There is so much competition for work these days that if we don’t run our careers the way a serious business person would run a business, then our chances of having the careers that we want are pretty slim. Sure we might have jobs, and we might find opportunities here and there, but without conscious intent around how you manage your career, at some point it's likely you will wake up and find that the career you have is not the career that you want, or worse yet, that you have become unemployable in this rapidly changing world of work (see my blog on "How are you future proofing yourself against the 4th industrial revolution").
These days being a subject matter expert isn't enough - it is just one slice of the pie. To be successful, we all have to operate as a business within a business - and what I mean is that there are functions that need to be performed beyond the scope of your technical delivery:
bringing in work for yourself and sometimes for others,
invoicing out the work,
creating and maintaining a professional profile,
negotiating contracts with clients,
delivering on time, within budget and to the desired level of quality,
finding the next project,
building your "sales funnel" to ensure you always have ongoing work,
managing your cash flow,
and the list goes on.
When you are an employee, there are often other people who take care of many of these elements of the business, and it is only when you run your own business that these realities can be truly appreciated. My suggestion however is that if you aren't taking a conscious approach to your career and treating your career, treating yourself, as a business, then you have very little control over the outcomes.
A lot of the coaching work that I do is around professional development, being seen and heard in the workplace, asserting one's self and developing a career that is meaningful. I try to help my clients understand what their value chain looks like so that they can explore where they need to build competencies in order to add value, where they are doing things that add no value and could stop doing, and things that may not add immediate value but are critical to their long term career development.
The value chain concept comes from business and was developed by Porter and simply put, represents the internal activities a firm engages in when transforming inputs into outputs. The importance of the value chain concept is that by separating what you do into its component parts, you can strategically identify specific activities that are a source of your competitive advantage. Added to that, when your value chain contributes positively on the value chain of the company that you work for, or with, then you become a treasured part of the business. In this competitive market, if what you are doing is not valued by someone, then how are you adding value?
So if you choose to see yourself as a business, then in the business of being you, at minimum the following may be components of your value chain.
You are the product or service
The inputs to your product or service are your competencies, your knowledge, your skills, your experience, the way you behave, the way you communicate, the way you build relationships.
With this in mind:
How are you investing in yourself as the product?
What are you doing to refine your competence?
How are you staying current and relevant?
How are you differentiating yourself?
What is your "product development plan"?
How are you marketing yourself?
If you are going to "sell" your product (yourself), you need to be getting out there and connecting with people - all the time, without fail, with perseverance. The world (clients, your boss, your colleagues) needs to know you exist, and you need to be noticed for all the right reasons.
So think about these things:
How do people get to know about you?
Who are you marketing yourself to and how?
What is your brand?
How are you leveraging your networks?
What does your CV say about you? How does it stand out?
How are you using social media to make yourself known - and do your social media profiles represent you in the best light?
Your brand is how people experience working with you
The experience that people have of you is what makes it easy or less easy for people to want to work with you! The way you deliver your technical work, the way you manage and lead, the way you communicate, negotiate, and the way you build relationships, all contribute to the brand that you develop and whether people will seek to work with you again.
So ask yourself these questions:
How do you make sure you are memorable for all the right reasons?
How do you treat your clients/colleagues/ team mates/ project manager?
How well do you what client/colleagues/ team mates/ project manager value?
How easy do you make it for them to want to work with you?
Businesses are in the business of making a profit
Let's be clear - businesses are in the business of making a profit. The greater your value contribution to a business, the more likely you are to be seen as employable. If you have no awareness around how you impact on the business, how can you make decisions that are in the interest of the business?
If you want to get ahead in your career, you need to have some business acumen. You need to understand how businesses run, how to read the financials, how to ask the right questions. You need to understand your impact on the business. The same principle should be applied to the business of you. So how is the business of YOU doing at the moment?
Think about these things:
How are you contributing to / impacting on the business?
How conversant are you with business issues?
What is your competence around governance, ethics, financials, planning, forecasting, operations management, leadership?
Do you have a grasp on how the business of YOU is performing?
What metrics are you using to see if the business of YOU is sustainable, is growing, or is stagnating?
Feedback and learning
How you develop and learn, how you incorporate feedback and learning into the improvement of the business of you, is critical to being employable. There is enormous value in feedback and yet so many of us are afraid to ask for it, and are defensive in receiving it. But the value of feedback is that it gives us is a view of ourselves from a different perspective. Yes there will always be feedback that doesn’t resonate and should be discarded as invalid, but most of the time if you demonstrate an openness to feedback and proactively ask for it, people will provide it to you in the most constructive way they can.
So as a business, it is up to you to encourage feedback, to search for the value in feedback, to identify the lessons that are of importance to you and to use those to improve the business of you. Bill Gates is well known for saying “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” . Now, I am not suggesting that you should set out to make people unhappy so that you can have learning experiences, but if they are unhappy, do your best to learn more about them, more about yourself, more about the way you do business, and then act accordingly.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “what have I learned from this and how can I apply that in future?”.
So think about:
How do you respond to feedback?
How do you respond to failure?
How are you learning and internalizing those lessons to improve the business of you?
So what does this mean for you and me?
Being conscious and actively working on each element of your value chain contributes to a strong business.
I think it was Henry Ford who said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right” . The same is true with your career - whether you think of yourself as a business, or you don’t, you are right - it is the consequences of your thinking that will be the difference.
So as a final question …… if you think of yourself as a business, how will that change how you manage yourself and your career from now on?
Want to learn more about managing your career as a business?
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