Morphing Into A Specialist

Consider your workplace and the people you work alongside. Thinking now of your co-workers, you likely view some of those people as having grown a reputation as being a specialist in some area of their work. Perhaps you count yourself among them. How does a person become a specialist, an expert or recognized authority?

For many, it’s a case of knowing exactly what they want and signing up for specialized training beyond what they and their co-workers normally receive. This training results in the person obtaining formal certification; recognition of their academic expertise.

However, there are a vast number of people who have developed experiential expertise; expertise accumulated from extensive exposure with a certain population, topic or interest. So these people find themselves being sought out for consultation by others, regarded as an authority on a subject, and become the go-to people. The interesting thing is that they themselves may not have planned to be regarded as an expert; they may be initially surprised that others keep coming to them, but then it dawns on them that they have in fact a knack for whatever it is, or whomever it is that they excel with.

Hence you could have a Financial Consultant working in a large organization; providing investment advice be regarded as the right person to refer certain clients to over others. You have speakers in an organization get the nod over their peers depending on a group or topic; pegged as the right person to connect with that population.

So are you a specialist in your organization in some regard? You may have the same title as your peers, the same salary; but are you regarded as having a particularly well-developed skill in some area over your peers?

The advantage (and there are advantages) in being regarded as an authority or having a particularly well-developed skill set in some area, is that you become more valuable to both your organization, your customers or clients, and to your fellow employees. So if your co-workers are challenged with a client and you have high success rates in dealing with clients like them, they may come to you and draw upon your experience. You may excel more often when it comes to dealing successfully with those who present with similar challenges.

Sometimes, you can keep your ears and eyes open and identify opportunities to seize on where your peers universally dislike or avoid aspects of their work. They may be more than willing to pass on what they perceive as difficult or undesirable clients who share common attributes, even taking two or yours to divest themselves of the unwanted one. In such a case, you could gain a reputation as handling well what others see as difficult, and you’ll be appreciated for it.

Suddenly you could find yourself being the one who gets the nod when it comes to attending courses, seminars and going to conferences that provide additional learning opportunities for dealing with hard-to-serve populations. Then after attending a few of these, not only do people in your organization see you as an authority, but employees from other organizations at those events start to regard you the same way. You may wake up one day and suddenly realize that without really planning it, you’ve morphed into a specialist.

What might then occur to you is that because you have developed a knack for working with a certain population, you find yourself wanting some further formal education to obtain some academic accreditation. This opens up the idea of night school or taking a leave from your workplace. If you look into it, you might even find that your employer is willing to pay for all or part of your educational development as they would get a higher return on their investment upon your return to the workplace.

For many this is how they evolve, stay fresh and grow. If you sat down and had a conversation with these people, they might tell you that they never really set out to become a specialist; it kind of snuck up on them and took them by surprise.

The wonderful thing about this entire process is the personal growth that occurs. The more you are identified as a leading authority or have some unique insight, the more likely it is that you will discover opportunities which you previously didn’t know existed. Hence, you could compete in the future for a position you wouldn’t have thought possible or perhaps even known existed. The other possibility is that your organization might actually create a position around you which only is being created to both recognize and take advantage of your well-developed expertise.

If we take this idea even further, it may turn out that you wake up one day and wonder if you aren’t in a position to actually break away from the organization you are employed with and set up your own entrepreneurial business. Your expertise might be in such demand that running your own business is in the cards.

Have a look around the organization you work for and see if there are opportunities to seize upon. Based on your present skills, interests and those of your peers, are there areas in which someone could capitalize upon and with a little effort be the go-to person, the expert, the specialist? Perhaps that person could be you!

Jobs Via The Radio

Being back in my car this Monday morning, it was the first I’d had my radio on for a couple of days, as I usually forego it over the weekend in favour of television, music or conversation. And when all that is not going on, there’s quiet solitude and time without any external noise.

Back in the car, I turned on the radio and listened to the 6:30 a.m. news on CBC. I like CBC because not only do they do the news justice locally, nationally and around the world, but between those newscasts, they talk with people in 5 minute segments and I get a well-balanced conversation on a number of topics I’d otherwise not get exposed to.

