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- Dorie Clark is a communication coach, marketing strategist, keynote speaker, and author of several books on leadership and entrepreneurial strategy.
- After being laid off in 2001, Clark had to learn to reinvent herself and take control of her own career.
- Clark says it’s key to take daily, deliberate actions to set yourself up for long-term success, and recommends that people start consulting in their area of expertise and use a platform, such as YouTube or a podcast, to share their ideas.
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In 2001, I was laid off from my job as a political journalist — with no warning and four days’ severance pay. For many professionals, we’re forced — rapidly and unexpectedly — to reinvent ourselves. It took me six painful months to find another full-time position.
Through that experience, I learned that we have far more options, and far more control, if we take strategic action to protect our careers now, rather than waiting until something bad happens.
In my book “Entrepreneurial You,” I discuss how one of the most important ways to do that is developing multiple income streams — because if one of them (i.e., your day job) suddenly evaporates, you’ll have other options.
You can’t build a portfolio career overnight, but if you start taking small, deliberate actions now, you can create more security in your professional life and better insulate yourself against future disruption, whether related to health epidemics, company politics, or industry changes.
As I advise my executive coaching clients, here are three techniques you should consider applying now.
1. Start coaching or consulting for free
The best initial side hustle is one that doesn’t risk your capital, and enables you to experiment in small ways. That’s why coaching or consulting is a great choice. You may focus on an area similar to your day job (if so, make sure this is kosher with your employer) or something entirely different — wedding photography if you’ve cultivated that expertise on the side, or advising on tech purchases and installation if you’re a knowledgeable hobbyist.
Almost no one wants to be your guinea pig — i.e., your very first paid client — so a great move is to approach friends and acquaintances and offer to coach or consult for them for free, in exchange for a testimonial quote and referrals to others if they’re pleased with the experience. This enables you to experiment and hone your craft in a low-risk fashion — and when you are ready to launch officially, you’ll have the benefit of social proof from your customer endorsements, making it easier to land paying clients.
2. Develop a channel to share your ideas
Building an asset like a blog, e-newsletter, or podcast has obvious benefits: it’s a way to build your professional reputation and communicate with potential clients, employers, or business partners at scale. Of course, it can take years of painstaking work to build your following — so start now.
You won’t necessarily have your “breakthrough idea” identified — which is fine. You can use the process of content creation to develop it over time. For now, even a general focus like “leadership” or “marketing” will suffice. Even if almost no one is reading or listening to your work, there are immediate benefits you can harness to keep you motivated.
For instance, you can use that channel as a way to sharpen your own perspective, test ideas and see which ones resonate, network with high-profile colleagues by interviewing them, and demonstrate expertise that makes it easier to close deals in the short-term. And by keeping up the habit of sharing your ideas publicly, you’ll eventually be able to build a sizable following over time. (You can identify the best place to start with your content creation efforts by taking this free self-assessment.)
3. Test what the market will pay for
Once you’ve practiced your skills with some free clients and have developed a vehicle to share your ideas (which enables those who don’t know you personally to vet you), you can begin to turn your efforts into an actual new revenue stream. Over time, you’ll want to strive for premium pricing. But initially, don’t worry about getting top dollar.
The immediate concern is validating that someone actually wants to pay for what you’re offering — and you can do this by reaching out to the friends and colleagues of the initial clients you served for free and from whom you received referrals. Focus on testing your angle and positioning with your intended market.
Certainly, there are plenty of people who earn a living as career coaches, for instance — but through your initial sales conversations, you may discover (contrary to your initial assumptions) that your audience wants you to help them with their LinkedIn outreach, rather than refining their resumes. Once you identify what resonates with your intended clients, you can double down on your efforts.
By following the steps above, even if the economy returns to normal quickly, you’ll have developed new skills. And if the uncertainty and market fluctuations persist, you’ve taken important steps to bolster your long-term career security.
Dorie Clark is a communication coach, marketing strategist, keynote speaker, and author of several books on leadership and entrepreneurial strategy. Learn more on her website and connect with her on Twitter.