Friday, September 2, 2011

What's Bridging?

Bridging is a way to make money and stay on your feet while you're in transition between jobs, careers or depressed markets.

Here's why you need to have a "Bridge".

Since 2008 great numbers of smart, hardworking, dedicated employees who had spent the majority of their lives making personal sacrifices for the sake of career, and giving up huge amounts of personal freedom in order to chase the American Dream were left jobless, homeless and hopeless. By no fault of their own, everything they had worked for over years and decades was gone. Many of these professionals, amateur and seasoned alike, had no plan hadn't been necessary.

Shock, denial, anger, fear and grief can sieze a person's ability to be proactive, or even to function as one normally would. Long-term unemployment along with a lack of structure and focus can result in long term depression/anxiety in some people, further damaging one's perception of their own value as a contributor to work, family and society.

Professionals with good networking skills learned quickly how to create opportunities through social and professional contacts, developing a database of connections to prospect and identify job leads, interim positions, contracts and would-be hiring managers. Many developed a systematic approach for gathering and maintaining data using smart phones, card scanners, simple databases and on-line tools to keep information handy. For many unemployed people, a wonderful "pay-it-forward" attitude seemed almost contagious...everyone knew someone who wanted to help, even if it was just a phone call. While a phone call seems like a lot to ask of a very busy person, a perceptive shift in priority took hold and it felt good to give of oneself with no M.O.

But if you weren't particularly good at networking, or you had a job that didn't expose you to a lot of other people, there is a relatively good chance that you struggled hard...or may be still be find a new job. You may have even resigned to starting a whole new career. Thus, the "Bridge".

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and while no one wants to take a job in desperation, many are forced to. Even though it's unlikely we'll ever see a job depression and economic recession to this magnitude again, it's not impossible that more mini-dips will occur in the future. Having to ride out multiple job market crisis' may be a necessary evil in our new economy. So, what about that bridge already?

So, here's what I mean by "Bridging". Think about your personal interests, your passions, your obsessive little hobbies that absorb you to the point where you lose all track of time (and I don't mean shopping on QVC!). These are the distractions that give us the most pleasure and sense of unique personal identity.

Now, dream big.

What if you could create an income doing that one thing, or series of things, that may not make millions, but could possibly earn you enough money to ride out a short financial tempest? Seem a little like a pipe dream? Good! You're on the right track. Next; write down to the smallest detail how you would monetize this hobby. That's the tricky part. Not every hobby makes money, and not every hobbiest who makes money can live on what they make. But this is where it makes sense to do some research and get advice on how to monetize a business. There are a great number of non-profit organizations that garner the business experience and intelligence of professionals who have made scads of money in their lifetime, or have been able to launch successful businesses time after time. There's a local network called "SCORE" which is essentially a business launching program designed to pair up proven entrepreneurs and experienced executives with people who need help to launch their own dreams.

But even if you don't have resources available to you, or finding a local group to foster your idea is difficult, start growing it organically and seek out the advice of friends and family on how to use your bridge to create an income. Often you can start with a modest business plan or dream board. A dream board is a creative visual roadmap that is ever-present in your living space. It can include articles and photos on your personal interest, success stories of others who built their bridge from their hobbies, and achieveable financial and business goals for your first year of business. Anything that provides positive mental reinforcement.

You can also begin to plan for your bridge. Write it all down, and don't judge, edit or filter the information. It can be as big and imaginative as you want. It isn't designed to make you feel overwhelmed, but to give as clear a picture as possible of what your dream business would look like. Include details about your workspace, the kind of equipment or in-home services you would need, how much you think you could earn weekly, monthly, quarterly, what kind of expenses you may have. Be practical too. Figure out what your tax implications might be, who you could call on to help if the business begins to grow, even pick out the color on the walls of your office...every detail. Then, start implementing a few of those plans. By no means am I suggesting quiting your job or leasing office space, but maybe you buy a few of the inexpensive materials you'll need, or open up a business checking account and calling around to a few suppliers and ask about prices. You never know where those conversations can lead you!

I'm calling this concept "Bridging" because it's designed to carry you over troubled waters. But it can also be as short or as long as you want. The most important aspect of developing a bridge is passion. It is the thing that you love to do when you're not doing other working for a paycheck and benefits. It's also the thing that would make you feel the most fulfilled, that feels nothing like work but satisfies you completely. It should be the sort of occupation that makes even the most unenjoyable aspect of it seem like a picnic. And, the fact that it pays doesn't alter your enjoyment factor, but enhances your quality of life.

