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When Jobs are Scarce, Create Your Own

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Make Your Own Job

The Labor Department’s latest employment report was grim: No jobs were added in August.

That’s the worst report since nearly a year ago. It means positions are scarce and competition is fierce (unless you have skills that are in high demand, like programming). For most job seekers, it is still difficult to get hired.

So what should you do if you’re on the job hunt?

You can continue to put your nose to the grindstone, networking, building your skills and doing your best to convince each hiring manager that you’re the best person for that full-time job.

Or you could try something different: making your own job.

When I tweeted about this option after the employment report was released, a follower wrote back and asked how, exactly, she was supposed to make her own job. So here’s a blueprint for bringing in income on your own terms, without waiting for a company to invite you on board.

Identify your skills

What are you good at? Writing? Organizing events? Rallying people? Social media? Web design?

Knowing your skills is crucial to figuring out how you’ll make money off them — and discovering who will pay for your services. Even companies that can’t afford to hire full-time employees still need to produce, which means they often contract with freelancers or consultants. Is there any reason that shouldn’t be you?

The Gig Economy, as The Atlantic calls it, is in full force; working independently is becoming oh-so-popular. The challenge is figureing out how to make this trend work for you.

Survey your experience

Do you have enough experience to sell those skills in a freelance capacity?

If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, the answer is probably yes. If you’re right out of school, be creative about how to get the experience you need. Sometimes a full-time job is helpful for gaining that experience, but you can go about it in other ways, too.

How about finding an organization that needs someone with your skills, but can’t afford to pay for it — and offering to work for free? Or asking to shadow a friend of a friend (or, for GenY, even a friend of your parents) to learn how they make money the way they do? Or taking an online class that will both get the gears turning in your head and give you something to refer to when people ask how they can trust that you know your field?

Connect with people who do what you want to do

Observe how they work, and learn from them. Then reach out via social media to ask for their advice or guidance. This will help you build your network, and you might even land a mentor.

As Jonathan Fields writes in Career Renegade, “The more well-known a person is, the less time and energy they will likely have for you, even if you get their attention.” There’s no harm in shooting to connect with high-profile people, but don’t overlook the benefits of reaching out to someone who’s on their way up (just like you).

Cultivate your online presence

Part of the reason it’s feasible now to create your own job is because the Internet makes it possible for us to market ourselves cheaply and sell goods and services without having a brick-and-mortar stores. This opens a world of opportunities.

To take advantage of those opportunities, though, you need an online network, one that trusts you. If that network trusts you, they’ll both buy your services and refer you to other people who might want to work with you. Rather than using Facebook and Twitter for playtime, spend 20 minutes each day strategically growing your network. Before you know it, you’ll have a support system to help you through this next phase of your career.

Start small

Unlike a full-time job, working for yourself will not start at 40 hours a week. OK, maybe it will, but you won’t get paid for those 40 hours.

It will take months to build a reputation so people know you’re available for hire and more months to create a foundation of trust with your clients so they feel comfortable recommending you to others. But if you put the effort in and move forward little by little, over time you’ll replace that full-time income you wanted with your own business.

If you make money as a freelancer, what other tips would you add?

Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Life. She’s in the midst of creating her own career as a journalist and social media strategist, and she blogs at The Traveling Writer.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Anonymous

    I would add that having a back up plan is super helpful while you’re waiting for your business to take off, especially if it’s part time and flexible. When I’ve worked freelance, I’ve turned to an old standby that has bailed me out of many a financial jam … waiting tables. The hours are flexible and it’s a great way to have extra cash in your pocket (especially since you may have to wait for paychecks to come in!)

    • Anonymous

      You’ve hit on a dirty little secret there, methinks. “Good” jobs can be traps. If you want to work for yourself – or even pursue a real dream career – you are sometimes better off waiting tables rather than doing a more draining job that sucks away your creative energy.

      • Anonymous

        B–Exactly!!! Once I let go of my “stable” job and started waiting tables, I wasn’t so stressed or exhausted at the end of the day. I had time to formulate a plan for what was next. Not to mention there is something really awesome about a physical job that allows you to walk out with cash at the end of each shift!!

