Out of Work? Hire Yourself.

You think you can’t. I say you can. Don’t over-think it, make it too big, or get in your own way. Just try it. 

Plug the gap. 

Being out of work, creates a glaring gap on your resume. Your work history has come to a (hopefully temporary) dead end. 

This makes job seekers lose sleep at night and I don’t blame them. 

So the question is: “What can you do about it?” 

I say, “Plenty, if you have something of value to offer.” 

Everyone has some level knowledge and skills needed by someone else. You may know how to: 

  • Organize: information, schedules, office space, projects, or events
  • Troubleshoot: software, IT tools, work processes
  • Consult/coach: on performance, problem solving, change, life skills, regulation
  • Create: specialty items, written materials, social media tools, art
  • Present: training, speeches, proposals, videos 

There are clients/customers who need your know-how. It doesn’t matter whether you charge them for your services or not. Each time you serve someone, you are functioning as an entrepreneur. 

It’s time to reveal this work on your resume. 

Hire yourself. 

Self-employment is employment. Working for yourself is about providing services to others. 

When you do that formally, you are functioning as an entrepreneur. 

Working for yourself shows the hiring manager that you: 

  • Take your capabilities and their value seriously
  • Can attract and successfully serve clients/customers
  • Are a self-starter, committed to building your career
  • Have the courage to put yourself out there
  • Are motivated and energetic about taking on new challenges 

“Being” your own business showcases what you’ve been doing since you’ve been out of work. It maintains your employment continuity, so you’re always working up to the present

Your resume will need to name your business and include the outcomes you’ve achieved for your clients—problems solved, installations completed, savings achieved, or negative impacts avoided. That’s what you include in your bullets. 

You may decide to keep your “business” active while you’re working or only between jobs. Either way you’ll want to address that on the resume or in your cover letter. 

Getting started 

Becoming a business entity isn’t complicated, for these purposes. Just: 

  • Create a business name as a sole proprietorship. To keep things simple, consider using all or part of your own name.
  • Get business cards.
  • Write a simple statement about what service(s) you’re offering, so you can tell people when they ask.
  • Decide on a fee-for-service when you need/want to charge
  • Get the word out (social media makes this easy, networking too)
  • Consider a blog that can double as a simple website where you write about what you do and post about what you know (This adds credibility for clients/customers and a credential for a future hiring manager to consider.) 

Find a few clients/customers (non-profits are often a good source) where you can work on a pro bono (free) basis, in exchange for a testimonial that you can use if they’re satisfied. This is also how you’ll get those outcome statements for resume bullets. 

Ask for referrals and see where your efforts take you. Remember, you’re not trying to turn this into an all-consuming business, (although it could grow into something significant). You’re still in the job search. So balance your time. Pick your spots. 

I once worked with a client who’d been out of work for over two years. He was looking for an executive position in sales but couldn’t get a look. So, he set up solo sales training consultancy with himself as the president. He had no paying clients, but that didn’t matter. He suddenly was at the table with the people he needed to meet with. 

Surprise yourself. 

Your career is in your hands. Being out of work is an empty feeling. It can drag you down. Staying in the game is important for your psyche and your resume.   

You don’t need a job to do valued work. You just need an outlet. That you can create for yourself by staying business fit. 

Photo from David Vincent Johnson via Flickr




The Sweet Sound of Striking the Right Chord | An Interview with Ricky Bell

I met Ricky Bell because my home office computer was deadly slow. As an independent computer technician, Ricky came highly recommended by my accountant, so I knew I’d be in good hands. To my surprise, I soon learned that those hands were equally talented on the neck of a guitar and that Ricky had connected two talents into one amazing career.    

DL:  Ricky, do you consider yourself a computer guy who’s a musician or a musician who’s a computer guy? 

RB: My goals as a musician drive everything I do. It’s been that way since I was a high school kid, working whatever decent-paying jobs I could find, including telemarketing, to earn enough money to buy more music gear. I’m still that way, investing in new equipment that helps me make better music. 

