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Going from corporate beige box to comfy coffee shop workin’

(ENTREPRENEUR) A look at what it takes to pivot your career from your couch at home to a cubicle in an office.

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That corporate life!

Rat race, gridlock, cube farm, always be closing. From the outside, and real talk, from the inside too, it sounds like kind of a nightmare.

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It can surely seem that way to a fluffy freelancer like your humble narrator, who has already waxed lyrical about the magic of open schedules and the confluence of pajamas, tea and productive employ.

Less lyrical?

No benefits, no pension, no paid leave, and brutal limitations on your ability to network and train. I love freelancing.

I’m also a single adult with portable expertise.

If I had kids or a house or bigger debts to service than my current collegiate horrors, I’d strongly consider going back to the corporate beige box. More importantly, the only reason I have the expertise to freelance was because I did that very thing a few years ago: I was in a new town, I needed a new skill set and I wished to acquire same without also acquiring scurvy. I’ve returned to freelance work since, but plenty of folks are looking to make the same trade I did for very good reasons. Here’s how I swung it.

Know what you want

First rule of… well, everything, come to think of it: goals. Have them, and not vague “in ten years I want to be” stuff.

What do you need for the new gig to be worth rush hour and team-building exercises?

Debt to cover? Who’ll match your payments? Kid on the way? Don’t even dust off your resume until you know in hard numbers who has the best parental leave, health insurance, day care. We’re freelancers. We know the Internet is omniscient. Inquire. Especially because…

You may not be looking for a job

Remember that new skill set, the one I got without acquiring scurvy? It was grantwriting. People more talented than me have shelled out for a Master’s to learn that. I got paid. Specifically, I was an AmeriCorps VISTA, a “paid volunteer” in a federally funded program that provided a (very, very low) set stipend and benefits for a yearlong commitment to work in the public sphere.

AmeriCorps and programs like it are all over the public and private sphere. They’re a natural outgrowth of the post-career economy, socioeconomic kudzu – which is absolutely the name of my new prog band – twining up the old ivory and concrete towers.

Words like “internship,” “volunteer” and “trainee” aren’t code for “teenagers bearing lattes” anymore.

They’re part of professional life, with improvements to match. That’s good news. Paid training has been a classic component of traditionally blue-collar skilled labor – which is great for millennials, entrepreneurs and the forward-thinking generally – for years, but one good Google search turned up paid trainee and internship programs in everything from coding to lobbying to remote employee management. It’s likely less money in the short term, but most come with at least bargain basement benefits, and as long as you put in the work, corporate jobs come with the vital intangibles of office life: experience, reputation, network, all things a freelancer resume may be short of. On that subject…

Relearn the rules

You found something! Rad! Now let’s keep it for more than a month! It can be trickier than it sounds.

Just adjusting to office culture can be hard enough.

Freelancers get used to autonomy, to responsibility, to – let’s use the word – freedom, and that’s not how offices roll.

The trick is to reconnect with the other thing offices have and freelancing does not: people. You have a team, not just customers, clients and competition, the categories where most folks you meet freelancing tend to fall. There are all kinds of benefits to rolling with a crew.

Unlike going solo responsibility is distributed, so not every event is a crisis and not every setback is your fault.

You’re networking, so whether this is a bridge job and you plan to be done in ten weeks or you’re in it to win it and you’ll be here ten years, every day builds your professional profile. Plus you can get a sense of how to thrive and how not to, just by hanging out. But the best part?

They’re people.

People are the best part of office work.

Talk. Joke. Share lunch. Find the folks into Snapchat or klezmer or whatever your thing is. Be a part of what’s happening around you, and not only will you score a boost up the ladder and (probably) not get fired for coming to work in bunny slippers, you might just be happier, period.

I’m not sold that’s enough to cancel out rush hour and beige walls and, gah, business casual. But it’s a start.

#FreelanceToCubeView

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Business Entrepreneur

Amy’s Ice Cream – a front for spawning entrepreneurs?

