Entrepreneurship – A “Free Agent” Career

I’m going to be giving a talk this week at my alma mater, The Thunderbird School of Global Management, about why I quit my “safe” corporate job and chose entrepreneurship. As I was preparing my notes, I started to think about the changing labor dynamics in our society and how entrepreneurship may be the “safer” bet for some.

The first thing that came to mind was the notion of cradle-to-grave employment. It has been dead for nearly two decades as Generations X and Y expect more from their lives than working hard so that some other entity can receive the spoils. I thought about how corporations need to be more agile in delivering products to consumers, so they hire fewer full-time employees who require additional health benefits, retirement plans, and paid time off. I also thought about Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, and how it related to my corporate days as I was motivated much more by intrinsic rewards than my salary, benefits, or recognition in the company newsletter.

In 2001, Peter Drucker said; “The corporation as we know it, which is now 120 years old, is not likely to survive the next 25 years. Legally and financially yes, but not structurally and economically.” The same year, Pink released Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, a book about entrepreneurship, personal fulfillment, and what the new economy will look like without cradle to grave employment. I haven’t read it, but the reviews are phenomenal.

Granted, I am more than ten years behind Drucker and Pink in my realization that corporate employment has changed. But, I am also very thankful to have found my calling. Here are a few things that you should focus on to ensure that your “free agent” startup finds success.

1. Sales – Whether or not you want to be, you are a sales person. In order to remain relevant in the new economy, you must (at a minimum) be able to sell your knowledge, skills, and abilities to your stakeholders. Do you feel comfortable making cold calls? If no, learn how. Do you know someone who has strong connections into local media outlets for advertising and public relations opportunities? If no, make the connection ASAP. Do you enjoy networking and building relationships? The cheapest source of new clients is referrals, so find avenues to spread your name. Do you blog or distribute content via social media? If no, they’re free to start and simply require time. There are multitudes of ways to be a sales person for your products or services. The sooner you establish your brand and consistently deliver it to a wide variety of audiences is the sooner the revenue begins to flow.

2. Interesting Projects – Entrepreneurs typically get to work on projects they want to work on. I realize that this is not 100% true, but with the right business plan and work ethic, an individual can follow his dream and work on meaningful projects day in and day out. The same cannot always be said for those folks in corporate roles where management has more information to be able to make decisions. If there is something that you are passionate about, make sure your stakeholders know. If you can pair your skills with love for a particular topic, success will come…probably before you expect it.

3. Flexible Schedule – Independent professionals don’t work 8:00AM to 6:00PM, Monday through Friday, in a cube or office. They have the flexibility to work when, where, and how they want to. For some of us, that means working seven days per week just to get the business off the ground. But, knowing that you’ll have an asset generating income for you when you’re sleeping is enormously motivating. There are weeks where you will answer emails at 3:00AM, take client phone calls Saturday evening, and miss personal events. But you will have the autonomy to create a meaningful future, you will have the ability to master your craft, and you can live a life full of purpose.

4. Partnerships – I mentioned above that relationships help drive a significant amount of referrals to your business. Be sure to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in their chosen field. If you are a marketing professional, be sure to have a great accountant, lawyer, and business coach who you can count on. You need to stay focused on extending your brand and driving revenue. Find other professionals who offer complimentary services to yours and find ways to cross-promote or package the services together. You should also consider bartering or trading services if the fit is right. Whatever you choose, remember that an organized collective impact is greater than anything you can do alone.

Whether you choose to sell your skills to a corporation in exchange for a salary or if you choose to sell your services on a project for a fee, you are a consultant. Coming to that realization will help you as you embark upon next steps in your career. Peter Drucker and Daniel Pink saw this long ago. Learn from their research and unlock your potential by developing a future full of meaning both personally and professionally.