Last year, I quit my full-time job to stay at home with my daughter, rather than put her in daycare. I knew, within the first couple of months, that I didn’t want to just sit around watching soap operas and court shows while eating bon-bons as she took her naps. (In a previous post, I explained how my daughter spent the first couple of months of her life in the NICU. During that time, I was home without the baby and had lots of time to think when I wasn’t sleeping or pumping.)
I needed something to keep my mind fresh, keep my resume up-to-date (in case I later returned to the rat race), and keep my creative juices flowing. It also needed to be something that provided flexibility so that I could to tend to my daughter’s needs.
That’s when I began reading lots and lots of books about discovering my passion, starting a business, and careers. I learned a great deal about myself, my dreams, and what my core competencies are. In the end, I started my own company, providing copywriting, marketing and branding services; and immediately received contracted work from an award-winning graphic design company located in the Washington area. Plus, I gave birth to this blog in order to help others who are trying to find their way.
Because I learned so much during my journey (and still learning!), I thought I’d share the advice that I found most helpful. Hope this information is just as helpful to you. And feel free to share your own advice in the comments section below!
- Do volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door if you lack the necessary experience to land a 9-5. If there’s a specific company that you’d like to work for, visit their websites to find out if they need volunteers. Generally, you’ll find that many non-profits, such as museums and mentoring programs, seek passionate, dedicated adults to help out in times of scarcity. Even if it isn’t exactly the right company, you may find roles that suit your interest and add an extra notch to your resume. You never know, your hard work might get you noticed and later land you your dream job.
- Do an internship. Internships aren’t just for teens anymore. Graduates these days are finding themselves accepting up to 3 or more internships after college, simply because they can’t seem to land a job in their field right away, partly due to the economy. Well, what if you’re an older student? Don’t be intimated by your younger peers. Employers may find you a more attractive candidate because of your maturity.
- Do conduct informational interviews. Contact a few professionals you admire or would like to do business with. Do your own research before contacting them to let them know you’re serious. Ask for lots of advice, what they would’ve done differently, and what they did right. Try not to monopolize their time. Unless they’re a talker, keep the conversation brief and ask if they’re available to follow up with by email. You might also want to consider talking to someone who’s located in a distant city or state. (You wouldn’t want to let your competitor know you’re infringing on their territory.) Plus, if the conversation went well, ask if they can recommend other individuals to speak with. This’ll help you grow your network. And lastly, don’t forget to say “Thanks!”
- Do join professional groups. Professional groups are great because they give you a chance to mingle and glean information from like-minded individuals. Plus, they might have leads that could benefit you and that you never knew of. The key thing with these types of groups is that you should bring something to the table and be a valuable source to others. Don’t just be a leech, sucking all the information out of everyone else. Be prepared to contribute your own knowledge and experience. Generally, these groups are intended to serve as a networking community, but you might even forge life-long friendships in the process.
- Do your research. Have you ever met someone who said they were going to do something, but after a quick chat about their upcoming venture you could spot that they didn’t know what they were getting into? It’s probably because they didn’t conduct enough research, or any at all. I’ve definitely been there and done that! If you’re low on cash, skim the internet for information. Or better yet, hit your local public library and pull books related to what you want to do.
- Do Start Small. Small business that is. Maybe you’ve considered starting your own business doing what you love. What’s key in starting any business is to draft a business plan. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Search the internet for some examples in your chosen field and start with the basics. The process of thinking through your business and its potential is a great tool to help you decide if you’re really going to be in it to win it. Also, check out the resources below, particularly the U.S. Small Business Administration website for further information on starting a small business.
- Do save money before striking out on your own. Don’t quit your day job too soon. Make sure you have enough money saved or have enough extra income (either from a spouse or willing parent) to cushion you when you make the jump. Don’t let an overzealous heart lead you to bankruptcy. If possible, become a consultant for your company as you get your business off the ground. As suggested above, it might be a good idea to first volunteer in your desired profession to determine if it’s really going to be a good fit.