DL:  Is that what your IT business does for you today? 

RB: That and a lot more. After I got my A.A. degree in information technology, I apprenticed in IT for a couple years until I realized I could earn more if I had my own clients. So I went into business doing on-site residential and business troubleshooting, then database development and website design. I also handle convention production audio for my corporate clients plus IT consulting services. 

As a married man with a family, I need a business that provides a growing income. As a musician, I needed flexibility so I can play. Being an IT entrepreneur gives me both. 

DL: When did you know you had the talent to be a successful musician? 

RB: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid—violin in 3rd grade, piano in 6th, guitar and drums in 7th and 8th. I play six instruments and have been playing in cover bands since high school. 

I figured out that I might have a real talent for the guitar when I took lessons from Greg Howe, guitar player for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias. I wasn’t sure that I was any good until at 13 my friend’s parents let me sit in with their band. When they called me a “prodigy,” it got my attention. 

DL: How did that revelation change things for you? 

RB: I started to put myself out there more. My breakthrough came when I entered one of my original songs in a contest run by WZZO radio. As the winner (out of 150 entrants), I got to perform my song on stage at The State Theatre in Easton,PA with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That recognition was a watershed moment in my music career.  

DL: What were your next steps? 

RB: I never like to say “no” to opportunity which means that to say “yes” I often have to go out on a limb.   

I’d been working a freelance job as a cameraman for Blue Ridge Cable, a sister company of Penns Peak, a concert venue in PA. Through that connection, I was invited to play at an American Cancer Society benefit there—just me singing and playing my guitar. The performance was so successful that I was booked by Penns Peak to open for major music groups, including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and The Tubes.

DL: Where are you now with your music? 

RB: For me it’s all about performing to reach as many people as I can. I play with three bands now, two are my own. I play guitar and sing as a duo with my friend, Ian Frey, percussionist, at small venues and private parties. My cover band, Connect5, plays at larger venues where we keep the crowd dancing.   

I also play harmonica and sing as the Elwood character with the tribute band, The Blues Brotherhood, for large stage, sell-out crowds at casinos and the like. 

DL: How do music and your IT work fit together to meet your career aspirations ? 

RB: Computers and music share common ground in the music studio and on stage. Whether I’m performing with my bands, recording music, creating websites, or solving computer problems, my IT knowledge is always key to achieving successful results.   

I have no set-in-stone plan for the future. I continue to say “yes” to good opportunities the way I always have. All I need is money in the bank and the opportunity to play music. After all, I still need to buy more gear! 

Long term I just want to keep moving forward and upward. Making music and getting paid for it while taking care of my IT clients and raising my beautiful family matter most to me. Everything works together. 

DL: Your story reminds us all that careers emerge from the choices that we make. The more open-minded we are about our options and the more willing we are to take risks, particularly on ourselves, the more likely we are to fashion a career that fits us, striking the right chord. Thanks, Ricky, for sharing your story.

You can follow Ricky Bell and listen to his music and his bands at his website and on Facebook.  Here’s a two-minute video sampling of Ricky in action.

Baby-sitting Your Job or Owning It? A Career Differentiator

Jobs are precious these days. Most careers are made up of jobs we’ve loved and others that felt like a long trek across the desert with an empty canteen. 

It’s tempting to grouse when we see our jobs as: 

  • Boring and repetitive
  • Uncreative and confining
  • Unchallenging and limiting 

If we’re not complaining that the work isn’t exciting enough, we’re dissing on the boss who isn’t doing something about it. 

It’s our work. 

It would be wonderful to have a boss with the time, energy, and ability to tailor our jobs to fit what we most want to do. Truth is, no one’s doing that for our bosses either. 

Businesses run on the processes and tasks required to make their products and deliver services. They need us to produce results that create the revenue and profit needed to keep it going and us employed. 