        • http://alexisgrant.com Alexis Grant

          Interesting point here — Thanks for adding it to the conversation! I’m interested to hear more about what you’re planning :)

  • http://www.workuncovered.com/ Work

    This is good strategy for people who already have money, jobs or are doing freelance work already. But if somebody is completely broke and unemployed for months, not many choices are available.

    • anon

      Without wanting to sound pollyanna (in fact, I am indeed in the tight and unemployed position)… there is always a choice.

      It doesn’t cost anything but time to do a pro-active project to show potential clients or employers your potential worth.

      I have had success gaining constant freelance work that lasted a year doing exactly this. I found a company (actually two) that interested me, picked up the phone and asked to speak with the . I then pitched my expertise and how they could use my services (in this case marketing) and then charge the work out at a premium fee to their clients.

      Over coffee, we discussed it and I pitched that I was willing to do a discrete project for free. They took me up on it.

      At the time I couldn’t afford internet access so I had to do the project work in the local library, but in a few days delivered a report they loved.

      Over the next year I built significant experience that has helped me gain my own (better paying) direct clients and one company even insisted on paying more per hour.

      I’ve just made a similar pitch to one of the biggest names in Advertising and have met their senior team members to decide which project to progress so they too can see my work. Boldness works.

      Please don’t give up – I am sure you have loads you can offer! All you need to do is show them what you’ve got :) (ok, that was a little pollyanna, but its meant well)

  • http://twitter.com/SociableBoost Morgan Barnhart

    I like that you pointed out that it’ll take months to build a reputation. Most people expect to jump into entrepreneurialism and start raking in the dough right away – but it doesn’t work that way. Creating your own job is definitely a fantastic way to create work for yourself – but you may also want to consider having a part-time job to bring in a little extra cash while you’re starting up. Yes, having your own business requires ALL of your time, but you also need to feed yourself in the process.

    Or you could always raise money through Kickstarter if you have something in which people wouldn’t mind throwing money at to get you going. :)

    Cool article! Becoming an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely fantastic if you’ve got the right passion and skills.

  • http://www.empowerme.org Adrienne Graham

    Hi Alexis.

    Where to start! Full disclosure: I am a long time Recruiter and Business Owner.

    I do agree with you. As a nation, we have been launched into panic mode. Jobs are not as plentiful as they once were (think 90′s…and I believe we can get back there if we do it right). I wrote a piece I Hired Me for Forbes.com and on my own blog that spoke to taking back our drive, passion and initiative and making our own opportunities. http://www.empowerme.org/index.php/2011/06/01/tough-hired/ Also did a radio show about it. I believe when things get tough, you SHOULD hire yourself out….if you have skills (or products) that make you valuable.

    Here’s the thing. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur or even an independent contractor. Neither is something you can just jump into and expect to be uber-successful out the gate. There’s a lot of misleading information out there about using the Internet to make your riches and social media to spread your message. The problem with that is people are using the wrong. A lot of these so called experts are telling people jump on the Internet, start a business, make lots of money, 750 million customers are waiting on you on Facebook and there is no responsibility behind these words. No, everyone can’t leverage the Internet to make their own way. Some can, most can’t.

    The focus needs to be on emphasizing your current true skills and figuring a way to harness those skills and talents into a viable business or freelance opportunity. People need to be educated to do this not coaxed into it with flashy copy and empty promises. I can’t put the blame completely on these people who are selling the dream. Everyone should be doing their research and due diligence.

    Back to the job creation/loss argument. I have to disagree about it being a total disappointment. The media is reporting NO NEW JOBS. That doesn’t mean there weren’t ANY new jobs. We broke even, which mean there were people hired and there were people fired and it balanced out. I can see if there were really NO new jobs created or NO people hired, but that simply isn’t true. The media would like you to get sucked into the chicken little act. I admit, it is disappointing to not have made much progress. But let’s not act like there was NO progress at all. We broke even.

