As unemployment for young people continues to remain high, more and more Gen Y-ers are looking to blaze their own career paths — and specifically, many of them are choosing to go solo as consultants or freelancers.
The second annual State of Independence in America workforce study by MBO Partners* reveals that the independent workforce in the U.S. will grow to 23 million strong in the next five years alone. And 3.6 million — or 21 percent — of this workforce is driven by Gen Y (age 21 to 32.)
It’s no wonder why: with continuing economic tumult and high unemployment for younger workers, Gen Y faces some formidable challenges to entering today’s corporate workforce. Independent work is quickly becoming a more viable option, with special appeal for this tech-savvy generation of high-energy doers. The lure of being your own boss and taking control of your career makes independent work an undeniably appealing option for the “I can do anything I want!” generation.
But the privilege of independence is not without challenges, and Gen Y is finding out firsthand that self-employment in the new economy isn’t all about fun. The study reveals that Gen Y is torn over the opportunities and challenges independent work presents. They like the flexibility (58 percent) and control it grants them, but close to 60 percent report being concerned about fluctuating income streams and job (in)security.
Below are 5 tips to help Gen Yers take advantage of the opportunities — and minimize the challenges — of an independent career.
- Have a plan. You do not have to write a lengthy formal business plan, but you should have a roadmap that will help you navigate the journey. Have a 12-month and 3-year plan to give you a short and long-term perspective on goals. Your plan should answer, at a minimum, what you will offer and at what price; your target clients and how you will reach them; and your short and long-term income goals. You can start with a simple mind map if you want. Try http://www.mindmeister.com/, a free brainstorming tool.
- Develop your skill set and your differentiator. In today’s workforce, knowledge is king. We live in a world of rapid change, and innovation is the lifeblood to survival. Technology has contributed to the rapidity of change and in-demand skills. Today, the variety of skills you possess, especially from a technology standpoint, are much more important than who you know or the politics of an organization. To attract the best clients, focus on developing your strengths and your particular skill set so you rise to the top of your independent career. Moreover, focus on what makes you different from the rest. What do you bring to the table that no one else can? Run your independent career like a business, and the work will follow. Keep your skills sharp by attending industry conferences, reading the latest white papers, and putting into practice what you learn.
- Grow and sustain your network. From LinkedIn groups to in-person meetups, there are more ways than ever to develop and actively nurture a professional network. Join groups and expand your professional network to create a community that provides a flow of both information and opportunity, two critical assets for the independent worker. Networking can keep you up to date with the latest developments in your specialty or skill set — and it can also serve as a forum for testing or questioning new ideas and tools. Finally, remember that word-of-mouth is a powerful business marketing strategy — most of your best jobs will come from those who trust you or the people they know, so developing and nurturing connections is essential to the independent consultant.
- Focus on billable work. Multi-tasking is second nature to Gen Y. However, as an independent worker, it’s much more important to channel that high energy into your client- and mission-critical tasks first. Back-office tasks like billing, collections, regulatory issues, tax administration, contract negotiations and vendor agreements are crucial to your business, but they can become a distraction from billable work. Develop a strong infrastructure to help manage your back office and free you to focus on billable hours. Hiring an employer of record firm can provide you with all the benefits of a “real” job, like uninterrupted medical benefits, 401(k), professional business insurance and a consistent infrastructure — no matter what state you work in or how many clients you serve.
- Create your own job security. A steady pipeline of opportunity will ensure a consistent income stream. Having a go-to network of business relationships (that you nurture regularly, even when your books are full) can guard against economic uncertainties with high-quality referrals ready to buy. Making one sale is great, but it’s ongoing business that you need to succeed — selling yourself is a long-term process, and it starts with great relationships. Consider starting a simple email newsletter which allows you to share valuable content with your own clients and prospects.
Most important: go get ’em, Gen Y!
*MBO Partners is a client of the author’s company.