A few months ago, the usual stream of work had dissipated, and I started to explore my options. After doling out career advice to thousands of people over the years, I was getting a taste of my own medicine.
It all began in 2005, when I took a leap of faith and plunged into self-employment. After more than two decades of a coddled corporate life, I was a sole-trader with no promise of work in the pipeline. Slowly but surely, projects came my way. I enjoyed working without the shackles of an employment contract, and the newly found freedom allowed me to commute between a city apartment and a house in the country.
Eventually, I developed relationships with several consulting firms which provided me with a variety of assignments, added value to my expertise, and offered the collegiality that sole-traders often sorely miss. As I settled into my new routine, I created a website and started blogging. Seduced by the new age of social media, I devoured the articles, posts and ideas written by ‘experts’ and consumed e-courses that offered the promise of a thriving online business. My income supported a modest lifestyle, in exchange for a schedule on my terms. But the gut wrenching moments of this rollercoaster ride were always around the corner.
Then during 2014, the tides began to change. My elderly mother’s health was deteriorating. As I was living interstate without a family of my own, I decided it was time to sell my apartment, get the country house ready for the market, and go home. I’d been away for 30 years. Although I’d maintained a few old friendships and sown the seeds of new network, once again there was no promise of work. Still optimistic about the potential of the online world, I created my first e-course. But as my arrival coincided with a contraction in the local economy, career transition coaching helped me to settle and get reacquainted with my hometown again.
I cherished my time with Mum during the last year of her life. I wound-back my professional commitments as I dealt with the emotional and pragmatic consequences of her death, including the sale of the family home after 60 years. After that property sold and settled, I collapsed into a self-imposed extended compassionate leave.
In mid 2017, I tippy-toed my way back to work. Before long, it was that time of year again – when the sole-trader’s cashflow takes a battering. As Australians enjoyed the festive season and summer holidays, I engaged a savvy young digital marketing consultant to review my business. Her recommendations reinforced what I’d known for a while, and it didn’t involve delivering online services. Despite my best efforts to challenge the status quo, I couldn’t find my career coaching niche in the online world. Still fascinated with corporate life, I wanted to re-direct my energy to working with organisations in real-time, and help their people to navigate their careers – in person.
The new year came and went, and as children returned to school, parents got back to work. With an election looming, the state seemed to grind to a halt, as did the usual projects that keep my revenue stream ticking over. Although used to the ebb and flow of self-employment, this time it was different. I was in a smaller city without a well established network, and fewer opportunities. It was back to the drawing board as I did the research, make the calls, had cafe conversations, learned more about the local market, and tried not to take the silences too personally.
Although here’s nothing more humbling than walking in my client’s shoes, there were a few other valuable lessons along the way.
- Networks are cultivated, developed and sustained over long periods of time. Trust is earned through a series of mutually-shared experiences and often as a result of a series of different jobs. I didn’t have these in my hometown – my expertise and value was unknown and unproven.
- Although I left my extensive network behind a few years ago, these deep relationships have held me in good stead. That network has provided ALL of my work since I returned home. Clearly nurturing these relationships pays dividends and I am forever grateful.
- As I plan to remain in my hometown, I need to be open to how I work, and develop my local network. As a 50++ woman, this will look and feel very different from when I left home all those years ago.
Thankfully, resilience is part of a sole-trader’s toolkit. While I’m still on that rollercoaster, work is trickling my way again.