This may not be a very sexy scenario but it’s the way it is. 

We are essential to the success of the business and the business is essential to ours. We’re in this together. 

Baby-sitter or owner? 

Baby-sitting for someone else’s kids is a big responsibility, but it’s not the same as being the parent. A baby-sitter spends a specific amount of time with the children, performs basic care duties, gets paid, and goes home. 

When we approach our jobs as just a string of tasks completed over a set period for which we get paid and then go home, we are a bit like a baby-sitter. Our perceived commitment to the lifetime success of the business would appear minimal at best.

 We differentiate ourselves at work in ways that get us noticed when it’s evident that we truly own our work, whether glamorous or mundane, out front or behind the scenes, challenging or simple.   

So, I’ll repeat: “It’s your job, so own it.” 

When you work your job with zeal like it’s your own business, you demonstrate its value, bring attention to it challenges, showcase your capabilities, win the regard of colleagues, and set a positive example. It gets you noticed. 

Your job—your business 

If you haven’t looked at your job from an entrepreneur’s perspective before, here are several business aspects that you own: 

Products and services: Your output (i.e., data, ideas, reports, transactions) is what you’re selling to your boss, coworkers, and perhaps customers. So the quality of your work product is a measure of your contribution to your main customer—your employer. The better is it, the more value you’re adding.

Customer relationships: Your internal customers (boss, coworkers, peers, other departments) make or break your ability to succeed. They either applaud your work or criticize it, contributing to either a positive or negative brand. You need positive relationships that become your loyal support foundation.

Marketing: Your work reflects on the company and you. Everything you do needs to reinforce the standards, quality, integrity, and principles that underpin the business and your personal brand. A good reputation is currency for your future growth.

Fiscal Responsibility: You have an impact on the company’s bottom line by the way you use resources, apply your time productively, adhere to rules, and protect company property. You don’t need to be spending budgeted dollars directly to affect the bottom line.

Administration: Every business has back office work (reports, filing, records, accounting) that ensures its efficiency and effectiveness. In your job you need to be known as someone who meets deadlines, is accurate, and careful about your paperwork. 

Freeing yourself 

When we own our jobs, we end up freeing ourselves from the idea that we are somehow under the thumb of the company. We recognize that the work we do is in our control, a reflection of our ability to get results though our own energies. 

When we own our jobs, the leadership sees a difference in us, in our ability to understand the business, and our part in it. It showcases our skills and abilities in unique ways. That can be the perfect formula for your next move—up! 

Photo from twodolla via Flickr

Besieged by Problems? Out of Ideas? | Circle Your Masterminds

In the dumps? Disgusted? Feel like no one’s struggling with career frustrations and business uncertainties the way you are? Makes you ask yourself, “What’s my problem?” Well, that’s how I felt. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, college student, or unemployed. We just don’t have all the answers.

Finding answers is about accumulating knowledge. 

And it isn’t just about information. Knowledge includes insights, perspectives, conclusions, and us

Yes, the most important knowledge we bring to our work is self-knowledge. Are you aware of what motivates, frightens, energizes, and limits you? Do you understand and deal with your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an effective problem solver? 

This is heady stuff that we often overlook. But it’s the real stuff of career and business success. 

The best route to that understanding is through people who want it too. 

Find like-minded people who trust each other. They’re gold!

 This is what mastermind groups are. You can get a group together around any issue you face: 

  • Career decision-making and job hunting
  • Building your small business
  • Creating better marketing strategies
  • Personal or professional development
  • Expanding your network
  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Developing new products or services  

(If this is new to you, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’ll amaze you.) 

I needed a mastermind group when I started my solo practice. 

Here’s the scenario: I’d left a big corporation and the handsome, every-two-week paycheck to start my consulting business. The risk was hefty. 

I worked all day, six days a week alone—no employees, no meetings, no one. 

