More than half a million new businesses are launched each month in the U.S. Sometimes the impetus is a desire to create something new – or finally be your own boss. Other times, it’s finding out that one’s chosen path isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and after starting down your career path you discovered that you were miserable. And some people decide to take the plunge after facing layoffs or other drastic job changes.
Occasionally, the shift in opening your own business isn’t that dramatic: you used to manage an art gallery, and now you want to open your own. But often, it can be surprising or jarring for others. You were an investment banker and now you’re doing green energy? As lifetime careers and job security become rarer, we’re increasingly faced with the need to reinvent ourselves professionally. If you’ve started your own business, or are planning to do so, here are three steps you can take to hasten your reinvention and help others get behind your new plan.
- Recognize Your Transferable Skills. Most of us have a good grasp of our obvious transferable skills – you handled sales at your old company, so you’ll be good at business development, or you used to cover the apparel industry, so you have an inside edge when it comes to anticipating fashion trends. But too many of us overlook the transferable skills that lie beneath the surface. At first blush, legal scholarship doesn’t have much in common with the wine industry. But Lisa Granik soon realized her passions overlapped. In her new career as a wine consultant, she discovered her extensive language training enabled her to communicate directly with winegrowers, many of whom are farmers who don’t speak English.
- Develop Your Narrative. As a nonprofit advocate, Craig Della Penna was one of the nation’s most knowledgeable experts on New England rail trails (abandoned rail beds that had been, or could be, converted into bike paths). But when his field office closed, he took a new approach. He and his wife opened a bed and breakfast situated near a rail trail (the Sugar Maple Trailside Inn in Northampton, Massachusetts) and opened a real estate office with a bike-friendly mission (Pedal to Properties Northampton). Clients are drawn to him by their shared interest and he’s still able to do a substantial amount of advocacy on the side. “They’ll never put on my gravestone that I sold houses,” Craig says. “I’m like the Johnny Appleseed of rail trail conversion.”
- Demonstrate Your New Identity. Some people in your orbit may not immediately embrace your new identity as an entrepreneur. They may cling to outdated perceptions of you, or assume your new venture is “just a phase”. That’s why you need to take charge of how you’re viewed by creating solid online content. If you’re launching a new business, writing thoughtful blog posts about your field, interviewing industry leaders (or clients) for a podcast series, or curating an informative Twitter stream can help cement your new reputation. That’s the kind of content-fueled reinvention that propelled Brian Clark into an influential new career. A lawyer-turned-serial entrepreneur, Clark started the popular website Copyblogger, which has been ranked by Advertising Age as one of the most influential marketing blogs. His insightful posts are literally a portfolio for other people to see – providing value to others, while simultaneously marketing himself and his products to eager customers.
Starting a new business can be a major transition. But by understanding the breadth of the expertise you can bring to your new venture, developing a narrative that embraces your full self, and demonstrating your new identity by creating content others want to share, you can build momentum and get others excited about your professional reinvention – because they’re the future clients you’ll need to succeed.
About the author: Dorie Clark is the author of “Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future” (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a consultant and teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
Image “Time For Change” courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net