Within three seconds I was listening about a hostage situation in Australia that is in the thirteenth hour, then there was a story about a stabbing in Toronto followed by a report on the make up of the Police Services Board in Toronto as they are having an inaugural meeting since the new Mayor of Toronto was elected.

Okay, that gives me an idea of the major headlines and I’m now prepared to get into any conversation that might come up at work with some degree of knowledge. That ability to converse intelligently from an informed perspective is useful. While by no means an expert on these kind of topics, it at least shows some semblance of awareness and instead of being seen as someone who isn’t up on current events, rather it’s the latter.

Can the radio then, or rather listening to the radio, be a part of an effective job search? Well in some respects yes it can. Oh sure there are the obvious aids like the announcement of a job fair at some major large company. But sometimes the less obvious news stories that don’t just happen in the hourly newscasts provide some of the most helpful information for those savvy enough to pick up on the news stories and turn that information into an opportunity.

So for example, there was an interview after the news this morning with a gentleman who is raising funds for the Alzheimer’s society in remembrance of his mother. He’s attempting to raise $19.23 from everyone he can to support research in that area. That dollar amount is the year his mom was born apparently – 1923.

Okay so let’s brainstorm jobs and opportunities that we might take advantage of with this story. And remember, brainstorming means that initially no one criticizes an idea, they are all thrown on the table and only later will the ideas be looked at with more scrutiny for viability.

Idea number one: We produce t-shirts that say, “$19.23 to remember 1923: I support the Alzheimer’s Society”. A portion of the proceeds go to the Society and part recover our costs with some small profit in it for us.

A second idea, we make up small buttons with a photo of the guy skating, affix it to the button and on the top we have, “I gave $19.23” and at the bottom our own company contact information. The buttons are free when a donation is made to him and we use this as a promotional write-off.

Lastly, say we are in the business of making short films, or marketing businesses. Why not go down, make a short film of him, talk to him while he’s skating or on one of his short breaks, and then do a follow-up story. Put it all together and we’ve got a short documentary film that showcases our work and we launch it into a community film festival.

Now these ideas come into my head as the first three things I thought of. Do they have merit? Are they good ideas? Are they the best ideas I could brainstorm? Don’t know really and I won’t be giving the matter a second thought as I’m not personally going to do anything as I already have a job I love and don’t need another or have the skills to do the above ideas I shared.

But if I was unemployed, struggling, or in the fragile moments of an early business start-up or a student in the film studies class at a nearby College or University, I might be interested. This is one small news item that might just be a story we listen to on the radio and say to ourselves, “That’s a nice story, what’s the next news item?” Opportunity lost on most, seized by a few.

So how do you train yourself to pick out the gems in the media and recognize opportunity? First it requires good listening skills. With everything you hear you think to yourself, “Listen for the opportunity that comes with the story.” Be it an entrepreneurial opportunity or a chance to be hired when you hear of a new chain store going up in the area; listening for opportunities is a critical step.

And don’t confine yourself to just the radio. Watch local news on the television and you can do the same thing. And if you want to, get some people together, share a news story you heard such as the guy skating for 19 hours and 23 minutes, and brainstorm job / business opportunities with them as a group. If you want more lead time to prepare, contact a radio station and ask them what stories they are working on, share your own motivation for knowing and who knows, you could be a future news story yourself!

Getting The Right Bra

At the moment, I’m facilitating a two-week workshop on self-employment and starting your own small business while in receipt of social assistance. As participants in this group are all exclusively on social assistance, it’s important for them to understand the rules that are in place that govern what they can and can not do as a small business owner until that day when they reach financial independence and can then do as they wish.

Now there are what I call the soft and technical skills that are required to be a successful small business owner. The technical skills are things like budgeting, writing a business plan, product production and money management. The soft skills are things like how dress, understanding what personal qualities are generally held by entrepreneurs etc. Very important and many would argue even more important than technical skills, as those can be sought out in others you could contract.

So there I was on day 2 of a 10 day class yesterday. The subject we were discussing is clothing, and how important it is to make a good first impression on investors, advisers, potential customers and business partners and colleagues. My audience was made up of people in ball caps, reflective sun glasses, t-shirts, jeans, etc. I was stressing the importance of taking pride in how you dress, and the fact that one never knows when you might attract or put off someone who might help grow your business.