I knew three former colleagues who were also starting new businesses, two with a real sense of urgency like mine. We were all struggling with the same issues: 

  • no colleagues for idea sharing, support, or accountability
  • difficulty staying motivated in isolation
  • trouble staying focused and resisting procrastination
  • dealing with uncertainty, negative thoughts, and discouragement 

So we formed a mastermind group that we called Gold Minds and met monthly for three years. 

Being held accountable by others makes us more accountable to ourselves. 

The Gold Minds met at my dining room table from nine to noon. Our meetings included agendas, assignments, roundtables, grillings (always constructive), status reports and laugher. We: 

  • confronted each other about our foibles and fears
  • shared leads and made referrals
  • reviewed and approved our annual goals
  • challenged each other on our quarterly performance results
  • conducted information exchanges; discussed  books read in common 

We were a kind of board of directors, committed to each other’s success.

It’s not much fun going it alone. So don’t!  

Career and business challenges never stop. The right mastermind group can be a huge relief. For these groups to be successful, you need to manage expectations up front. 

In our case each member agreed to:

  • Be trustworthy and hold our conversations in confidence       
  • Accept all members as equals
  • Adhere to the goals and agendas set by the group
  • Be kind, patient, supportive, and sensitive
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude
  • Learn from others and communicate openly
  • Have a good sense of humor

You get back what you put in. 

Mastermind groups can cultivate a generosity of spirit that attracts positive results. Like-minded people committed to helping each other are an empowering force. Through them we become more business fit, finding success our way as they find it their way.  

Have you had a mastermind group experience? What went well and what didn’t? Any suggestions you can add? Thanks, as always!

I’m pleased to post this code, Z8X2YE74Z8VT, in order to have my blog registered with Technorati.







Unemployment Got You Down? | Build Up Your Skills

Being unemployed is your big break. Why? Because you can finally focus all your time on yourself—your future. Most people squander that time. Please don’t let that be you. 

Stress makes people stupid. 

Think about it. In the face of the unexpected, fear, or hard criticism, we become confused, befuddled, even frantic. When we reach our stress threshold, our decision-making ability implodes. 

Not having a job, for whatever reason, can deliver high doses of stress. In knee-jerk fashion, we frantically try to find a replacement job which often looks like the old one. At the height of our stress, we forget to ask ourselves important questions: 

  • Did I really like that job? Was it a good fit for my interests?
  • Did I have the skills to be really successful at it?
  • Could I have made a career of it?
  • Did I like the industry that was home to that job?
  • Was I working with the kind of people who were good for me? 

A deep breath and serious introspection can ease the panic. 

Start with a reality check. You’re out of work now, but

  • Do you seriously think that you’ll be out work forever? The answer for most is, “No.”
  • Do you need to replace the job you had or is there something else just as good or better out there? The answer: ”Most likely”
  • Is the job you want going to fall into your lap? “No.”
  • Are you going to have to work hard to figure out your options, how to present yourself, and where the leads are? “Yes.”
  • Do you care enough about yourself to commit to finding a job that will deliver what you need? Only you know this answer. 

Start thinking. Keep thinking. Take smart actions.  

Thinking puts your mind to work discovering information, insights, opportunities, and solutions that you can act on. It needs to replace worrying, brooding, procrastinating, and nay-saying. 

Right action reduces the stress. While unemployed, you have, at least, a week’s worth of eight-hour days to develop and implement your plan for finding the right job.  

For starters, use part of each day looking for openings and opportunities through your personal and professional networks, posted positions, and career fairs.   

Then, invest time filling in the skill, knowledge, and experience gaps in your resume. 

Spend time figuring out how to stand out as a candidate. Avoid accumulating certificates, courses, or community work without clear purpose.   

