The Time to Think About Your Solo Career is Now

There’s an elephant in the room – in fact, there’s an elephant sitting on this blog. It’s the economy, and it’s become a central issue for just about everyone.   Whether you’re already a PR consultant or currently in a traditional job, we should all take steps now to be better positioned in the months ahead.

If you’re employed, chances are you’re afraid you might not stay that way. Unfortunately, some people could very well become independent without their consent. With this in mind, I encourage employees to give some thought to what you would do if the worst happens, and you involuntarily end up without conventional employment. Before you immediately start pounding the pavement looking for another traditional job, you may want to consider doing some PR consulting. It can be a great way to stay active and visible, and it can earn you some additional income in the interim. Who knows, you may decide you’ll never go back!

Whether you’re solo right now or not, if the past is any indicator of the future, there could be tough times ahead for some in the PR and Marcom fields, and that includes independent consultants. But the good news is there are still many, many excellent opportunities in PR and marketing, and those companies and organizations that are wise enough to continue investing in this space are forward-looking and exciting.

Another thing to keep in mind: hiring freezes at agencies and corporations can actually create openings for consultants. The increased value independent PR/MarCom consultants typically offer can become more obvious when budgets are tight, as clients try to find a way to do more with less. The fact that you can offer the same services as a big agency, but at a fraction of the cost (due to your low overhead) is even more attractive.

To capitalize on the opportunities that will be available, here are some immediate steps both solos and PR/MarCom employees can be taking right now:

Shore up your experience
If you work at an agency, is there a way to get exposure to new clients? If you’re a corporate employee, can you handle a new project in an area you haven’t been involved before? Taking on new responsibilities now can pay off big dividends later. If you’re already solo, it's always important to vary your experiences (and this holds true whether we’re in tough economic times or not).

Proactive professional networking has always been best. As Forrester senior analyst Jeremiah Owyang said in a recent post, “grow your network before you need them.”

And by networking, I don’t mean spamming people with form emails and resumes. Since you’re reaching out now before the road gets too rocky, your networking can take the form of just connecting with current and former colleagues to say hello. With the holidays fast-approaching, this can be a great time to send out some personal well-wishes by email.

If you’re feeling shy, don’t forget that everyone is feeling a little shaky in this economy, so as long as you aren't giving a hard-sell the recipient will likely be very receptive (I actually enjoy professional networking, since I look at it as reconnecting with old friends).

It's also important to make sure you’re on LinkedIn and your profile is up to date – there are many ways to use it, and this is often the first place potential clients go to learn more about you. Plus, LinkedIn makes it easy to reconnect with long-lost colleagues in a low-key way.

Raising your profile elsewhere is also beneficial: provide thoughtful comments on blogs and start attending your local professional meetings and events, if you aren’t already. The most visible and well-connected will fare best. You want to be one of them.

Yes, I know this drumbeat is getting old, and with the holidays coming saving can be tough. But a little belt-tightening can go a long way in helping you feel comfortable if you suddenly lose some income.

There are ways to save a few extra bucks that don't take much time. Right now you may want to revisit your home’s telecom/entertainment vendors, since there are some great offers at the moment that can be pretty painless to accept (I did this recently myself, and saved over $100 a month by combining services with one company). Raising your insurance deductibles, if you’re able, is another quick fix that can make a sizeable difference. For many more tips, the Get Rich Slowly blog is always a great source of advice for trimming the fat from your budget.

Think about what you want to be when you grow up
It’s valuable for all of us to assess where we are and where we’re going on a regular basis. What kinds of professional opportunities excite you? Where do you want to live? If you think through issues like this now, you won’t be as discombobulated if the negative effects of the economy come home to roost. And you just might find yourself pursuing new goals, regardless.

There are a variety of resources out there to help you work through these questions, including Web sites like Radical Sabbatical, Reboot You, and books like the old standby “What Color is Your Parachute.” For this process, some people also love to use mind mapping, and there is free software available online to help you create your mind map (I find my brain doesn’t work that way, but you might want to try it to see if it stimulates your creativity).

By proactively taking steps to strengthen your position, you can stay ahead of the pack. Are you thinking about these issues, and what are you doing right now to further your career? Let us know your ideas in the comments!

Photo credit: exfordy