Since the great recession of 2008/2009, more Americans have become self-employed, either temporarily or permanently. While the weak job market has partly been responsible for this trend, I believe that other factors also played a part. These include increased use of independent contractors by employers in order to cut overhead, greater access to affordable individual health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and the ready availability of user-friendly, internet-based management, accounting and administrative tools, which have made operating a small business easier and less expensive.
In light of these trends, I believe that there’s a good chance that many of us will, at some point, work for ourselves, whether by choice or necessity. Laying the groundwork ahead of time can make working independently productive and profitable.
Here are some of the steps I believe both students and employees should take to prepare for the possibility that they will want to or need to be self employed at some point in their careers.
Take Business Courses. I strongly encourage everyone who expects to work, whether for a public or private company, a nonprofit, or themselves, to learn a little bit about business, either by taking courses or studying independently. One advantage of becoming even moderately knowledgeable about business is that expertise can be helpful in any work environment. Employers appreciate workers who understand the basics and challenges of running a business and, of course, some understanding of business fundamentals is essential for those who aspire to start their own firms.
Become a Credential Junky. In many fields, obtaining certain credentials (such as earning the certified public accountant or CPA designation for an accountant or the chartered financial analyst or CFA designation for a financial analyst) can strengthen job skills and enhance an employee’s chances for advancement. These credentials can be even more important for a small business owner because, based on my experience, they can provide instant credibility, create a competitive edge, and result in valuable networking opportunities, making it easier to obtain jobs.
Learn While You Work. When working for an employer, don’t have tunnel vision. A narrow focus on a single department or set of responsibilities means lost opportunities to develop a broader perspective that can be useful to a small business owner, who will be responsible for all aspects of his business. Being in accounting, sales, or inventory management doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t learn what you can about marketing, finance, product development, or corporate management.
Become Aware of Outsourcing Trends. Many businesses use outside contractors to provide certain services to their companies. Often these independent contractors are small businesses. Paying attention to outsourcing trends can provide a window into the opportunities for a new business to break into the field. Also, understanding why certain services are being outsourced (for example, to lower overhead, limit risk, or access skills not available in house) can help a small business owner identify the best value-added, in-demand, and marketable products and services for his company to offer.
Network. Networking is something of a way of life for many of today’s most successful workers, but, for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in the future, effective networking can be the difference between success and failure. After all, a new business’s first customers often are a result of direct personal contacts or references from those contacts. In addition, business contacts, especially those who have traveled the small-business start-up road themselves, can be invaluable sources of advice on getting a business off the ground.