With this target population, I assume nothing. We talked about everything from the length of skirts and dresses to the need for clean nails and teeth maintenance. Then the topic turned to underwear. You know, making sure your pants aren’t having your crotch at your knees, and 7 inches of your boxers exposed if you want to be taken seriously. And with respect to bra’s, not over exposing yourself, colour matching with your top etc. It was at this point a question was posed which I think is worthy of sharing here.

The question came from one of the females in the group who said that the cost of a bra for her – being heavy chested) was out of her price range. She pegged the right bra at about $80.00. We talked as a class for about 20 minutes on the subject of bras. Was it uncomfortable for me? No not really. I was impressed that the group on day 2 could have a serious conversation without the immature comments that might have come up from other groups, or the snickers.

Wearing the right bra really can make all the difference no matter what your bra size. But in the case of this woman and a few others in the room, it was an issue of needing the right one to provide support and reduce back pain. My suggestion to her was to put a funding request in writing for her Caseworker, and if she could obtain it, include a note from her physician that backed up her claim of experiencing back pain. Looking at things on a cost basis, what’s less expensive after all, two $80 bras or trips to Doctors and Chiropractors?

And as one of the woman in the class contributed, wearing no bra at all isn’t the answer as a small business owner. And she’s right on that account. And on the other end of things, another participant brought up the issue of being small chested and having to find one that fit her frame.

Finding the right fit; be it a bra, a dress, a pair of pants or a shirt is critical to both looking professional and feeling good about yourself and your level of self-confidence when addressing others. For tall or large people, some stores charge extra for plus sizes, and even those that don’t sometimes have limited selection of clothing. One of the men in the group said he has a waist size and inseam combination that isn’t easily found, and he has to sometimes settle for clothing that wouldn’t be his first choice due to availability.

You see the option of going to stores that cater to people who are taller, broader or heavier etc. isn’t always there for those on fixed incomes. Pay your rent, buy your groceries and there isn’t much left for what we might call basic necessities. And this is why I’ve made the suggestion to put a request for some clothing funds to the client’s worker who is in a position to provide it based on demonstrated need.

By the way, you might have already done a comfort check with yourself had you been in my position. You know, a guy talking with a mixed class about bras and underwear. Would you in my place be at ease discussing it or even think it appropriate. My feeling is this: if it’s important to the participants in the class to bring up, it’s important to discuss. Really effective adult education facilitators have to in my opinion, allow for discussions to occur where interest is sparked. Sure I’ve got my agenda, but adult participants have to be respected, allowed to contribute, and if it’s topic-related and relevant, discussion is to be encouraged. Looking at things the other way round, if she didn’t bring up her concern, she may not have found out that funds are available to help alleviate her problem and find a solution.

Like they say, there are no dumb questions. And if you’re thinking of a question, someone else likely is too whether it’s bra’s or some other subject.

Unemployed And Considering Starting Your Own Business?

I was listening to someone on the radio last week talk about the unemployment rates here in Canada. The point being made on the radio is that the number of people out of work was about the same as the last couple of years, but it didn’t take into account the number of people who are back in school because they couldn’t find a job, those who have stopped looking altogether, and finally those who are now starting up their own businesses. And that got me thinking.

Now finding a job is pretty hard work these days, but running a business? Running a successful business is even harder still. The general problem for anyone considering running a business is that while you may have a great deal of experience as an employee working for someone else in a given field, you probably don’t have the required skills at the moment to launch a business that will survive beyond a year – two at the maximum. And that’s not because you’re not bright, it’s because you haven’t had someone teach you those skills required to be solely in business for yourself.

And I think the above two paragraphs go a long way to explaining why so many new businesses close relatively shortly after opening. That’s a statistic that is also generally available and I suspect is pretty much true in other countries as well as Canada.

But it’s understandable isn’t it? I mean you try to get a job in your field working for someone else but you run into rejection after rejection. You may be tired of being laid off or are angry about getting fired, and so you eventually decide you’ll never be laid off again or get fired again if you are working for yourself. And so, the thought that started out of those experiences grows and you decide to open your own business.

Motivation for starting your business is very important. You are generally advised not to start your own business if you are expecting to make a lot of money immediately. Making money for most takes time; time spent launching a business, growing as you build assets up and of course it takes money to make money.

