Screw Employment, Invent Your Own Job!

Screw Employment, Invent Your Own Job!

Today I’m going to answer a question that was sent to me by a good friend of mine. I like this letter because it touches on one of my core beliefs: that there exists a self-employment alternative to almost any traditional job. Or that at the very least, there’s a self-employment alternative that allows you to utilize the same skills as you would working the traditional job.

Here’s her message:

I just had the most amazing day at work today.

The office I inherited is a complete mess, so I decided that I’m going to mine through all the stuff and create an archive of the program, which has been around about 10 years. I was only supposed to be there from 9 to 12 today, but poof! I looked at the clock and it was now (3pm). I actually friggin love doing things like that.

I need to think about how I can make this kind of thing a career. Like, is it possible to be a freelance organizer? I bet. I could take on jobs from private individuals, companies, etc. It’s really too bad I didn’t get a degree in library studies. That can’t stop me from doing some self-study though!

What do you think?

One of the reasons I got so excited reading this message was that I have watched this friend apply for job after job after job for months! She’s probably applied to hundreds of jobs in the last six months. I’ve seen her in the depths of despair, at times when nobody was calling her back. I’ve heard her make comments about her own self-worth and how she thought no one would ever hire her because she wouldn’t hire herself.

It was hard to watch. This is someone I know would be awesome at any job she committed herself to. She has a real nack for planning events, organizing projects, and taking on responsibility- skills that are highly valued in today’s busy world. She’s also super smart, creative, and has great communication skills.

Lowering Our Expectations

I knew that if she wanted to, she could be totally jazzed about her work. It didn’t have to be some purely mechanical exercise to fill the hours of the day, which is what she seemed content in finding. Seeing her lower her standards for herself and strive for mediocrity was painful to watch.

The thing is, she’s not alone. This is something that most people do.

It reminds me of Tim Ferris’ bit in The 4-Hour Work Week when he talks about how people think that the extraordinary jobs are too hard to get, so they lower their expectations and try for the “realistic” (i.e. mediocre) jobs. The ironic thing is that almost everyone takes this approach, so there’s actually more competition for the mediocre jobs than for the extraordinary ones.

In any case, I was incredibly impressed by my friend’s perseverance! She just kept applying month after month- something I could never do.

One of the reasons I could never do this is that I hate the idea of being at the mercy of idiotic companies who can’t see how valuable I am. I hate feeling like I have to sell myself or ‘pay my dues’. For some reason, these concepts make me feel physically ill. I know what I’m worth and I have little patience when it comes to having to prove it to someone else. I feel like companies should be fighting for me, not the other way around.

In the end, my friend found a couple part-time jobs and seems a lot happier now, though I haven’t seen her totally exhilarated about work… That is, until receiving this letter.

It was like she suddenly saw what was possible- that work can be FUN, not a mere method of survival.

My Answer

Okay, so lets break this down. My friend is interested in turning her passion for organizing into a freelance business. The first thing I did was look over Ramit Sethi’s fantastic ten-part series on earning more money.

There are two components to starting a freelance business:

  1. Coming up with a service
  2. Determining whether there’s a paying market for your service

My friend has already found her service (professional organizer), so lets take a look at whether there are potential customers out there with both the willingness and ability to pay.

Is there a Healthy Demand?

A quick Craigslist and Google search informed me that there are indeed professional organizers advertising their services as well as people looking for professional organizers.

I was even able to find The National Association of Professional Organizers and a Professional Organizers of Canada chapter in her city. I’m not suggesting she spend the money on joining these organizations quite yet, but all of this is good news. It means there’s a market.

These sites also indicate that no real education or certification is required and that most professional organizers make between $40-$100/hour. Not bad.

(Note: It’s important not to get intimidated by other people offering the same service. This may look like competition, but it’s actually a good sign. It means there are people out there who are paying for the service.)

As I continued to read more closely through this post on Ramit’s site, I suddenly struck gold:

I know a young woman who cleans her room EVERY DAY. SHE LOVES IT. I find it really weird. Yet I would totally hire her to set up an organization system for my house. And so would TONS of other people, especially…who? What group can you think of that has an ability and willingness to pay for this service? Does gender matter? Age? Location? What do people REALLY want (hint: it’s not just a clean house…it’s much deeper).

