Unretiring to Consulting

consulting

Are you planning a post-retirement or unretirement career? The number of people who are considering it grows each year. The old standard of retiring at 65 is gone. Not only do more people work beyond 65, but many people retire well before 65 to an unretirement.

There is a growing trend towards shifting employment to consulting and coaching.  Harvard Business Review says that this desire to stay employed is about personal and professional fulfillment. You may be surprised that the wealthiest people were the most likely to want to keep working. 80% of retirees who work say they are doing so because they want to, rather than because they have to.

I made this move in 2013 well before my still-to-come-65th birthday. (The majority of consultant/coaches are 50+.)Like many of those in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, the majority of senior professionals don’t want to “retire.” They like what they are doing, but don’t like the pace and amount of work required at a corporate job. Clearly some of the appeal is  more flexible hours, possibly higher rates, working virtually and from your own location.

But you would not be the only person to have come to this decision. Another HBR article discusses some things to consider and I agree with most of them.

One tip is to “Give yourself sufficient runway. ” They suggest 1-2 years to prepare. Circumstances pushed me to make my decision in less than a year and at the start of my unretirement I didn’t have clients waiting. You also need to be sure you can handle the financial changes that occur with going independent.

It is recommended that you give your company plenty of time for succession planning. You don’t want to burn a bridge behind you, especially since you will probably be building this new career off your experiences, reputation and possibly even your past clients. As long as it is done in a legitimate and ethical way, you want to start lining up clients early. This doesn’t mean pilfering current clients but it does mean using a network you’ve built over the years. I had many colleagues in education at all levels and I used those contacts as entry point into new clients.

I spoke with small business counselors at my bank, opened business accounts, obtained a business/vendor number (rather than using my own Social Security number) and formed an LLC.

Dorie Clark, who writes about this topic, suggests that you do a skills self- analysis to evaluate your  entrepreneurial abilities along with your subject matter expertise. She even offers a tool to do that analysis. I picked up her book Reinventing You which got me thinking a lot more about personal branding.

If you do an honest skill analysis, you may determine that this new venture requires some new skills or updating existing skills. Examples might be social media, technical communications, online training or web services, digital marketing and design skills. You may not need another degree, but many colleges offer certifications and targeted courses on these and other topics. There are also hundreds of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can sometimes serve the same goals. Some of these courses are offered by the world’s leading universities and may also offer certificates of successful completion.

I have taught, and continue to teach, in several graduate certificate programs at New Jersey Institute of Technology. The majority of my students have been people either working in a field and seeking to upgrade skills for advancement, or people hoping to shift careers. A few have been moving towards consulting, but most are still hoping to work for their employer or another company in a new capacity. Don’t feel bad if you turn out to have a skills gap, because that is very much the norm in business today.

You will need a web presence. Business cards alone won’t cut it. A website and a social media presence for you and for your company should be on your To Do list early on. You will need to market yourself and your brand. I would add to that list – but much further down – things like creating a logo.

If social media hasn’t been your thing professionally, you could begin with having a personal and company presence on LinkedIn and even using that as a “blogging” platform. It is one way to connect your professional contacts with what you are doing.

On the  upside, consulting and coaching offer flexible, interesting, and sometimes well paid opportunities for second careers for active or retired professionals. On the downside, the competition is definitely out there, so be prepared.

 

Personal Branding

Big companies spend lots of money and effort to build their brands in order to make their products stand out. Apple, Walmart, MacDonald’s -we know who they are and what they do.

But what about building your personal brand? Do you have a personal brand that helps you become recognized and can help build your career? Have you any “brand loyalty”?

I  am one of those who believes that we all have a personal brand whether we consciously created it or not. I think this is especially true as you move some of your life online through social media.

But should you consciously create a personal brand? For most people who read my posts, I would say Yes. Your personal brand is the summary of what defines us as a distinctive individual, especially online.

A solid personal brand can help you when applying for a job, building a business or networking to make new personal connection or “business” connections.

I have long advised friends and clients to grab hold of whatever Internet “real estate” is available for themselves. Do you own your name on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks?  It’s bad enough if you own a business and you can’t get the user name or domain (URL) for your business, but if you can’t get your own name, that’s bad too.

I have a acquaintance who can legitimately be called a celebrity. I had advised her years ago to buy her name as a domain, but she didn’t see the need since she didn’t have a website. Her branding was based on the information online on her employer’s website. When the time came that she did feel the need to have her own site because she had a book coming out, she discovered that someone had bought the name, “parked” it and wanted $25,000 for it.

Now, for most of us, no one is that interested in owning our domain. But if your name is fairly common, others may grab it before you. The poet Mark Doty discovered that another Mark Doty had grabbed the coveted .com domain that most people expect will be your place online. He had to settle for markdoty.org.

I told that to another poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and she quickly asked me to get her domain and build a website and blog. She wanted to own her name and brand, rather than relying on what turns up in a search – like her inaccurate and incomplete Wikipedia entry.

Your personal brand is an investment and you may need to spend some money and time on building it. But it is a lifetime investment and it continues to grow.

Like it or not, your personal brand is connected to the perception of others, but you can help construct that image. How would you like others to think of you? What do you want to show up at the top of a search when you put in your name?

I wouldn’t use myself as a prime example of great personal branding, but I have been working at it for years. I bought my Ronkowitz.com domain years ago and have bought other domains for separate projects, such as my Poets Online workshop and e-zine. I write on several blogs and I try to connect all of them together and to my name.

One quick test is to type your name in a Google or other search. Are the top results your own websites, blogs and properties?  Are the results you or some one else?  I am pleased that a search on my name turns up at the top the actual me – including my @ronkowitz) on Twitter, some of my presentations on SlideShare, this Ronkowitz.com site and my faculty website at NJIT. That’s a pretty good picture of my brand these days.

The term “digital footprint” used to mean the data trail left by our interactions in a digital environment. That includes everything we do on the Internet on any connected devices including phones, tablets and any connected devices like a GPS, smart TV etc. We leave footprints in the world accidentally, but branding should be what we leave intentionally. We might try to cover up or erase some of our footprints as part of polishing our brand.

You need to be more mindful of the trail you leave, and also to consciously create an impression that is one who want to show to others, rather than one that has been created for you by web spiders, data trackers, cookies and clever marketing tools.