Be Your Own Boss

Entrepreneurs and Freelancers — Support the Small Business Jobs Act TODAY

July 28th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

us capitol buildingToday, the U.S. Senate is considering the Small Business Jobs Act, a bill that would:

  • Create tax equity for self employed on health insurance
  • Increase tax deductions for start-up expenses
  • Increase loan amounts to small business owners
  • Promote small business lending programs

If you’re a small business owner or self-employed, this bill could be critical for your financial livelihood. The Freelancer’s Union has made it easy for you to email your Senator and show your support of the Small Business Jobs Bill. Email your Senator.

Want to learn more before taking a position?

Independence Day and the 9 to 5 Jail

July 6th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

Macy's July 4th fireworksHere in New York, it’s a 100-degree Tuesday after the three-day July 4th weekend. It’s the kind of day that makes many a sweaty corporate commuter long for a different way of life.

If you’re thinking about declaring your independence from Corporate America, check out my new interview with Devesh Dwivedi over at Breaking the 9 to 5 Jail for some advice and inspiration. Devesh is a man very passionate about helping entrepreneurs find the resources and information that they need and his site features lots of great interviews with entrepreneurs and experts.

Today, I’m working from the air-conditioned comfort of my home office. However, I spent my July 4th fighting my way through angry, overheated crowds of New Yorkers to view the spectacular Macy’s fireworks from the Circle Line pier. It was totally worth the struggle. Check out our photos.

The Escape from Corporate America Mindset — Free NYC Event and Advice

April 26th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

free career adviceTonight, I am pleased to be speaking at a free Employaid event and mixer in New York City for career changers and those in transition.

Employaid founder Barbara Poole and I will present information and resources to help you seize control over the next phase of your career — whether you’re an employee, a job searcher, or an entrepreneur. We will also be conducting one-on-one mini career coaching sessions — so bring your questions.

Employaid is a great online resource for career advice and support. I first met Barbara Poole a few years ago when she had just launched the site and I was working on Escape from Corporate America. We found that we had a lot in common — both of us are incredibly passionate about helping people find more fulfilling work.

Find out more about the free Employaid event tonight in Chelsea. Hope to see you there!

Be An Entrepreneur….Or Just Think Like One

January 24th, 2010

Written by Pamela Skillings

As a career & interview coach, one of my core philosophies  is that we all must learn to think like entrepreneurs when it comes to managing our careers.

That doesn’t mean all of my clients are running their own businesses — many are very happy and successful in Corporate America or working for others. However, they all know that it’s important to run their careers like they would run a business.

An entrepreneurial mindset is key to success in any career path these days – whether you’re starting your own company, climbing the corporate ladder, or managing a career transition.

That’s why I’m excited about teaching a new class at New York University called How to Think Like an Entrepreneur at Work: Improve Your Results in Any Job

In three weekly evening sessions (February 10, 17, 24), students will learn the techniques and strategies that successful entrepreneurs use to identify opportunities, generate brilliant ideas,  develop and sell their “products” (including their expertise and talents), create action plans, persevere in the face of rejection and obstacles, and more. Learn more and sign up to join us.

P.S. I  am also gearing up to teach a new NYU semester  of Coaching Clients Through Professional and Personal Transitions, which provides instruction on essential transition coaching skills for managers, HR specialists, and professional coaches. It’s a valuable class for anyone working with clients or employees in transition.

Do You Have the Right to Moonlight?

October 16th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings


Image by c@rljones via Flickr

That may sound like a silly question — especially if you need a second (or third) job to pay your bills. However, many companies reserve the right to control whether their employees can earn extra income after hours.

Workforce Management presents the employer’s side of the debate — starting off with the fact that companies are legally entitled to fire workers if second jobs affect their ability to be “present, prompt, and prepared” at their primary jobs.

I strongly believe that you have the right to a life (and even revenue streams) beyond your cubicle. But I don’t dispute most of the points in the article.  In my book, I recommend a strategy of “ethical moonlighting.”  This means ensuring that your second job (or side business)  never prevents you from doing your day job well — and never puts you at risk of violating your employment contract (including non-compete clauses).

But today’s typical day job is incredibly demanding. For most people I know, the demand to be “present, prompt, and prepared” for work doesn’t end at 5:00 pm. Does an employer have the right to require you to be fully devoted 24/7 — especially if they’re not paying you enough to live comfortably?