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Why would an ice cream shop bother with “30 hours of non-ice cream training” in personal finance and give teens and young adults access to a 401k program?

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Scooping ice cream is a classic summer job for the cash-strapped teenager, but for employees of Austin-area favorite Amy’s Ice Cream, it could lead to a lifetime of financial literacy, or even eventual entrepreneurship.

Founder Amy Simmons half-jokingly describes her namesake dessert franchise as “a front for educating primarily young people in business, and finance, and decision making, and problem solving so they can go out in the world and be really successful themselves.” Amy’s employees receive “30 hours of non-ice cream training” in personal finance, and even have access to a remarkably popular 401k program.

Simmons credits her business philosophy to a book by one Jack Stack of Missouri, entitled The Great Game of Business. Its tagline reads, “Teaching employees to think and act like owners,” and the ice cream entrepreneur is now extending the practice of “open book management” to companies across the country through Amy’s EDU, a consulting company cofounded by Simmons, Aaron Clay, and Mark Banks.

Open book management “empowers all employees to know, understand, and ultimately run the business.”Click To Tweet

“It’s a path and it’s a way of looking at your company so that you really engage your customers as partners… your stake holders as partners,” says Simmons.

Amy’s EDU also offers courses and seminars in customer service, leadership, public speaking, and company culture, but the primary objective of each track is the same: get employees and customers involved in the business, excited about what they’re doing, and educated enough to contribute something new.

Take note, CEOs and leaders: Amy’s Ice Cream is a highly successful company with impressive longevity – it was founded in 1984, and now boasts 14 locations, including 12 in Austin.

What Amy’s advocates for, others should imitate.Click To Tweet

And imitation does not necessarily mean adopting every single tenet of the Amy’s EDU syllabus, imitation means embracing the ethos of educating your employees on the company they’re devoting time and energy to.

It means giving your employees knowledge, and then giving them some freedom to use that knowledge for the benefit of your company.

It means recognizing that employee success and company success go together like hot fudge and vanilla ice cream, and that the teenager serving your sundae could, and maybe should, one day be founding an enterprise of their own.

This story was first published in February 2017.

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Business Entrepreneur

Business advice from Babe Ruth that all leaders should mind

(OPINION) Leadership comes from years of refining your practice, and great leadership comes dedication and focus, but Babe Ruth would add more to that…

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All good leaders pull from a variety of inspirational sources to create their formula for success, even from unlikely sources like an overweight baseball legend. Babe Ruth was a winner in his day without steroids and without the paparazzi and while he wasn’t a business leader, he hustled every day to be the best.

Today, we share with you a quote from Babe Ruth that all leaders should mind when operating business because this simple concept is one of the hardest to remember. “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games,” Babe Ruth said. Let that settle in. Are you resting your laurels on yesterday’s home runs?

Are you puffing your chest because last year’s sales were high or because your net worth was higher in 2008 than anyone else’s in your circle or because you won a prestigious award in 2007?

It’s very common to consider past accomplishments as part of your identity, there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes relying on yesterday’s home runs stunts a leader’s intellectual growth – once you think you’re at the top of your game, sure you keep working, but are you really focused on today’s game?

The cliche of keep your eye on the ball would also be relevant here, because if you’re in the outfield dreaming about last week’s home run, you’re not in the game today with everyone else.

What steps are you taking to focus on today’s game? Maybe the image below should be your desktop or smartphone wallpaper as a reminder to focus?

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Business Entrepreneur

Transitioning from corporate life to freelance life

(ENTREPRENEUR) A look at what it takes to pivot your career from corporate cubicles to your couch at home.

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Freelancing is rad. I’ve gone into some depth on why I think that’s the case and even provided some thoughts and resources for my rush hour and necktie-averse kin.

Freelancing is also challenging, in many ways more so than office work. I’ve transitioned between the two, both ways, and while I’ve landed on the liberating, self-motivated (but insecure, complicated and confusing) freelance side rather than the dull, workaday cube farm side (with it benefits, job security and human interaction) I can obviously see arguments for both.