This isn’t exactly what my friend described, but it’s pretty close.

So to answer your question friend, I think it’s a great idea. Screw the degree in library studies. You do NOT need it.

It seems to me that her potential client would most likely be the well-established self-employed worker who has no time to keep their house/office tidy. She could go in and set up a system of organization and then possibly teach that system and offer solutions. She would essentially be helping people gain control over their environment- over their lives. Ramit’s right, it goes much deeper than just a clean house or office.

Finding Clients

Don’t waste time setting up a website or blog for now- these are often used as procrastination tactics. Just get out there and find your first three clients.

Here are some questions my friend might want to ask herself:

  • Where do her potential clients hang out? Are there groups or organizations for independent contractors? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple groups on meetup.com. Maybe she could advertise her services there or even attend some of their meetings. After all, as a freelance organizer, she’s an independent contractor herself. She could join these groups, learn about growing her business, get to know some people and offer her services at the same time. Also, what about cafes? Do the self-employed ever work at cafes? You betcha. She could easily hang a couple ads around town.
  • Where do her potential clients look for solutions? Craigslist maybe? The newspaper? Is there some bulletin, forum or website that they read?
  • Does she already know anyone in her target demographic? Word of mouth probably goes a long way when in the professional organizer business. Maybe she already knows a potential client or someone who would be able to put her in touch with one.
  • Are there potential clients she could email? Most self-employed workers have their own websites to promote their services. What if she found a few who live nearby, wrote up a template/pitch and fired off five emails per day? At the very least, this would give her some idea of where her pitch is working and where it could use some revision.

Basically she wants to identify her ideal client and get into their head. What are their specific concerns, problems, fears and how can she provide solutions? Niche it down.

Take Action

Being self-employed requires taking action. Nobody will do it for you. So, go for it man. Get out there and find some clients! And if later down the line, you have enough business to warrant building a website, shoot me an email and I’ll give you a good rate. ;)

***

Thoughts? Comments? Further advice for my friend? Don’t be a stranger.

23 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    I’m going to have to agree that word of mouth is quite powerful, especially in free-lance work. My stepfather is renovates houses and has not advertised once in 20 years of work. Yet he is booked months in advance. Why? The results speak for themselves. People love to talk about who remodeled their bathroom or fixed their roof so quickly.

    In the case of organization, all employees will appreciate it when their job runs that much more smoothly because their offices and files are organized. Information management IS a growing field, with companies actually hiring for these positions.

    The hard part with free-lance is getting a foot into the door. It seems as if your friend is already half-way through the first hurdle! The person has the opportunity to prove their worth. An organized system could lead to a letter of reference + word of mouth recognition. Why stop at only the department that they work in? Perhaps HR needs a little reorganization as well.

    I think degrees can be somewhat helpful as potential clients tend to be reassured by tokens of qualifications. However, given that there is a professional order, your friend should look into what it takes to become a member. Imagine, Em’s Friend, educational credentials, Member of the Professional Organizers Organization.

    • Emilie says:

      Great points Rob. She should definitely ask around at her current job and see if other departments need her organizational help.

      Joining the Professional Organizers groups is also something to look into, but I don’t think it should be her first course of action. For one thing, the yearly dues for those kinds of things are up in the hundreds.

      I think she should start by looking on her own and then later assess whether the benefits of joining are worth the cost. I certainly wouldn’t want her to delay getting started for this reason. These things that we ‘have to do’ before starting can often act as excuses because they allow us to rationalize not taking action. But certainly in the future it’s something worth considering.

  2. Colin Wright says:

    EXACTLY.

    Very well-written explanation of what I find myself telling people all the time: if you can be creative about it, you can make a career out of ANYTHING.

    You may have to play around with how you make money from it (perhaps you charge licensing fees instead of selling products, or maybe instead of charging people for organizing their rooms, you make money selling them organizational products that you integrate into their closets while cleaning them), but where there is a will, there is most certainly a way; today more so than any other time in history.

    • Emilie says:

      I definitely agree Colin. It’s all about getting creative and trying out different strategies till you find one that works.