Do things that will build skills essential to the jobs you want. Try these ideas on for size:

  • Identify a local non-profit looking for board members. Express interest. Volunteer or serve on committees. Say “yes” to a board seat offer. (Showcases  your leadership, talents, commitment, and energy; Builds your network) 
  • Become a blogger. Post articles on subjects related to the kind of work you’re interested in. Include evidence of research done on each subject. Invite followers and comments. Reference your blog on your resume. (Showcases subject matter knowledge, communication skills, social media savvy; Expands visibility) 
  • Offer specialized skills/services as an independent contractor. Target companies/individuals in industries where you want to work. Do some work pro bono in exchange for a testimonial. Mention this work on your resume. (Showcases entrepreneurial spirit, motivation, relationship building, skills; Adds references; May lead to an offer.) 
  • Seek out public speaking opportunities. Too scary? Enroll in Toastmasters and get over that. Speak to groups of any size.  Mention relevant topics and audiences on your job applications. (Showcases self-confidence, public presence, courage; Expands visibility) 

The right effort delivers the right job at the right time. 

Patience, a steady pace, disciplined action, and your network are your best job search assets. This work is about YOU, no one else. If you spend half your time focused on the marketplace and the other half expanding your capabilities and your reach, you’ll have a full workday every day and a great job as your reward. This is how you’ll get business fit. I’m pulling for you! 

Can you add other ideas for building skills while out of work? Are there any traps to avoid? Got a success story to share? I love those!


Any Lines You Won’t Cross? | Integrity Matters

Business is about survival. If you don’t make a profit, it’s curtains. Every day, we make decisions that can make or break our companies, often testing our ethics and integrity. It‘s a reality I had to face.

You don’t really know how a business works until you’re in it. 

For 17 years, I was a commercial horse breeder. I knew absolutely nothing about breeding, foaling, racing, or selling when I started. I learned a little each day.  

The horse business is like no other and staying solvent is a struggle for most players, like me. 

Anyone can buy a horse to get started. That’s not the problem. It’s knowing what to do next. After all, a horse is a fabulous animal that needs a career that matches his/her abilities. (Sound familiar?) It’s our task to prepare them for a good job at a good place. That’s the challenge. 

You don’t have to be rich to be in business, but you’d better be savvy. 

I owned a well-bred yearling colt that I’d worked with for a year until he was ready to move on to his next training stage. He was a handsome, strapping chestnut horse with lots of promise. 

I took him to a swanky thoroughbred race horse auction where there were lots of quality buyers who could help him develop his potential. 

My crew and I were eager to show him to prospective buyers who would come by for a preview. We’d take him out of the stall, walk and jog him back and forth, showcasing his beautiful movement and conformation. We did this repeatedly until it was his time in the auction ring. 

I was so confident walking him in the prep ring. Here I was with a great looking colt showing tons of pedigree. This was going to be our moment.

The valet takes my horse onto the auction floor. The bidding starts. I know it’s someone from my crew. It goes in fits and starts. My heart is pounding. In less than five minutes, the hammer comes down. The final bid was less than what I’d paid for him over a year ago and I know that my crew, by instruction, had bought him back.

 I was dumbfounded. It was a long and quiet ride home. 

If you want to know the hard realities of a business, talk to the insiders. But you may choose not to listen. 

My phone rang the next day. The caller had advice to share.

 He told me that I hadn’t handled things right when I was showing my colt to prospects. This is what he explained: 

“When a buyer’s agent comes by and asks how much you expect to get for your horse, give him/her a price. Explain that you are prepared to split the difference between your price and final bid price if s/he is the successful bidder.” 

See how this works? The person with the money to buy has engaged his trainer or agent to pick the right horse for him. Since each horse there has high potential to be successful, it’s in the agent’s best interest to buy the one that is the best “deal” for himself. Of course, the buyer doesn’t know this. (I still don’t believe this is a widespread practice, but who really knows.) 

I thanked the caller for the information and announced to my crew that I would not play that game. End of story. 