But running a business takes skills that you may or may not have at the moment. If you are fortunate enough to be employed at the moment but have an entrepreneurial bent, you should pay for courses available to learn how to run your own business now. Think of these courses as an investment in yourself, and like any investment, it’s designed to pay off in the future not the present.

If you are unemployed, resist the urge to prematurely launch your own business before you are ready. Hanging up an “open for business” sign is a huge mistake if you aren’t really prepared for it. And you only get one chance as a small business to make that critical first impression on your targeted customers.

As a business, you’ll be selling a product, a service or possibly both. You’ll need to have funds available either through credit or cash on hand in order to accumulate enough stock to fill orders and requests. People are going to need to know you even exist, so you’ll need some kind of advertising campaign, possibly involving literature, and you must have a distribution method to get both your advertising and your products out there.

Additionally, you’ll need to have the capability of accepting payment in a variety of methods depending on the scope of the business. Cutting lawns or shoveling snow can be a cash only business, but most businesses today rely on debit and credit card payments. And of course you have to understand you won’t get paid in advance likely for your work or products, and people generally are now used to having 30 to 60 days to actually pay for things. You can give them a bill today for services rendered, but it may sit on a counter at home for weeks before someone pays it, and even then they may or may not pay at all.

There’s a lot of upside to running your own business, but the upside is too obvious or it wouldn’t be so appealing. Hence I’m not really focusing here on the pros vs. the cons of self-employment. But it’s important to acknowledge they exist. But don’t turn on your blinders to the cons, or they will rise up and bite you so hard you’ll pack things in and be right back where you are today – poorer but wiser it’s hoped.

It’s far from fun running a business. While you may look forward to actually putting your product or services into the hands of your customers, and get real satisfaction out of doing things your way with no one to supervise your work, you have to realize you’ll need to devote time to the other things you didn’t have to do when working for a company run by others. There are taxes to collect and remit, paperwork to be completed, risks to be contemplated and managed, networking to be undertaken, ledgers to balance, complaints to be resolved and relationships to nurture.

Self-employment may be exactly what you need if you are unemployed, but realize you will be working harder and longer than ever before. Go in with your eyes wide open!

“You’re Useless!” And Other Put-Downs

This week and next, I am facilitating a Self-Employment class at work. I’ve got twelve individuals, all of whom are on social assistance, who are interested in launching their businesses soon; intent on gaining their financial independence this way rather than the more conventional route of working for someone else.

While all of them present with their own barriers to employment, there is one whose comment struck me as all too common, whether one is job searching or attempting to run a business. The comment made remarked on those closest to her; family and friends who have always doubted her openly and are now telling her she doesn’t have what it takes to run her business and she should just suck it up and go get a regular job.

Now that’s as much about this one person I’m going to share in this blog today. However, I’m going to sum up a multitude of individual conversations with others throughout. Comments that openly criticize others are destructive and painful for the other person. While some people do say these mean comments to bully and intentional hurt, often they are made in a bizarre attempt to be helpful.

But why do the comments sting so much at all? To answer this, its important to remember that the comments are coming from sources that people generally expect to be supportive and nurturing; our family and closest friends. More than any other people, our parents, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, our best friends; these are the people constantly in our lives who know us best. And if they know us best and they don’t believe we have the ability to succeed, then how good are our chances of success?

You must also realize that because you are without a job, you have lost temporarily, the status that typically gets assigned by our society to people who have jobs. And it’s generally believed that trying to launch a business is much more difficult than going to work for someone else.

I’m telling you this: If you are constantly being put-down, criticized, having your abilities questioned, yelled at, told you’ll never amount to anything or you’re just a major disappointment, you’ve got to take action. It is absolutely critical that the attacks stop. If you continue to endure and live in a situation where others slam you constantly – especially if those others are family – you run a high-risk of believing all those negative comments, doubting your self-worth, depression, withdrawal from society and even suicide.

To start with, if you haven’t done it, have a conversation with those closest to you about your job search or your new business venture if you’re going that route. Explain the ultimate goal, why you’ve settled on that career or business idea, and how the skills, experience and education you have puts you in a position to succeed. If you are taking training, share that too. All of this may legitimize yourself in their eyes, proving you’ve really thought this out. And then ask for their personal support, telling them how you value their opinion, and that you really need them behind you.

