“If you don’t manage yourself, someone else is going to manage you.”
At a recent conference I was speaking to a man who had worked for a large company and had been downsized after about twenty years. The loss of his job had been devastating to him. He felt there was nothing else he was qualified to do for a living and had absolutely no idea what to do next. He had gone home, tried to regroup and went back to looking for a job the way he had twenty years before – by looking through job listings. Nothing appealed to him.
Fortunately, a good friend of his sat him down to talk through all possible options. Doing this helped the man view his situation from a much more creative perspective. He was able to get out of his survival mode, which had him looking for jobs to satisfy only his immediate financial needs, and instead enabled him to focus on the incredible bank of contacts and good will he had built up in his industry over the last twenty years.
The man realized that if he reached out to every business contact in his industry he had made over his career and offered the same services that his large company had offered, his contacts might work with him, rather than his old company.
He was right. He contacted everyone, received a great deal of well wishes from his industry network and more importantly, received his first order. His business was off and running.
He realized that because he had been in one industry for a certain period of time, he no longer had to rely on others to give him a job. He had a job already – one that he was able to create for himself. He created it because he had already built up twenty years of contact, twenty years of experience and twenty years of good work.
He also learned that customers or clients tend to hire a person, rather than a company or a firm. Within a year, his company had made over $3 million in revenue. He was attending his first conference as a self-employed member of his industry, rather than a long-term employee of another company. He couldn’t stop smiling.
He and I had a lot to talk about, since I had done something similar a couple of years earlier. I started my own law firm after twenty years of practice. Drawing on my existing clients and contacts, I was able to not only continue working with my existing book of business but to increase it. There were advantages of being a small or solo practitioner that I had not anticipated but that the network around me could see clearly – and they hired me because of it.
One of the clients I worked with at a firmer firm contacted me a few months into my firm launch. He had been a top executive for several large publicly-held corporations and due to a merger, left his most recent position as CEO. Instead of taking an opportunity to run yet another large corporation he got a little more creative with his ventures. He took up some Board positions for smaller start-ups in his industry and thoroughly enjoyed helping other companies gain their footing.
He also said that his own experience made him recognize the incredible value of those people who had become their own bosses after gaining experience with larger organizations first. He recognized that people take with them the sophisticated experience of the large organization and put their own personal touch on how they run things. He found those kinds of advisors to be the best combination and was hiring his own advisors with this newfound perspective in mind.
I’ve had many conversations with other people who have decided to run their own business, firm or organization in their own way. We have reveled in our newfound freedom, the joy in running our business the way we had always wanted to and the realization that one’s career is not determined by the ability to get a job from someone else.
There will always be downsizing, economic instability and reorganizations. One’s experience, good will and network of contacts is something that is not fleeting, however. With a little creativity, it is possible to reform your career it into something that is your most satisfying venture yet.