An Entrepreneurial Mindset: The Only “Job Security” You’ll Ever Find

Throughout this year we will feature a series of guest bloggers from a variety of industries and backgrounds.  Some work for companies, some are business owners, like this month’s guest blogger, Laura Sammons.   Laura’s advice is spot-on whether you own a business, you are thinking of starting a business, or your work for someone else.  An entrepreneurial mind-set and viewing yourself as your own business, regardless of your career setting, will distinguish you from others and keep you nimble in your career.  Enjoy reading her article and as always, we welcome comments or questions!

An Entrepreneurial Mindset:  The Only “Job Security” You’ll Ever Find

by guest blogger Laura Sammons, CEO of A Different Direction LLC

At the end of 2009, I found myself in a difficult position: newly divorced, newly downsized, and suddenly desperate. I had kids depending on me. I had me depending on me. There was no back-up plan, and the “safety net” offered by unemployment insurance looked more like a cobweb. Looking at my savings, I figured I had about three months before the debt collectors would be at the door.

This wasn’t the life I signed up for.

Two years earlier, I could never have imagined myself in this position. My marriage wasn’t always perfect, but we got by. We had the house, the kids, and all the accessories of a middle class life. And I had just reached the peak of my career ladder—a dream job as a VP of marketing for a media company on the east coast. I flew in and out of New York almost weekly. A couple of family crises and a recession later, it all came crashing down. I joined a few million of my fellow Americans in the endless soul-crushing grind of résumé polishing, online applications and waiting for the phone to ring.

The phone didn’t ring, at least not often. And when it did, it was an HR representative asking a few polite questions designed to screen me out of the pool. The whole online application process felt like it was constructed solely to keep my résumé as far away as possible from anyone who might have anything to do with a hiring decision. The companies I applied to viewed my cool east coast job with suspicion, as if I couldn’t be trusted to be satisfied with a purely local job. And no one seemed interested in finding out how I could apply my skills to a new industry.

It was time for a different strategy. The traditional job search process was, for me at that time, a dead end. And so, while I still had some severance pay left, I decided to do something radical:

I stopped looking for a job.

Instead, I asked myself two important questions:

  1. What can I do that people need done?
  2. And who might need those services?

It was whole new way to think about finding work.

I realized I didn’t need “a job.” I needed money (of course). And I needed the satisfaction that comes from being productive and useful to society. But those things didn’t have to come in the form of one specific “job.” I could find them instead by finding a service I could offer to clients who could afford to pay. I hung out my shingle as a freelance marketing writer.

Five years later, I haven’t looked back!

Somewhere on the road from company woman to small business owner, I had an epiphany: the only job security you will ever find lies in your skills and your reputation. That’s it. Building a résumé full of impressive titles and a network jammed with important names will only get you so far.

When push comes to shove, people want to know two things:

  1. What can you do for me?
  2. How well will you actually deliver?

I have found that finding clients is both easier and more empowering than looking for a job. It also works a little differently. That résumé I worked so hard to develop? No one has asked for it in years. The things that matter are my portfolio and my client references. When you’re starting out and don’t have either of those things, it can be tough going. In the beginning, I did a lot of pro bono work for nonprofits and discount projects for friends to build up some history.

Here are a few other things I learned along the way:

  • Define your service in concrete terms. When I was looking for clients, I quickly learned that no one wanted to hire a “marketing consultant.” But a writer? Yeah, they needed one of those. The more concretely I was able to define what exactly I could do for them, the better.
  • Network, network, network. It’s cliché, but it’s also true: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And you won’t know anybody if you don’t get out there. In the beginning, my former colleagues and professional friends were my biggest allies. I also joined every industry group and relevant networking event I could find. Just don’t forget the first rule of networking: focus on giving first!
  • Always keep learning. The world will evolve, and your skills will need to also. Look for projects that challenge you and stretch your abilities. Online classes (many free!), mastermind groups, industry publications and conferences can help you stay on top of your game.
  • Never underestimate the power of reputation. In the end, reputation is everything. I don’t win contracts because I’m the best writer out there. My clients come back because they know they can count on me to communicate effectively, listen to their needs and do what I say I am going to do. Repeat clients and referrals are the lifeblood of my business.

The future is going to bring more global change, workforce disruption and periodic recessions. The job security our parents and grandparents looked for is a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have work security and financial security.

To find success in a rapidly changing world, protect and nurture the only things that really matter:

  • Your skills.
  • Your reputation.

-Laura Sammons

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