      On a side note, It’s interesting how people whine about ‘the economy’ and complain about how few opportunities there these days. I’ve found the opposite to be true- that the opportunities are endless. You just need to look outside the box. The state of the economy is also a fantastic motivation for becoming self-employed and taking things into your own hands. (Of course it’s also often used by many as an excuse to do nothing and renounce responsibility)…

      • Alex says:

        Emilie, while I respect that this blog entry is probably meant to inspire people to follow their passions, I don’t think it’s fair to trash “whiners” who complain about the state of the economy. Unemployment is real, and self-employment means finding paying clients, which is not easy to do in a financial crisis.

        I just don’t think it’s fair to be so dismissive about the concerns of people who are struggling to make ends meet. Poverty is real (consider that the Daily Bread Food Bank reports 1 in 9 Canadian children live beneath the poverty line) and the gap between rich and poor is actually widening.

        I hope your friend can find a way to earn the $15,000 or $20,000 a year it takes to survive off of Craigslist postings and word of mouth, but I wouldn’t say others who are nervous about their employment prospects or financial futures are just “whiners”.

        • Rob says:

          Alex, you entirely missed the point.

          It really is easy to hide behind the “lagging economy” instead of trying for your dreams. No where did Emilie talk about unemployed or those bogged down in cycles of poverty. Emilie is talking about having the courage to take risk, follow your dreams and offer something unique.

          These posts about privilege are getting redundant and a little too self-righteous. We acknowledge the privilege that we have, allowing us to follow our dream. However, I think you are taking agency away from those you are seeking to speak for as you are saying they are incapable of following their own dream too.

          Coming out of ART school, I can definitely say I met my fair share of people in different socio-economic situations. There were single-mother families, trust-fund kids, people well into their 40’s looking for a career change, and the typical university student living at home. Their common goal? To produce art and they were living it.

          I think Jamie makes a great follow up point addressing what you say, Alex. Jamie found something interesting and is doing it part-time to get more involved. This can be one way to getting in and still ensuring an income coming in.

          • Alex says:

            Hi,
            I don’t know what you mean by “these posts” about privilege – I think I’ve only left one or two comments here every where. I hope people are inspired to find creative employment solutions. I just think if you want to shift attitudes or open minds labelling people as “whiners” doesn’t exactly engender a sense of opportunity. Isn’t there a way to inspire change without trashing people who haven’t found what they’re looking for?

        • Emilie says:

          Of course poverty is real. But lets not take my comment out of context.

          And professional organizers actually make between $40,000-$80,000/year depending on their level of experience. It’s traditional employment where there’s typically a cap on income. Self-employment, however, allows for far greater scalability. There’s potentially no cap at all.

  3. Great advice all across the board! Whenever I look at new business propositions I look at one thing..the UVP or Unique Value Proposition. What is she bringing to the table that I MUST HAVE and how is it different from the competition?

    The other concept that I found to be extremely important, which coincides with my first statement, is the idea that getting those first three clients is crucial and giving them that over and above service will only propel you into the next job.

    As a client, I want to know, er…SEE what you’ve done in the past and I want to be envious of their amazingly organized office/home. Good luck to your friend! Great article.

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks Chris. Finding a UVP or unique selling point is a great idea. I’ve noticed in general that when people put themselves out there in a unique way, things tend to work out marvelously. Whereas trying to blend in as almost always a game killer.

      A UVP + awesome references for whom she over-delivered will definitely go a long way.

  4. Alison says:

    I love this way of thinking. It’s always frustrating for me when people I know believe they are locked in a box of traditional employment when there are so many creative and exciting alternatives out there. We are only limited by our imagination. If you’re resourceful, productive, and you can tolerate a bit of uncertainty then the world is your oyster in terms of how you make a living and the kind of living you make.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m the ONLY person out there who sees the value in this way of thinking. Social media has been so helpful in connecting me with like-minded individuals who form my cherished support system and I’m so grateful to have the benefit of their insights and their experience as I explore this alternative lifestyle.

    Love the blog, Emille – I’m RSSing you : )

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Alison,

      I agree that our beliefs are really what impede us the most. But it’s so exciting once you start making that shift. You start noticing opportunities everywhere. Also getting into the habit of thinking creatively tends inspires more AHA! moments. Life becomes so much more fun. It’s like seeing the matrix or something.

      I’ve also recently discovered just how incredible the blogosphere/twitter can be when it comes to connecting with others and building community around these ideas. People are out there and they’re passionate and excited to interact with others. It’s great.