- Do create a professional image on social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkdIn. No one wants to see the close-up shot of you picking your nose, and your prospective clients certainly don’t! Select pictures that portray a confident, polished you. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little personality, but do it in good taste. If possible, create an account with LinkdIn only once your business is up and running or you’ve launched your new career. By waiting, you ensure your contact information and website link are most current.
- Do take it slow and be patient. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Keep everything in perspective and take baby steps, when needed. Don’t forget to take care of yourself during this time. Starting a business or new career can be extremely draining — emotionally and physically.
- And finally… Do what you’re passionate about! That’s what you’re here for right? You’re tired of the rat race and you want something better, more fulfilling. You’re in a dead end job, you’re no longer motivated to perform well, and you’ve been eyeing that position in a completely different department, but too afraid to apply for it. Or, you’ve been longing to strike out on your own, but the self-doubt is paralyzing. The best way to combat fear, in this situation, is to gather information. There’s freedom in knowledge! You’ll find that what you really want to do, isn’t that far from your reach after all.
With that being said, remember that all of these things don’t have to be done all at once. Start small. Check out some of the resources I listed below and go live your dreams!
- U.S. Small Business Administration
The SBA provides programs and services to help you start and grow your business. Start your research there. Hang around the SBA website and consider taking the time to watch or click through some of the tutorials. You can also schedule an appointment with one of their counselors if you need more hands-on assistance. Also, they provide information about programs that target certain demographics, such as women, veterans, minorities, and the disabled. So keep your eye out for information pertaining to your classification and seize any opportunity that’ll help you get your business off the ground. To get more valuable information, visit the the government website by clicking here.
- Entrepreneur: Starting a Business
Entrepreneur provides a wealth of information — from business ideas, to tools and services, and even an online community where you can find other professionals, and get valuable feedback. To gather more information from the Entrepreneur website, click here.
- Yahoo! Small Business
If you’re low on cash or not technically savvy, sites like this one at Yahoo! Small Business can help you set up your online presence relatively quickly and pain-free. But make sure you take a look around to find out if a service such as this, or something else is going to best fit your needs for an online image. You certainly don’t want to come across as unprofessional because your website is sub-par. Click here if you’d like to check out the Yahoo! Small Business website.
- Microsoft Office Live Small Business
Similar to Yahoo, if you’re seeking to get a professional (or somewhat professional) online image, Microsoft might fit your taste. If you can afford it, it’s always better to hire a professional web designer to create a personalized site for you, but if you’re short on cash then this would probably be the next best thing. To visit the Microsoft Small Business website, click here.
- Small Business Wiki
The site is a collection of resources for those seeking information and assistance in starting and running a small business in the U.S. It’s very similar to Wikipedia, in that a large portion of the site consists of user-generated content. This means that just about anyone can edit the information, so beware of that. But, if you’ve become an expert at something it’s a great way to share your own advice if you decide it’s the appropriate forum to do so. Or, if you want to hear what other people are saying, then check out the site and find your particular industry. It’s a growing, relatively new service, so you may not find your particular interest there just yet. To visit their site, click here.
Aaaah, the oh so popular Vista Print. You can probably spot a Vista Print free business card template from a mile away, but if you must have something to hand out to people, then consider getting your business card from here. Even better, if you can get someone to design a card for you, you can upload the template and have it printed on professional card stock at Vista Print. To visit their website, click here.
Moo is a great website to get creative-looking business cards. They’re also pretty reasonably priced. Plus, unlike Vista Print, it’s more than likely no one else will have your exact style of business card. They have a vast collection of unique designs, images, and graphics to choose from. To visit the website and get more information, click here.
Keep the Discussion Going
- Is there something you’d rather do than your current job?
- Have you started to gather information or made steps toward launching your new career?
- Have you decided what your passion really is?
- Perhaps, you’re a Jack or Jane of all trades and you just don’t know which one to pick and pursue, or you haven’t nailed down your idea of what kind of job converges all of your interests?
How about the folks who have already stepped out and are living your dreams! Share your story with the rest of us. We could use the inspiration! If you’re not a part of the latter, which steps are you taking to launch your dream career? Talk to ya’ll soon!