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The self-employment surge and how professionals can best prepare

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Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:34 am, Mon Jun 30, 2014.

(BPT) - One in two American workers are projected to be self-employed by 2020, according to MBO Partners. While the shifting economy has surely pushed some people into independent work, many have chosen it. Career goals for contemporary professionals are changing and given how quickly this trend is taking hold in the United States, today’s employees who aspire to be tomorrow’s contract workers need to prepare now to navigate this changing landscape.

To help professionals effectively transition to contract work, the Career Advisory Board, established by DeVry University, worked with MBO Partners, Inc., a provider of back office services for self-employed professionals, to conduct a new study, The Future of Work: Preparing for Independence, which examined the attributes and skills of those who are gainfully self-employed to help aspiring contractors get and stay ahead in this ever-changing work environment.

According to the study, professionals are choosing self-employment in order to control the type of work assignments they pursue (67 percent), to have a greater sense of flexibility and work-life balance (64 percent), and to follow a passion (59 percent).

“While they are young, millennials should be proactive in taking advantage of intrapreneurship and training opportunities, as well as acquiring transferable skills like project management, budgeting, sales, and marketing, in an established organization,” says Alexandra Levit, Career Advisory Board member. “This will be the foundation of a viable contract career in the future.”

Based on the research findings, the Career Advisory Board recommends the following strategies to help professionals excel in independent employment:

Take off the blinders: Being your own boss may sound enticing, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Survey respondents said that in addition to having solid expertise in a particular field, successful contract workers must be self-starters who have the ability to cope with uncertainty, including an unpredictable income stream. Many contactors work remotely, have multiple clients to report to, and have to juggle multiple projects at once. Assess your strengths and weakness before jumping into contract work, make sure you have an organized action plan to help you start off on the right foot, and always keep an open mind and be able to adapt quickly.

In-person networking still trumps social media: The survey pool reported that while social media is important for contractors’ branding and reputation, it often does not generate income. In fact, just 6 percent said social media outreach led to paid project work. Therefore, create strong profiles on sites like LinkedIn and Google+, but refrain from spending too much time on these networks and make sure you still build in face time. Seek in-person meetings, attend events and workshops, and be visible to your future clients beyond your social media accounts.

Start small and look local: Although technological advances allow many self-employed professionals to offer their services globally, the majority of the respondents still obtain most of their work assignments from within their immediate metropolitan area. While it’s a good long-term goal to think about how you might leverage a larger and more diverse pool of potential clients, aspiring contractors should first embark on being visible in their local communities. It is also a good rule of thumb to start small with only one or two clients until you master the craft of contract work.

“As independence is becoming more desired in today’s economy, professionals need to stand out by building strong networks in their communities and being visible to local employers that use contract work,” says Gene Zaino, president and CEO, MBO Partners. “Use your time wisely – stay focused on your core, billable expertise and find ways to outsource other non-essential functions.”

For additional career advice and to view The Future of Work: Preparing for Independence executive summary, visit: www.careeradvisoryboard.org.

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