Don’t be a “wage slave”– be in business for yourself.
One of the first questions that new acquaintances ask one another is “What do you do?” or “What field are you in?” You need to be able to answer that question with no more than about 20 seconds of description. What is more, you need to answer that question in a way that sounds absolutely fascinating and that almost compels your interlocutor to ask further questions. Now if your answer is nothing more than “Oh, I work at Acme ball bearing company,” you have squandered a potential wealth-producing opportunity. You have told me nothing really interesting about yourself. What do you do for Acme? Are you the chairman? Are you in sales, production, or accounting? Now had you smiled broadly and said, “Oh, I show manufacturers, chiefly the Acme company, how to produce the smoothest, shiniest, hardest little spheres in the whole universe,” you might well have fascinated me. Apart from anything else, people with expressive faces who are really passionate about something are just more fun to interact with. If all you can tell me is that you work for someone else and are at his beck and call, frankly, I’d rather speak with him. He sounds more interesting than you. So, no matter how you serve your fellow humans, think of yourself as doing something fascinating; see yourself in business, rather than merely being something.
I use my real name more online since I’ve begun consulting, but I used to mostly go by VerseFameBeauty. (If the username SarahFowler is taken, I often still do… it’s my Words With Friends handle, for instance.) People ask all the time where I got the concept, so here once and for all is the name’s origin: a couple of lines I love (emphasis mine) from a [rather whiny and depressing] poem by John Keats.
Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell:
No god, no demon of severe response,
Deigns to reply from heaven or from hell.
Then to my human heart I turn at once–
Heart! thou and I are here sad and alone;
Say, wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain!
O darkness! darkness! ever must I moan,
To question heaven and hell and heart in vain!
Why did I laugh? I know this being’s lease– My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads:
Yet could I on this very midnight cease,
And the world’s gaudy ensigns see in shreds. Verse, fame, and beauty are intense indeed,
But death intenser–death is life’s high meed.
Between vacations, travel, and weekend afternoons by the pool my guess is you’re planning to pick up a book or two this summer. The perfect nonfiction book will inspire you to grow your business, teach you something new, give you new ideas, and be enjoyable to read. I have compiled a list of some of the nonfiction books I recommend most often. (Books have Amazon Affiliate links; authors’ names are linked to blogs.)
Is your business easy for your customers? Some of you will say Yes first and then worry about it. Some will immediately begin arguing “All things worth having are worth working for…” The truth is whether you are a B2B, B2C or B2G, your product/service needs to be easy.
Staples has had success with their Easy Button campaign. They have a simple message: press the Easy Button, and all your office supply/ink/printing needs are met. Why is this effective? Because Staples is saying they understand you have bigger things to worry about– and whether your customers are business owners, Congressmen, housewives, schoolteachers or anything else, they have bigger things to worry about than your business.
At work recently I have begun ordering lunch a few times a week. I found a favorite place to order, Restaurant X. They have delicious food, reasonable prices and are only a couple blocks from my office. The first time they delivered right on time, but even after I had ordered a couple of times their [new] delivery people kept getting lost. A couple of times by the time my food arrived it was cold and I had lost whatever brief slip of time I’d been able to carve out for lunch in the first place. Then one day I called and they told me they couldn’t deliver during the lunch rush. Wait… couldn’t deliver lunch? Besides the fact that their website and menus’ largest text proclaims WE DELIVER, they are a downtown eatery within blocks of large office buildings, including mine, and they couldn’t deliver lunch. (On an earlier occasion, too, a coworker had wanted to order with me and Restaurant X told me they “couldn’t split orders”. Since neither she nor I had cash to reimburse one another, she cancelled her order.)
That coworker happened to think of Restaurant Y, a place with similar food a few miles away in a more residential area. Their prices are a little higher (a dollar or two per dish), but I decided to give them a try. They happily delivered, on time, and never got lost. Soon several other people in the office were ordering when I did because they’d seen my food (starting from when I was ordering from Restaurant X), and the drivers come out one time to deliver multiple orders. They patiently take an order and get transferred from phone to phone taking multiple credit cards.
You know what? I like Restaurant X’s food a little bit better, and would appreciate spending a few dollars less on lunch. But on those days I haven’t had time to pack anything and don’t have time to go out, only one thing matters: who can bring me lunch? I need to press the easy button and have lunch appear.