Integrity is the underpinning of your brand. Once you compromise it, it’ll haunt you forever. 

The life blood of every business is its relationships and reputation. So here’s what we all need to do:

  • Build and sustain a brand based on integrity
  • Deepen our relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and community
  • Always deliver on our word
  • Surround ourselves with quality people who endorse us
  • Make sure all our dealings are fair

 That horse sale taught me a priceless lesson: To continue doing what I loved meant finding and building relationships with quality horse people who shared my values, and there were many. If anything helped me get business fit, the horses did.

Have you every had your integrity tested? Ever watched someone compromise theirs? What stuck with you?

Like Trump: We All Get To Hire and Fire | Your Life Is Your Business

(If you’d like a chance to win a copy of my book, Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way, here’s how: 1.)  comment on this post and 2.) suggest a topic for a future post. Decision time: Feb. 5, 2010. The best submission gets a copy of the book. I’ll also do this with 4 future blogs to increase your odds! Good luck.) 

There’s a lot of grousing out there about hiring. So when it’s our turn to hire, you’d think we’d be really good at it. 

After all, we’re hiring people all the time. Yes, hiring people to work for us. Our life is our business, remember? 

From the time we start living on our own, we’re hiring. Mostly, we hire temps or independent contractors. 

So, who are we hiring?  

  • Personal service providers—hair stylists, manicurists, fitness trainers
  • Home maintenance folks—grass mowers, plumbers, electricians,
  • Finance and legal eagles—CPAs, insurance agents, attorneys
  • Health and wellness pros—physicians, dentists, message therapists

When it’s your time to hire, what’s your process?  

If you’re like most people, you don’t have much process at all. Your steps probably include: 

  • Asking a friend or family member for a referral
  • Going on line or looking in the yellow pages
  • Posting what you need to your social network  

Usually, we end up with the names of one or two people. We contact them and the first available person gets our business. 

When we hire services for ourselves, we generally don’t use a systematic process like businesses do. That can be a problem. 

When we’re clear about what we want, we’ll make a good hire. 

I once hired a man to save my old barn from falling off its foundation. He was referred to me by my friends at the feed mill who had used him often.

My hiring process for this construction work was very clear. I asked him about: 

  • his prior experience and his plan for this job
  • the size and skills of his crew
  • the estimated time-to-complete and cost   

The result was a work-for-hire that met everyone’s expectations. 

When that job was done, I asked if he would take down a couple old pine trees. He said, “Sure,” and I left it at that. 

I came home from work one afternoon to find him trying to cut those trees down by hand. Why? Because his chainsaw broke. The job had taken him all day. His bill was an outrageous surprise! I never used him again. So, he was fired! 

Lesson learned: I hired smartly the first time and like a dope the second. 

Too often, we don’t take our personal hires very seriously. 

Why? Because we think we’ll just get someone else if they don’t work out. The reality is that we tend not to “fire” them. 

I once had an ophthalmologist who was extremely well-trained and competent but dismissive when I asked questions. I stayed with her for 8 years because it was too much trouble to switch. 

Then her staff made two disturbing gaffs that she “blew off” when I questioned them. It was time: “Fired.”. 

When we live with our bad hires, it costs us frustration, stress, and money. Since our life is our business, we need to avoid those costs to be successful. 

Here are some tried-and-true steps for your personal hiring process:

  • Prepare a list of skills and traits, like trustworthiness, quality, reliability, and availability, that are your “must-haves”
  • Ask for and check references from people who had a job done like yours
  • Have a direct conversation beforehand about how the work, billing, and communication will be done  
  • If you have any reservations, walk away—and find someone else    

The hiring you do in your personal life is not easy. But when you do it right, your business fitness quotient goes way up. Good luck! 

By now you’ve figured out that “Your Life Is Your Business” is a series of posts  to help you manage your own life successfully. Do you have a topic to suggest for a future post? Also add a comment to win a copy of my book.