This is also a great idea for those who are entering into retirement in the next five to ten years. For so many people, going into retirement seems like a layover to heaven's waiting room. But that's because many retirees haven't prepared "bridge-work" in advance of their retirement. The plan was to perhaps move someplace warmer, play golf, visit with children and grandchildren, or travel. But retirement is now considered a lofty ambition for even the most financially conservative person. Most of us will work long past 65 years of age. Now is the time to think about what you want to do when you can't do what you've been doing any longer. I'll let you read that sentence's kind of fun.

Bridging may not be for everyone. After all, it does mean organizing, planning, and working through some complex issues such as capital costs, R&D, financial risk and understanding basic business practices. But the wide availability of free resources has certainly helped to take some of the fear factor out of a small business launch. Another factor is being able to utilize social networks to your advantage, and it's never too late to learn how to do this.

What I have learned from many of my less social candidates over the past three years is that not everyone has kept up with social networking. And some are down right allergic to the concept. The networkers among us who were successful at finding a new job quickly didn't necessarily have a bridge either, per se, but they did not get bogged down by "why me?", or get gripped by the fundamental fear of failure. They simply chose to see their fate as an opportunity to do something different. Had they been given a bit more time to prepare (say, six months to a year), many of them would have landed on their financial feet a lot faster, and found their emotional ground a lot sooner.

But the challenge for the rest of us is trying to leverage the talent, skills and experience we've worked so hard to hone in a like industry. Some may never find a comparable position to the one we left behind, and some may find precisely that but realize they are still stuck in a dead-end job. In either case, Bridging is a great way to create your own personal rip-cord and safety net should the sky fall again. The next time someone asks you about your Plan B, you can tell them you're building a bridge.

What's Your Five Year Plan?

While this seems like a question that any recent grad or seasoned veteran will field during a typical interview (and hopefully they prepared for it), it's actually a great question to ask yourself. After all, the answer to it is much more important to you than the person who has posed it.

The reason you should have a five year plan is fundamental; to set up of series of steps and conditions that will lead to your personal success and happiness. For example, if you are in a job now that you enjoy but doesn't quite elicit a sense of passion or excitement for the industry, product or service you support, then you need to start thinking about a career change. Getting yourself ready for that leap will require an investment of time and effort outside the work week, and may even include additional training, education and a geographic move. Giving yourself five years to make that transition may be just enough time to get your ducks in a row...that is, if all goes according to plan.

Life has a wonderful way of reminding us who is steering the ship. It may be necessary to step away from your professional helm to address other needs such as starting a family, supporting a spouse's career decisions, or even taking care of a sick child or aging parents. These things happen and they can absolutely throw us off course. But what you don't want to be is "rudderless". You want to know what your shooting for, and why. There are a myriad of reasons, but primarily because you don't want to find yourself ten years from now wondering why you stayed in a job, company or industry that doesn't resonate with you any longer.

What typically happens to someone in mid-career crisis is the realization that they've invested too much time in a dead-end job or boring industry. However, their earnings have grown substantially with tenure and experience, as has their style of living. They soon realize it doesn't make good financial sense to leave, but it doesn't make good personal or professional sense to stay either. Never mind the sneaking suspision they're missing out on something incredibly fun.

When you rank the demands of your lifestyle over the demands of your life, you make compromises that are not easily resolved. And the hole gets deeper the longer you stay. That's not to say you can't find a comparable position with comparable pay in another industry. However, making the business case to a hiring manager to choose you over a more experienced candidate is a tough sell. Twice as true in a poor job market when qualified candidates are aplenty.

You need a plan, plain and simple. It doesn't have to be elaborate, but it should be something you're committed to for your own sake. And, it's not something you need to share during an interview either, especially if it has nothing to do with the job or company you're applying for today. If it does, that's great...enjoy the ride! If it doesn't, then offer an honest but less detailed plan that applies to the new position, in an ideal circumstance, that includes job security and longevity.

Whatever your answer, the bottom line is no one knows precisely where they will be in five years, including your potential new boss, because life has a way of making other plans for them, too. Having a plan can take a lot of anxiety out of the future, particularly when you're not sure whether you'll really enjoy your chosen career or potential employer.

Next time a hiring manager asks you what your five year plan is, maybe you should ask them the same question.