Now if you just get some negative reaction, they just call you stupid or a complete waste of space, you have to in my opinion for your own good, remove yourself from the source of all the destructive and hurtful comments. This could mean moving out or restricting phone contact to once a week instead of daily calls. And it could mean putting rules of engagement in place, such as, “if you start yelling at me and telling me I’m stupid, I ask you to stop once and then I hang up the phone.” You really can’t afford it you see to constantly be verbally assaulted and abused; and if you didn’t realize it until just now, you are a victim of abuse – it’s verbal but it’s still abuse.

Being the victim of verbal abuse can be more deadly than a victim of physical abuse – although please don’t think either are preferable. It’s just that others can’t see bruises and welts who would help, and it takes much closer observation to see the damage.

If you do leave home, don’t do it in a rage, yelling and screaming, yelling accusations back and forth. Do it calmly, with purpose, knowing you may at some point in the future, welcome and seek out that contact so don’t burn the bridges on your side of the relationship. You’re not leaving to hurt the other people, you’re leaving to preserve the person you are and save yourself. This also applies if you have to temporarily terminate a close friendship with someone who doesn’t believe in you. Same rules; leave with kindness and respect for them even if it seems incredibly difficult to do.

You are a person of worth. You do have good qualities. You are entitled to succeed. There is a job out there you can do and do well. Your idea for a business may just be your future calling.

Ironically, those closest to you are usually scared for you and want you to succeed. They want to see you well-off but know they may be powerless to help you so they just rant and seek to motivate you by calling you names. They know not the destruction they cause, and are powerless to do otherwise. That conversation you have might give them an opening.

A Little Extra Effort And You Stand Out

I’m currently in the middle of facilitating a Self-Employment Workshop and have a number of participants all hoping to soon launch their businesses as they move to financial independence. It’s an exciting time for each of them and I too am motivated when I seem their enthusiasm and listen to them talk about their hopes and dreams. I can tell you thought that there are always one or two that stand out from the crowd due mainly to the effort that they put in above and beyond the rest.

For example, one of the participants provided me with a business plan she had been working on in the past, and wanted to get a fresh perspective on it as she will be overhauling it and making changes. Now while others in the class leave at the end of the day like a bullet, this student hung around for an hour one-on-one, making notes, listening to my feedback, and really showed a high level of interest and commitment to improving her business plan. The result is that my impression of her as a business leader has increased, my understanding of her business and services rose dramatically and I’m in a much better position to offer construct feedback and direction in the future because I’m more engaged.

I was impressed days ago by the same individual in a completely different activity as well. As one of the key elements of being an entrepreneur is networking, public speaking and addressing groups of people, I like to give my students that opportunity in the class. What I do is to ask each participant to choose a number from those on a flip chart which is unique from everyone in the class. Once chose, I then draw the group’s attention to a number of quotes on the board which have a number in front of them. Each participant must come up to the front of the room, read the quote from the board that matches their number, and then explain to the group their understanding of the quote as it relates to being self-employed. The exercise gets them talking to groups, demonstrates their ability to think, understand something they’ve just been presented with, and then speak in front of the class showcasing their interpersonal skills. So how did this student impress me with this exercise?

Once everyone in the class had presented, it was time for a well-deserved break. Each and every participant got up and walked out of the room except this one student. She began to write down the 10 quotes on the board because she found them of interest and valuable. So what did I do? I told her not to bother writing them down. Instead, I gave her 5 pages of quotes with over 200 in total I’ve collected. She loved it. That one student got a small reward when her behaviour was noted and appreciated.

Sometimes it’s the little things that separate people and make them stand out in a positive light. Don’t think your effort is going unnoticed. In this case, my observations will get passed on to others who will support her over the long-term implementation of her business. The summation is that here is someone to put in a little extra effort with because she herself is putting in the effort. While the other students may ultimately be successful, or have good reasons for why they left the room etc. it is clear that those who demonstrate more than average enthusiasm and interest generally do garner extra attention, help and guidance that can have a lasting impact.

My job advice here then is to put in the extra effort so that you stand out apart from your peers. This extra effort may get you a lead, a connection, a reference, a personal recommendation etc. that down the road may have benefits you cannot imagine today.

It’s competitive out there….