A new client joined the ranks of PNG this month and as I typically do—when I see something really interesting that I know they’ll relate to—I send them a link. A post caught my eye this morning; a presentation on SlideShare by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha called Start-up of You. Any PPT that kicks-off with the requisite cave man analogy morphing into European basketball is certain to catch my eye.
The ol’ “differentiate or die” story is really coming home to roost for many of us in our mid-life. For thousands of the sandwich generation reinvention of ourselves is not just a cool idea we’ll get to one day—it’s an economic necessity. There are lots of us out there, milling about, looking for a way to get kids through college, take care of our parents and still retain some hope of a few days at the beach before we don’t remember anymore. Ok, that’s depressing! The point is that with years of experience (or as they comment in the preso hopefully not 1 year done 25 times) we know a few thing about what we like, what we do not like and what we are relatively good at after a few decades of hammering in the salt mine of adulthood. The suggestion is that we are all innately entrepreneurs (even the drones at Dunder Mifflin recognize the misery of their pathetic work lives and seek more).
Popular career advisors tell people to mediate on what they’re really passionate about, what they want to do. This is a great idea if you assume that the world is static and all you have to do is become self-aware in order to become successful and happy. The bigger issue involves gaining an understanding of what the market needs and will pay for—a niche that someone just like you might fill. My business model is based on the significant savings and increased productivity of outsourcing marketing to an expert rather than having a full-time non-expert who doesn’t know what to do. I always tell folks, “I get things done faster, better and cheaper”—that’s my pitch. In a world where resumes are piled high in every recruiter’s office cutting through the noise is more important than ever. I’m not a perfect fit for everyone but I’m the right fit for enough companies to provide a satisfying and diverse work life. As long as my network continues to build in a healthy way and companies can find me when they have a need it’s a win/win situation. Relationships are really the stuff of good business, no matter what business you find yourself in—there’s no way around this (even for engineer types). The quality and not quantity of our personal networks is the key to survivability in the new era of Start-up You. More is not always better—“enough” nurtured well and invested in will reap major rewards that your work results can’t come close to creating.
Remember, if no one knows who you are it doesn’t really matter that you do great work. My father, who finally admitted that he’s retired, had a job he loved for more than 50 years. He was an architect and an entrepreneur. He worked alone (in our house with 7 kids which I suppose is nothing like being alone). He quit the only firm he ever worked for with three kids and one on the way and after a rocky start began to build a reputation and a career that sent all seven of us to 12 years of private school and college. He didn’t have a Twitter account and barely uses a cell phone even now; in fact he never even incorporated CAD into his practice. But my Dad knew the power of a solid network and in my town his work and reputation will live on to survive him, along with the seven children who sing his praises. He didn’t use technology to stay current; he used his latest project to find the next one.
So, dive in. The water is fine. We are all entrepreneurs and responsible for our own career. This takes dexterity and the ability to acknowledge that the world is changing quickly. Matching your skill with a market need requires paying attention, taking action, a more than a few meetings over a latte to tell people what you’re doing…