No way. You have a right to time of your own to pursue your passions outside of work. Many corporate escapees have used the “ethical moonlighting” strategy to get new businesses or careers off the ground before they quit their day jobs.

As long as you’re not cheating your employer out of an honest day’s work (or conducting shady business like stealing clients or consulting for competitors), you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. After all, guilt won’t stop your employer from laying people off to reduce expenses and ensure the company’s future. You have to be looking out for your future too.

The trickiest part is figuring out where to draw the line between doing your day job well enough and sacrificing your entire life to make your bosses happy. Then again, I suppose that’s a challenge for pretty much everybody that works for someone else — whether you’re a moonlighter or not.

The Workforce Management article provides a petty good summation of Human Resources perspectives  on moonlighting. If you’re going to moonlight, it’s good to know what your corporate overlords might be watching for so you can avoid HR hassles and keep your job until you’re ready to leave it.

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Do Temps and Consultants Have “Mental Health Issues”?

August 14th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

ryanthetemptheofficeAccording a new study, workers hired for temporary or contract work face a higher risk of developing mental health problems such as depression.

The study was authored by Amelie Quesnel-Valleehe,  a medical sociologist at Montreal-based McGill Unviersity. The research, quoted in the excellent Workforce Management, raises some interesting issues.

However, I bristled a bit at quotes from Quesnel-Vallee that seem to caution employers against hiring these “unstable” temporary workers.

According to Quesnel-Vallee, “Employers need to be mindful of the fact that obviously they have economic imperatives and there is temptation to go with a more flexible workforce, but the bottom line is that it may not be as obvious as they might predict.” Read her other quotes about the productivity risks of hiring contract and temporary workers.

These quotes annoy me for a few reasons. First, consultants and freelancers face enough challenges without having to overcome employer stereotypes that they are more vulnerable to mental health problems.

Second, this study is based on records collected between 1992 and 2002 and focuses on workers who “don’t expect to be with their current jobs for more than one year.”

The options for free agents were much more limited before 2002. And those who are free agents by choice would be unlikely to use the phrase quoted above. If you’re a contractor by choice, you probably consider your job to be working for yourself. Even if your current assignment is unlikely to last more than a year, your “job” as a contractor will continue.

For me, leaving a steady 9-to5 gig to work for myself has improved my mental health dramatically. I no longer feel depressed on a regular basis. The joys of freedom, flexibility, and control over my own destiny more than compensate for the stresses. I know many others who feel the same way. read more…

Best Cities for Entrepreneurs

August 4th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Is your city startup-friendly? If not, maybe it’s time to think about moving to Vegas, Portland, or Chapel Hill.

The new Entrepreneur magazine has a great article on the ten best cities in the US for small business right now. Best of all, for each city, there’s a  success story to provide a little inspiration. If The Cupcakery (Las Vegas) and the Redi Pedi Cab Company (Orlando) can thrive in this economy, your business can too.

The cities highlighted offer opportunities for different reasons — like  low real estate costs in Vegas;  a culture of collaboration in Portland, Oregon; generous loan and grant programs in Phoenix; and fantastic incubators in Madison, Wisconsin and Youngstown, Ohio.

I’m not too surprised that my hometown of New York City didn’t make the list of startup-friendly towns. It’s true that the costs of living  and operating a business are higher here in NYC than in many other cities (if you can make it here…). However, there are also great opportunities for small businesses  in New York City. In fact, the New York City government recently started offering free business boot camps for new entrepreneurs (FastTrac New Venture) and for established  small business owners looking for support to sustain and grow their companies (FastTrac Growth Venture). Learn more about these free programs and how to sign up.

Right Brain Help Wanted — Left Brains Need Not Apply

July 15th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

left-brain-right-brainMarco della Cava at USA Today wrote a great article about how to retrain your brain to succeed in the new economy. He makes the argument that right brain thinking (big picture, creative) is more valuable than left brain thinking (linear, logical) in new economy careers.

This is one of my areas of focus right now — helping job hunters and career changers become more entrepreneurial and creative (both of these qualities rely heavily on the right brain). Marco quoted me in the article, along with A Whole New Mind guru Daniel Pink and several career changers who recently made the leap from left-brain careers to right-brain careers. He also wrote an interesting  related article about how to train kids for a “right brain future.”

