In this month’s Oprah magazine, personal finance expert Suze Orman gives a frustrated job seeker some unconventional advice: stop looking for a staff position and approach companies as an independent contractor instead.
Prior to starting my own freelance writing business, I’d have given the same advice. Laid off? Screw the Corporation. Do your own thing. Entrepreneurship for everyone!
Nearly a year into freelancing full-time, you could say I’ve grown up. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone.
Suze’s advice gives voice to an undeniable reality–the workforce is changing. Although some industries are showing signs of recovery, unemployment is still at an all-time high and our leaders have no clue what to do to create new jobs.
Market yourself, connect via social media and social networks, pump your contacts–the advice abounds but the truth is, no one really knows the right answer. No ones knows for sure what’s next.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart
Freelancing, consulting, soloentrepreneurship–whatever you call going out on your own–takes guts and tons of drive. It’s easy to see it as a viable option when you’re downsized and get a handsome severance package. It’s doable when you have a spouse or significant other to pay the bills during your lean months. It’s completely practical when you’re 20-something, single, and childless with nothing in front of you but time.
But when you’ve got some life experience behind you and bills to pay and children who rely on you for their sole support and no practical knowledge of marketing or networking or identifying, let alone articulating, your skills and talents…well, you do what’s safe and makes sense: you look for a job. A stable job, with benefits.
Soloentrepreneurship is tough. You have great, busy months with lots of clients and projects. And you have slow months. You have big dips. You have clients who stiff you without paying their balance. Or ignore emails when their bills are due. You have mornings when you awake and the first thing you think and the only thing you can utter is a short, but earnest prayer: “Lord, help me.”
And then the phone rings and you do a consult and in that moment, you’ve got a bit more juice to keep going.
Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint
For me, and most soloentrepreneurs I know, becoming self-employed was a conscious, welcome decision. Being let go from my last company felt like Emancipation. A chance to craft a certain lifestyle, one which would allow me to spend quality time with my child and enjoy life doing what I love to do.
But what about all those folks who don’t want to be their own boss? The folks who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to stomach the ups and downs of self-employment? The people who have advanced degrees but no social/networking/people/real-world skills? The people who just need to put food on the table–and can’t stave off the telephone/electric bill/repo man one more day? What are they supposed to do, especially now that some companies are warning that the unemployed need not apply?
Sometimes, freelancers/consultants need not apply, either
Even with job cuts, tighter budgets, and company outsourcing, many managers schooled in traditional hiring solutions are not completely comfortable with free agents.
I notice this when I cold call a company about providing freelance copywriting and they pause before responding that they “do it in-house,” or are “looking for someone full-time.” Or when a recruiter who regularly works with freelancers stuffs my resume into an uninspired, chronological template because in her mind, it doesn’t make sense that a person can float between clients and projects.
Maybe there’s an unspoken concern that their work will ultimately be outsourced to people like us. Maybe it’s the reality staring them in the face that they, too, may have to one day choose this life out of necessity. Bid farewell to the safety of the cubicle and company-sponsored medical plan and take up the hustle.
I applaud Suze for championing the free agent lifestyle. But offering it as a blanket solution to chronic unemployment is short-sighted, at best. In this time of economic instability and uncertainty, the only sure thing is that we have to find a viable way to put people back to work, and soon.