How could your business make it easier for your customers? How are you doing it already?
Yes, contacting your existing network. Yes, searching job boards. Yes, searching on social networks. But you can’t (shouldn’t!) sit at the computer all day, and even in person you won’t be the first great candidate letting your connections know you’re looking for work.
I’ve heard far too many people tell job seekers that employers will understand if there’s a gap in your resume in 2009 or 2010– the economy is tough. Maybe, but what does a complete gap in your resume say? That you’ve sat on your butt collecting unemployment as it was extended and extended. Is that what you want this time to say about you?
What did you do before? Can you do that in some capacity, even if you might be working for free? Nonprofits can always use extra help, but they may not always be able to pay for it.
Does a local Relay for Life need your help to build a website where each team can take contributions via PayPal, or to teach teams about using Square to take on-the-fly donations via credit card?
Can you organize a huge city-wide event for Share Our Strength’s National Bake Sale? Put together a supply drive for Haiti, Chile, Nashville, or the local crisis pregnancy center? Find a candidate you believe in and host a fundraiser, make phone calls or walk precincts. Right now while you may not have money, you have what you probably haven’t in the past: time. Put it to good use.
On a smaller level, use WordPress to build your church a website. Set your friend the CEO up on Twitter. Teach your small business owning brother how to video blog. If you’re an accountant, become a campaign treasurer. Retile your elderly neighbor’s kitchen. Start making family dinners for your best friend the single mom.
You can volunteer consulting services, too. Whether your expertise is boards of directors, open-source technology, accounting, event planning, paperless office environments, building projects, energy savings, or graphic design, chances are there’s a local nonprofit who could really use you.
There is also no reason you have to work for free. You can probably walk down your nearest major street and offer to build a web presence for each of the local businesses. Ask around for companies who’ve recently had to reduce their workforce and are missing a crucial person just as a project needs to get done. Do some consulting for a friend’s small business. Create a profile on a freelance work site or a compete-to-win graphic design site. Babysit. Walk some dogs. Start your own company.
In addition to having something to put on your resume and helping a worthy cause, you’ll often meet local business owners who serve on the boards of nonprofits (and when you’re doing freelance projects for companies, you’ll temporarily fit into their regular workflow). This is network building– the thing most likely to get you a new job.
In short, do something. As companies begin hiring again, and even if “they’re not”, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to move forward. And who knows? You may even find that the freelancing you’re doing or the company you start is what you want to do for the rest of your life!
You’ve heard a lot about social media. You know you should get involved. You’re just not sure you have time/not sure you know how/not sure you want to jump in just yet. That’s fine (for now). What do you do now, then? Ignore the conversation? Pretend no one is mentioning your brand because you’re not there? No way!
Whether you have profiles on every site, are waiting to jump in to social media or never plan to get involved, you should know what is being said about your company. Here’s how to do that.
Set up Google Alerts on terms you want to keep track of across the Web (your company name, your own name, brand names of your products or services, and– for best results– other terms related to your industry). Be sure to click Comprehensive! You can have these delivered to your email (in a daily or weekly digest, or as they occur) or to an RSS reader. (This step is really an absolute necessity. If you do nothing else, at least do this!)
While some tweets will eventually show up in your Google Alerts, for the most real-time results you should use Twitter Search. If you want to do this daily, you’re welcome to; but the easiest way will be to search the terms, then click Feed for this Query and subscribe in an RSS feeder.
In order to use Facebook Search, you’ll need a Facebook account. It’s worth signing up for, since anything within Facebook will not show up in your Google Alerts. If the mentions you see through Google are showing up in blogs, subscribe to search terms in the blog siteTechnorati. You might also search regularly through Alltop, a topic aggregator.
Once you have a good idea of the conversation happening about your brand (or related topics), you’ll have a chance to decide where you want to go from there. Do you want to set up profiles on existing networks, or try to start a community around your brand? Do you want to blog or just chat? Is there an educational gap surrounding your product? After listening for a while, you’ll know where the gaps are– and you can figure out (or get help figuring out) just how you want to fill them.
Without being active on the Web, you’ll have a hard time responding if you hear something about your brand getting out of hand, but at least you won’t be blindsided by something that arises “behind the scenes”. (Remember: Your customers have access to search engines and are usually on at least one social media site. It’s not behind the scenes for anyone but you.)