Obviously, no one is purely “right brain” or “left brain.” We all need both sides of that wrinkly grey organ in order to thrive. For entrepreneurs, that is particularly true. We rely on our right brain for vision, innovation, and big-picture synthesizing and strategy. At the same time, we must tap into that left brain for managing our employees, keeping our finances in order, and staying on top of our task lists. We have to be able to switch back and forth between our left-brain and right-brain personalities (or hire/partner with people who have the skills that we lack).

Right now, I’m working on developing seven new training programs for three different clients in three different but related topic areas (this is why my blog posts are kind of few and far-between these days). This has required frequent right brain/left brain switching — from researching to big-picture strategy to organizing to writing to PowerPoint formatting, etc.

The right-brain stuff always comes pretty naturally for me. I have had to train myself in the ways of left-brain thinking — and it can be learned. Twelve years in Corporate America certainly helped with my left-brain development. But ultimately, I had to escape from Corporate America because all left-brain and no right-brain made me a very dull (and unhappy) girl.

Some people say that you can’t learn right-brain thinking, but I strongly disagree. I have led many creativity workshops and watched left-brainers learn to tap into their inner creative genius. For those in career transition, I highly recommend starting a right-brain workout plan. It may very well help you find and/or qualify for a more rewarding career path in the new economy.

Oscar Wilde (and George Costanza) on Productivity

July 8th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Oscar Wilde“We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid. And, harsh though it may sound, I cannot help but saying that such people deserve their doom. The sure way to know nothing about life is to try to make oneself useful.”

— Oscar Wilde

This quote struck me today. Oscar Wilde wrote these words in 1891, but they could easily have been blogged, tweeted, or podcast today.

Sometimes it seems like everyone that I know is competing for the title of Busiest Human Alive (including me). It’s a thankless title that doesn’t even come with a tiara, but we’ve bought into the myth that true virtue lies in always completing your to-do list (and  quickly!) .

Your worth is measured by the number of hours that you work, the number of emails that you process, the number of people on your connections list, the number of tasks that you check off (and the amount of money that it all generates).

Is this obsession with productivity making us stupider? Only if you take it too far. I personally love being busy. But there’s a certain point at which I see diminishing returns from all of that activity.

My best ideas always come to me when I step away from the daily task list — when I’m taking a walk, reading a great novel, chatting with a friend over a drink, sitting in the park people-watching. That’s because I need space to process all of the stimulus, all of the new information that I’m taking in 24/7. I need occasional moments of quiet and zero productivity.  I need a long-lens view to  see the big picture, to make the interesting connections between the ideas swirling around in my head.

Productivity is a beautiful thing. But you need inspiration and creativity to fuel and channel that productivity into work that’s truly meaningful.

So don’t let your to-do list kill your brain cells. Summer is the perfect time to step away from that daily grind and invite your muse over for a visit.  Schedule some time for brilliance — read an intriguing book that has nothing to do with your job, make a dinner date with someone who challenges your brain, or take an afternoon to play hooky at the museum or lying in the grass with your journal.

Here’s another quote from the brilliant Mr. Wilde to help you remember what it’s all about: “I don’t want to earn my living; I want to live.”

georgecostanzaannoyedAnd if you work for a boss who frowns upon such frivolities as taking time to think, try a tip from George Costanza (a man not known for thinking or for productivity): “If you look annoyed all the time, people think you’re busy.”

Look annoyed, be happy.

Hypnotize with Your Words — Learn Persuasive Writing Skills

July 2nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Learning how to write to persuade can really pay off in the business world. Your writing can sell a product or service, score you a job interview, justify a promotion or raise, establish credibility with a client or boss, motivate a difficult employee, or win support for your cause.

In the current hyper-competitive business environment, persuasive writing skills are more valuable than ever before. That’s why I worked with the American Management Association (AMA) to develop a live 90-minute webinar that teaches the 12 proven techniques for writing persuasively.

The webinar will take place on August 6th from 1-2:30 pm and we have worked hard to pack it with valuable information and exercises that will help anyone be more effective at work — even if writing isn’t a major part of your job. In fact, persuasive writing is an essential skill for managers (write convincing emails and performance reviews), entrepreneurs (write winning proposals and pitches), and career changers and job hunters (write brilliant resumes and cover letters).

Sign up now if you’re interested in learning how to convince, inspire, and influence with your writing. The email just went out the the AMA database and spots are filling up, so I wanted to give everybody here a heads-up now. Learn more about the course.