    Now what to do about it? First, stop waiting on Washington to create jobs. Stop hinging hope on the tech and energy sectors to create new jobs by themselves. There are tons of other industries out there. Make sure your skills are transferable to other industries. Open your mind to learning new skills. Apply with smaller companies and stop being heavily dependent on the big businesses who are major employers in your town. Everyone else and their momma are applying there.

    If you have a solid business idea, don’t treat it as a side hustle or something to do until you get a real job. Entrepreneurship is no joke. It takes commitment and dedication, but most of all hard work.Represent and package yourself professionally so that people will take you seriously.

    I have hope for small business, the economy and the jobs market. Clear your heads and buckle down for some hard work to make it happen.

    • http://alexisgrant.com Alexis Grant

      Love this part: “People need to be educated to do this not coaxed into it with flashy copy and empty promises.” It’s so true that not everyone is made for this! Unfortunately, the way we’re educated now is not in line with entrepreneurship, and yes, it takes a smart cookie to think outside that box. For the readers of Brazen though, I think it’s possible!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been straddling both worlds for some time now and have a few comments from the battleground. I agree with Adrienne Graham that not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. I also believe that some of us who were the best prepared to get good jobs (i.e., those from great schools or who have previously held good jobs) have adopted habits that are counterproductive to successful entrepreneurship.

    To avoid a long essay here, I’ll stick with what I believe is a core problem: we are trained to think in terms of acquiring skills that will make our labor expensive, that will command a high wage. That might still work for an independent contractor who works 40-hour-a-week gigs that happen not to be on payroll.

    A business owner must think in terms of profit, not wage. I know that I used to think in terms of positioning and promoting myself to command a premium hourly rate. The ultimate result of that, when successful, is creating a break-even business with a single overpaid employee. You can’t hire anyone else. You can’t sell the business. And if other people compete on price, you’re screwed.

    Once I displaced the ego around being “worth” $X per hour or “worth” a certain salary, I began to think in terms of providing services that are valuable and affordable (sometimes even actually cheap,) but are quick for me to deliver or that I can hire someone else to deliver. An example: think of how your job actually works. In an 8-hour day, the batch of work that you or your team produces serves many customers at once. When you think like a business owner, you try to replicate that, not get paid more for the specific job tasks.

  • http://majuter.us Leo

    I think being a freelance needs a lot more hard work. And you have to be “very” creative. Otherwise, your business is dead.

  • Althea

    I love this post because it reaffirms my own rent decision to “create my own dream job” — maybe I’m not so crazy to think at 28 this is possible.
    My advice, and my luck in starting out now, is to have an “anchor” gig. That is, somethin to hold your footing when or if nothing else is coming through. For me this is a part-time consultancy with an org that I have worked with for 6 years. An earlier comment mentioned waitressing which I’ve also done and would continue to do for eclxtra cash now too! (not a bad networking position either!)
    Anyhow, my question to the group and author is: what about health insurance!? It can be so expensive to do individually and health insurance companies are notorious for turning down individual applicants for preexisting conditions as small as migraine headaches.
    Please advise!!!
    Thanks for the post and fellow comments!

    • http://alexisgrant.com Alexis Grant

      Yes! Love that term: “anchor” gig. Brazen is my anchor gig :) I’m totally with you on this, though I didn’t have enough room in this particular post to go into it.

      On health insurance: I’m working on a post on that, too! I’m in the process of transitioning now, and I’ve found http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ to be helpful — particularly calling their agents and asking for a hand in choosing a plan. I’ve also used my state’s low-income insurance plan in the past when I qualified — It doesn’t hurt to check on whether your state has one.

      The cost of health insurance is a real barrier to self-employment, though. Interested to see what other folks think.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  • Susan

    Really a very nice and informative post to go through. Thanks for making such a nice post.

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  • http://marianlibrarian.com Marian Schembari

    This is a brilliant article, nicely done.