      Thanks Alison, I’m glad you found me. :)

  5. I have been looking for work for awhile and I am active involved in the tech scene in Detroit. I have been out of college two years and between working part time at one place which I am passionate about which did not hire me full time and the other place. I was comfortable with the lifestyle even if it is not what I desire and slowly I have woke up to the entire thing.

    I am still trying to land a job but when I apply to jobs I make sure there is someone in the company I know first just because I don’t want to waste my time at all.

    I would go solo and I have tried but I find myself speaking for free and volunteering because it is hard to land those first clients. You have to have a mind set you can do this on your own and when you are a rookie it is kind of hard with out enough mentors to go it solo.

    • Emilie says:

      Good stuff Jamie. Sounds like you’re moving your life in the direction you want to be going in. It takes time to get to that point when we’re ready to take the big leap and go solo.

      But it sounds like you’re testing the freelancing waters and gaining confidence as you go. I predict that you’ll make the jump sooner than you think. Ideas tend to be contagious- especially with things like unconventional lifestyle design, where you have a lot of raving enthusiasts (like myself. :)

      Have you read any of Chris Guillebeau’s stuff? He’s been one of my biggest influences on this quest. Really inspiring.

  6. Jenny says:

    As someone who’s worked for myself for 8 years I wish more people would get this. The economy has nothing to do with your ability to be creative and do what you love. If you follow your heart and do things you want to do, the money will follow. I love how people love to hate and talk about being “realistic”… well look what realistic got you, and look what being extraordinary and shooting for the stars got me! There is no excuse not to live life to the fullest! I don’t get why people make excuses so that they can be miserable. Don’t you want to be happy? I think everyone deserves that.

    • Emilie says:

      Well said. It’s like people don’t think happiness is even an option, so they shoot for ‘survival’.

      I was actually thinking about how cool it would be to start a program for kids one day, where some of us would go in and talk to them about the possibilities, following your dreams, entrepreneurship, etc. before they get hit with that societal cynicism. I bet hearing about the dreams of, say, sixth-graders would be pretty freakin’ inspiring! But yeah, I’d love to see more people grow up with an understanding of the possibilities that available to them.

      • Kari Pederson (Aelione) says:

        This. Is. GREAT! I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Emilie. I’m being laid off from a job that has been toxic for a really long time (so it’s actually not such a bad thing) and I want to transition into some kind of flexible work/ self-employment thing. I’m still looking for a “traditional” job so I can survive while I figure my shit out (I have no money!), but I’ve recently become clear on the things I want. Like your friend, I’m been settling for a box that’s really, really too small for me. I need to climb out of that thing.

        OH and I adore your kids’ program idea. What fun would that be? And what if we (it could be done around the world, like Dave Egger’s 821 Valencia Writers’ program) put out a book about their responses and their dreams? I think that would be so wonderful. Maybe Dave Eggers could publish it through McSweeney’s! (why not? I think he’d like it.) Do you read Pema Chodron? You should. We all have to become friends with uncertainty. Things are constantly changing!

  7. Rebecca says:

    this is really my ideal goal, inventing my own job and working for myself. unfortunately the stage 1 of finding “that thing” isn’t so obvious right now… and the freelance writing this is going terribly. i’m also pretty much at a point where i have no choice but to bite the bullet and get a bullshit job, but eh.

  8. Hi Emilie,

    Great stuff in this post… I love how you concretize each step!

    Because I’m also a cheerleader to encourage people on to create more liberating work situations, I hope it’s okay if I share with your readers a link to a post I wrote on this topic as well: http://liberatedlifeproject.com/2010/12/5-steps-to-make-the-leap-to-a-more-liberated-way-of-working/

    Thanks for all your great writing, Emilie!

  9. Maral says:

    I love your articles, you inspired me to start my own blog and share whatever I feel needs to be shared.

    Thanks so much, I’ll definitely be around here a lot more the coming months.

    -Maral

  10. Teresa says:

    Niche it down – like that!

  11. Steven Le says:

    This is way after you posted this but I’m so glad I came across it! Hell, I agree with you, the simple though of being employed by someone makes me feel a horrid sensation inside!
    This post is so relevant, in a world where unemployment is so high and everyone is struggling to get jobs, hell let’s not compete with them and just invent our own jobs!

    Awesome post!

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