Here’s what I wish I’d known before I set out to navigate the minefield between corporate and freelance work. With any luck, it should help you do the same without hearing a click and having to offer a sad and final “oops.”

Have a plan.

This is where going corporate to freelance starts to differ from vice versa. Choosing a new corporate employer takes hard goals, but also flexibility: an ex-freelancer has to learn to accommodate other people’s plans, on account of, you know, working with other people now.

Entering the freelance world requires the opposite.

You don’t just need goals. You need a schedule.

You need deliverables, you need a budget, you need Plans B-Z inclusive for when you come in over or under, because you will.

In short, you need a boss in your head.

It is the best boss you’ll ever have: that cat (feel free to imagine it as an actual cat in a business suit; I certainly do) doesn’t care if you party til 2am on a Wednesday, or skive off for three hours in the middle of the day to catch “Fate of the Furious” at matinee prices. All your new boss cares about is hitting the numbers.

Have numbers. Hit them.

Go slowly.

This is the one that everyone screws up, by which I mean that I did. It is so tempting to stick your boss’ tie in the shredder, shot put your least favorite appliance out the window and burn a sweet donut in the parking lot before you drive off to your freelancer future. Every office drone’s dream, right?

Don’t do it. Do not.

On my last day before I went freelance, I wore a Metallica tee and sweats to my shirt-and-tie day job. Joked with my cube buddy, what were they gonna do, fire me?

Thing is? That was the first time I went freelance.

As you’ll recall from the intro, I’ve done that twice. Thankfully, when I did have to return to the realm of gridlock and beige, I was in a different time zone. But the whole reason I had to return to the corporate world in the first place was summed up in that I didn’t prepare. I did the dream, cut loose, and burned the bridges behind me. Unwise.

It’s standard wisdom that you should build up savings before starting a business. Real talk: for an awful lot of people, that’s fantasy. Even in my coziest corporate days, north of the 50th percentile, between rent and urban cost of living my only shot at meaningful savings was retailing organs.

Keep your kidneys. Instead, bank your time.

I’m a writer. You may have noticed. Most of my day jobs involved that skill. If you think every character I typed into Word in my cube days was corporate-approved, as opposed to projects or practice for my freelance adventures, there’s this great bridge I’d like to sell you.

So for the first few months, keep your day job and build your skills.

Take small projects on your own time, buoyed with that glorious cushion of salary.

Train your brains out. You may even be able to do that at work: plenty of employers, especially in fields like tech and medicine that a) value certification b) translate nicely to freelancing, will shell out to train you up. Wade into the shallow end while you’ve still got a roof and a health plan. It’s vital experience, but more importantly, it’s how you figure out freelance IT or consulting or Etsying artisanal dog sweaters is actually how you want to spend 80 hours a week.

Keep a schedule.

Wait. 80 hours? Fraid so, at least early on. It will take serious legwork to get those artisanal dog sweaters off the ground. No client list means permanent hustle. No infrastructure means weeks on end of pure trial and error, figuring out what works. No employees means every last bit of it is on you.

That’s not what I mean by scheduling. You have a job, and, being an American Genius reader, are by definition intelligent and insightful, not to mention good-looking and possessed of impeccable taste. We don’t let just anybody around here. You know you’ll need that stuff.

When you freelance, you need to schedule life.

That boss in your head? Still your boss, which is to say a sociopath who can and will take every minute you’re willing to offer. For better or worse, an office job does work-life balance for you: come in then, leave now, this is due whenever. The nastiest trap in entering freelance work, the last, biggest boom in the minefield, is that it can swallow you whole. If you let it, it will take over your life, and it’s better at that than the cube, because it’s something you want to do.

Integrate both ways.

So, not every day but now and again, put down your dog sweaters and catch Vin Diesel. See a concert on a weekday. Spend a whole evening playing with your kid.

Whatever you like, with a single rule: no work allowed.

Freelancing means your job is much more thoroughly integrated into your life.Click To Tweet

Make sure your life is integrated into your job.

And that, my friend, is how you transition from drone life to freelance life.

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