  • http://www.kristadial.com Krista Dial

    This is what I did! (Somewhat, anyway…) I was very fortunate to be offered a job straight out of college. (While working there, I even met the man who would end up becoming my husband!) Two weeks after we were engaged, they had a round of layoffs. Thankfully, both of our positions were spared. This made me realize, however, that I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and that I should probably create a Plan B. Fast forward several months. Two weeks before our wedding, they had a second round of layoffs. Again, neither of us were laid off, but I made it my goal to make Plan B become Plan A as soon as we were back from the honeymoon. After several months of working VERY hard and putting in a TON of hours, my side gig replaced the income I was making at my full-time job. I gave my notice shortly thereafter, and have been a solopreneur ever since. While I, thankfully, was not laid off, I was watching the company continue to make questionable decisions and felt like it was only a matter of time for both my husband and I. So I did something about it. You can too. :) Fabulous post, Alexis!

  • http://www.printinginabox.com Justin

    Great article—it really made me consider what it means to take charge of your career direction. I especially liked the part about setting aside 20 minutes each day to work on your networking. I think that will produce real, tangible results for most people.

  • http://www.usuarioforex.com Noticias economia

    Thanks……

  • http://twitter.com/annikamartins Annika Martins

    This headline is my life. Great outline on how to get it done, Alexis. These suggestions all hit the nail on the head!

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  • http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com Greg Miliates

    I love the create-your-own-job perspective! It’s much more empowering than the complaining, often victim-like paradigm.

    With all the economic insecurity, you can’t rely on a company for your financial and career security–you’ve got to stop depending on others and start relying on yourself. While that might sound daunting, it actually gives you much more freedom. You can create your own day-job at a company or non-profit, or you can create your own business, which most times, gives you a lot more latitude to decide what you want to do, how much you earn, where and when you work, etc.

    After being frustrated with my corporate day job–and worried that layoffs were imminent–I started my own consulting business in January 2007 while working full-time (and with 2 kids, so I didn’t have a ton of time to devote to it).  I gradually built up a list of a few dozen clients, so that I have a steady workload and income. I’ve got more flexibility and financial security than I ever had at any of my day jobs. The financial security comes from having multiple clients who pay me, rather than relying on a single employer for my income.

    Since I started my consulting business, I’ve QUADRUPLED my former day-job salary.

    It’s truly been life-changing, and has completely changed my worldview; I’m no longer dependent on a single employer, and I continually see new business opportunities.

    That’s not to say that starting your own business is easy–it’s not–but with persistence and smart choices along the way, I truly believe that anyone can change their future and become more financially secure by creating their own business. I’ve seen it happen for me, as well as a number of people around me. Maybe the hardest steps are the first ones you take, since it can seem scary. But as long as you keep taking actions–no matter how small–they’ll snowball and will start moving you to a new place.

    I talk more about the mental barriers, doubts, fears, etc. of starting and/or growing a business on my blog (http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com). Although I emphasize consulting, the ideas really apply to any business.

    Greg Miliates
    http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com

    • http://www.facebook.com/stevemonte Steve Monte

      Greg, I love what you said about “keep taking actions–no matter how small–they’ll snowball” I’m currently straddling the world of W-2 employment as well as my work as a coach (www.stevemonte.com), and I remind myself of this principle regularly.

  • http://www.reachschools.org/ reachschools.org

    I think everyone could have become entrepreneurs, provided there is willingness in him to become that. And are interested in becoming an entrepreneur will memperisapkan himself with the sciences that support the business. Nice to be an entrepreneur is because his work is not determined by hours of work, but need to struggle for that direction.

  • http://howtovids.net How To Do Things

    Great article. Times have been tuff for my family over the last year and I have been surching for different ideas etc. Your article on creating jobs gave me some ideas. I know I will never get rich blogging but I did just that and am starrting to get a few hits here and there on my “How To” Videos blog. http://howtovids.net . Of course I am competing with some monster sites like ehow etc. but i think as long as I keep making new articles time will do its thing.

    Thanks again for this article as it insprired me to start blogging and do research on SEO ideas etc. I will be following Brazen and staying in touch.

    Dwane
    http://www.howtovids.net

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