As your time among the unemployed begins to lengthen from days into weeks and then months you will become aware that something is happening to your resume and online presence on sites like LinkedIn. You are developing an employment gap. People put different emphasis on the importance of having a gap but no one thinks it’s a good thing. Depending on the person interviewing you and the type of field you’re in, this gap could possibly become a real issue. This can happen in any field but fast-moving technical fields can be the worst. If your unemployment reaches the year mark it could become critical. But take heart. You don’t have to have an unemployment gap, start a consulting company.
This may sound daunting but it really isn’t. You can basically start one just by telling people you are now a consultant in the field of ________ (fill in your preferred area of expertise in the blank). You know that you know something that others don’t and therefore can advise them on it. It doesn’t have to be overblown or confusing. No one knows everything. We all have mental and professional holes that others can fill. So you be the one who fills it. Also now that you are unemployed and presumably have some open time, take an online course on a subject that interests you then see if you can help someone or some company with this new-found expertise. Offer your help for free to see if you have a knack for it. Be honest and let the other party know that you are trying to establish yourself. Bend over backwards to do an excellent job and as pay ask for three referrals. They may pay you something anyway but the referrals are key.
I worked for years as a professional technologist at a university. After leaving my job I became a business web consultant helping small companies and non-profits set up simple WordPress sites and make some commonsense decisions about how to deal with their web presence. Do I want to be a web developer? No, but while I’m trying to figure something else out I am accomplishing several important things. First I do not have an employment gap on my resume. Second, I am showing people that I have the drive and intelligence to run my own business so managing would not be a stretch for me. Third, I am making some money and keeping busy thus keeping my spirits up. And if I talk with someone who might be interested in hiring me for a non-tech job. No problem, I’m honest and let them know that I’m the creative, energetic type that doesn’t sit back but proactively tries to make things happen.
So how do you start a consulting company from scratch? Feel free to pick and choose from my list. This is what I’ve personally done several times because I’m creative and I never know what may be THE idea.
- Come up with an idea that works for you. Make sure it’s something that you really feel comfortable about and in the best case scenario something that you are already trained for.
- Pick a good name that makes sense and flows easily. Preferably it should be easy to spell and you can buy the domain name for a website. Even if you don’t buy the name, it’s better to just think ahead.
- Carefully work out exactly what you will offer. People will want to know and they’ll ask you open questions expecting you to fill in the blanks. Also be flexible and fast on your feet. If someone asks you to do something related you need to answer yes or no quickly and back it up. Remember, no one knows what you’re going to say so speak with confidence.
- Carefully work out your pricing. This can be really difficult so see if you can find comparables in your field. Remember two things. It’s always better to raise prices for the next client than lower but if you start too low then you won’t be taken seriously.
- Create a website on a platform like WordPress.com. You can get a free website there and add your own content. You’re basically just creating a brochure site that says what you do and offer, why someone would work with you, a little bit about you, and a contact form. Add as much or as little as you want.
- For very impressive and inexpensive business cards go to Moo.com. I’m a sucker for the mini business cards which always get double takes.
- Create some simple letterhead in MS Word and use it when you send anything to a client from a letter of introduction to an invoice. Hopefully the design or feel will mimic the business card.
- Finally let people know you exist. Update your LinkedIn. Tell friends and family on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Keep cards handy to give out.
There’s so much more or less you could do but by this point you are a fully functioning consultant without an employment gap and just possibly with a new career. And if you like the field but don’t like being your own boss, then at least you’re positioned to apply for a job in that field with a benefits-paying company.
This is one of my fundamentals of unemployment.