and barriers, both human and technical. Your boss(es) gives you work to do so she doesn’t have to do it. Build trust by documenting the amount of time you spend on each task. An easy way to do this is to use a time-tracking app designed for freelancers who charge clients by the hour.

If the time reports don’t seem to line up with your boss’s priorities, review the reports with her. She may not realize how much of your time is taken up by those doted-line relationships or by technical problems you have to work around. Let her run interference in blocking and tackling the barriers – that’s why she’s paid more than you are. And – bonus! – if you are thinking of transitioning to self-employment, you will become conversant with time-tracking so you can more accurately estimate how long it takes to do key elements of the job you envision creating for yourself.

Venture redux: Starting your own company helps your career

People quit the corporate grind to start their own companies for a lot of reasons.

Positioning themselves to re-enter the grind is not one of them.

Maybe it should be.

A Berkeley researcher, Gustavo Manso, has found that the entrepreneurial experience of “experimenting with new ideas”adds so much value to your management abilities that even if your venture fails, you are likely to move back to a corporate job with minimal losses. In fact, he found that a stretch of self-employment can actually boost your salary if you go back to traditional employment.

That is…if you bail on a failed venture within two years.

This validates part of the premise of my 2012 book, The Career Lattice, in which I position self-employment as one career lane, not as a one-way ticket out of the corporate world.

The key implication for entrepreneurs is to see their experiences – wins, losses and draws – as evidence of learning new leadership and business skills. Developing short stories and anecdotes about your adventures in startup land are key to developing relationships with partners, suppliers, lenders, and customers, anyway. With potential employers added to the mix, you’ve got one more reason to cultivate a variety of narratives about how you’ve become better at what you do and how you think by being a business owner.

Get perma-benefits from being a perma-temp

Temporary work isn’t.

Oh, it’s work. But it’s not all that temporary.

A new report from Workmarket.com finds that 59% of companies that use freelancers contract with them for at least six months at a time.

And 42% of companies use the same contract workers over and over.

When you know why companies are keeping you on contract, you can turn the advantages you bring them to build your career.

And – surprise! – saving money isn’t the main reason why companies use contract workers. Workmarket found that 64% of employers rely on contractors for flexibility. Then comes money, at 45%, then, expanding geographically, at 38%, and finally, tied at 24%, to generate additional revnue and to improve work quality.

Flip those stats over and here’s how to use your clients’ motivations to your advantage:

  • Flexibility goes both ways. Keep your clients in the loop about your availability. They want flexibility, but that’s also why you’re a free agent. Ask about their project schedules, anticipated staff shortages, and crunch times. Find out if they’d like you to block out time when they are most likely to need you.
  • They save by buying quality. Stipulating that you’re charging at least market rates, prove your worth by delivering polished, ready-to-go work on time or early. It only takes one round with an inexperienced, unorganized, error-prone contractor to m reinforce the total value of working with a pro.
  • Support expansion. Your know others like you. Your network is a hidden value to your client. Offer to refer your client to other contractors located where your client wants to be – and vice versa. You’ll build relationships in both directions.
  • Revenue doesn’t generate itself. Neither do ideas for new clients, new projects and new efficiencies. Make strategic introductions for your clients. In other words: trickle up.
  • Quality is the biggest reason why businesses don’t use contract workers as much as they might: 31%, according to Workmarket, say that quality is their biggest obstacle to using more ‘on-demand professionals,’ as it terms us contractors. So validate your quality by joining top-level professional associations; by asking for and using references when pitching clients; and by having an up-to-date and rich portfolio that illustrates the scope and depth of your work.

Freelancing is a career of its own. With more employers realizing the advantages of working with freelancers, the benefits can go both ways.

 

Advancing Women: Help People ‘Get It’ in Four Steps: Here are the Second Two

 

People say it’s important to retain and advance women at work. But they aren’t really part of the solution if they don’t quite get it. In the prior post, I explained the first of the four steps that convert someone’s ‘lightbulb moment’ to action – the kind of action that changes companies into places where women want to build their careers.

The first step is realization– pinpointing a fact or experience that crystallizes the issue. lightbulbThe second step is relevance – the fact or experience hits home because it’s clear that it has immediate implications for you, your team, your company, your industry.

Realization happens in your head and relevance happens in your heart.

3. Recognition is the third step in converting inspiration to action – useful no matter where you work. Through realization and relevance, you took in the fact and it became personal. Now, with recognition, you’re turning it outwards to put it in context. What needs to happen for this insight to actually make a difference? Do we need to overhaul our work-life benefits so people don’t have to ask permission to work from home? Get better at working with women before they have one foot out the door? Talk with women who left a while ago to find out why they really left? Fire the jerk bosses? What?

4. Finally, take responsibility.

It’s all an intellectual exercise until you commit to do something.

  • What can you do, right now, today, to act on your lightbulb moment?
  • What can you say, today?
  • What you can you set in motion today to make sure that your lightbulb moment becomes a beam that guides you, and your company, to becoming a place where women want to stay?

Each lightbulb moment is progress. But when there’s a string of lightbulb moments, you see a new way forward.

See the whole AFWA presentation at Slideshare.

 

If you’d like the accompanying handouts – an infographic of the four steps from inspiration to action, plus a worksheet that you can use with small group or one-on-one discussions, email me at jycleaver@wilson-taylorassoc.com and it’ll be in your inbox pronto.

For more lightbulb moments, and subsequent change, read the 2015 Accounting MOVE Project report. It’s full of personal stories about how CPA firms are finding new ways to advance women.