Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Should We All Become Entrepreneurs?

Changing the Way We Do Online Job Hunting:

I represent two sectors that online jobsites tend to ignore.  When I look through the list of "industries" on job sites in order to choose my particular industry, I find that there are often two industries that tend to get left out.  One is freelance commercial writing and independent publishing. It's a category that most people don't think of as a thing. The other industry is Nonprofits.

I've worked for 40 years in the education and nonprofit sector, leading teams or as a part of teams for five successful organization startups and one reorganization. I've written grants, run programs, was CEO, public relations director, development officer, educator, and program director for more than 40 years. I've been working as a consultant and freelancer for 11 of those years now.  I've taught workshops on special event fund-raising and collaborative grant-writing. I was appointed to state advisory committees and organized successful local stakeholder initiatives. I've raised millions for a wide variety of small to medium-sized nonprofits. I'm a published author with five books to my name, three dozen ghost-written books in someone else's name and more than 2000 online and traditionally published articles. I publish articles on 8 weblogs.

The trouble is that there really isn't an industry listing on most job sites for what I do.  There is an untapped market out there for workers whose skills don't show up on most job searches. Thousands of new and existing nonprofits are out there, for instance, desperately trying to address some community need or other. They have a mission. They have a vision. They know what they want to do. The problem is these groups are usually long on program operating talent and way short on development and fund-raising skills.  This is where I see the Internet coming into play.

What these startups and expanding nonprofits need is access to development and fund-raising expertise that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. There are a lot of "professional" grant writers out there that will happily charge you that arm and a leg to tell you what to do. Once you pay them, they tell you what you should do without actually helping you do it. Most small organizations can't afford people like that. Sadly many of them promise things they cannot deliver and charge prices the groups cannot afford.

What there is a need for, is a mutual cooperation network of nonprofit professionals who are willing to provide expertise to the smaller nonprofits when they need it the most. Many of us who work in the nonprofit sector are willing to work part time or on a consulting basis for reasonable fees. The don't call them nonprofits for nothing and NPO staff often have to supplement their income to continue doing what they love. I've raised millions for new organizations, often without pay, while working for other organizations. I did it mostly because the organizations I helped had no idea how much time and energy it costs to write a grant and me, being an old softie, couldn't bear to see them fail because what they were doing was such a good thing. This is how you retire without a pension in the nonprofit biz.

We need some kind of broker agency that is willing to communicate directly with both service providers and with clients about what they can rightfully expect from those providing services. Potential employers need to be educated with regard to how to insure they receive professional quality service from those they hire and what they can legitimately expect. This approach should carry with it an expectation that the moonlighting entrepreneurs will already have a level of expertise in what services or products they are offering and that they will bring that expertise with them.

The freelance commercial writing/independent publishing sector is another "industry" that gets short shrift on online job sites. Publish is changing drastically as publishers become more risk averse and less willing to try new things or publish new authors. A small independent author who gets how to do marketing can independently publish a book for relatively low cost with the aid of eBook technology and the new print-on-demand publishers. Unlike major publishing houses, these indie author/publishers have virtually no overhead, no permanent staff and can return to themselves as authors, royalties on their work five to 10 times higher than they can get with traditional publishers. The author retains control of his work, can reintroduce work from his backlist at will, and, so long as he's listed on sites like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, I-Tunes and others, will receive ongoing revenue that doesn't end when a publisher runs out of printed copies.  An author can sell five or ten thousand books and make a tidy profit, where in traditional publishing, such a book would be considered a flop and the author would receive little or nothing.

We need a jobsite willing to develop a way to broker publishing skills like book design, writing, graphic art, marketing and editing that would put together teams to publish a book the group likes and believes in. Such a collaborative approach would allow team members to either be paid up front by the author or if they think the book will be the next "Harry Potter", can share a percentage of future royalties. Each book project would be like an indie movie project in which the actors, crew, director and producers come together, create the film and then disband and move on to something else. The only difference is the end product would be a book.

I think there is a need for collaborative tools for these and potentially other industries that can use teams of independent players to accomplish specific jobs without burdening down the members of the team with the salaries and overhead of a permanent business.  I've used this approach to collaborative grant-writing and helped create funding streams for dozens of small nonprofits.  Instead of competing against one another for the whole grant and likely getting nothing, these teams of organizations work together collaboratively and because they do they increase the likelihood that they will actually win the grant. For training in how to do this, contact "A Circle of Ten", an East Texas group that teaches collaborative grant writing and program development.

I read a piece in Forbes  the other day that posits that to survive in today's economy, we're all going to have to be entrepreneurs.  In order to accomplish that, we will need tools that help entrepreneurs to collaborate. I think the industry that spawned and needs to take a step beyond mere employment and take a hard look at work as something you create rather something you merely find.

As a baby boomer, I've discovered that for me about the only way to find a job is to create one. Employers take one look at my white hair and you can see them mentally calculating the cost of my health insurance. My situation is tougher than some, as I have to work from home because of a disability in my family and I have to stay close to the house. The thing is that, with computer technology, the Internet and a changing cultural definitions of work, people no longer have to spend two hours a day commuting to sit all day in a cubicle. My commute is a walk across my living room to the rolltop desk in the corner. I don't have to start up my car. I just put on my socks. Saves energy. It's safer and a lot more pleasant as far as my commute goes. It's true I'm a tough boss. I work longer hours and a lot harder for me than I ever would for a "boss".  I have a direct relationship with my clients and nobody to blame but myself if anything goes wrong.

I wonder whether a model similar to what Uber does where clients rate those they hire and people hired also rate their clients might be the jobs model of the future. Perhaps there should be a "partner" model rather than just a client/provider model. And what about multiple partners.  If a neutral player could facilitate the financial aspects of such temporary team partnerships for a reasonable fee, I think you'd find a market for that. I love to write. I hate bookkeeping. If somebody would do the financials for a project and send out checks with social security and withholding taken out and a W-2 at the end of the year, I think entrepreneurs like me would rise up and call you blessed.

Heck, you could even hire moonlighting accountants as team members for such projects. Give them a model for how to manage the books with this sort of on-line broker acting to insure nobody gets embezzled. It could be another way to monetize such a jobs brokerage and the members who provide services would actually get something in exchange for the 10% or whatever that one would charge for handling the bookkeeping.  Upwork takes 20% and I get nothing much for it. They're just another organization taxing me is what it feels like.

At any rate, I'd love to see somebody in the field of entrepreneurial employment do some of these things. Who knows what other industries could move away from bricks and mortar to become dominated by fast, flexible small business entrepreneurial entities. I think the times they are a' changing and this could be somebody's "Facebook" moment if they jump on it.

© 2017 by Tom King


  1. Great post. I too think that we should be able to find a way to collaborate from home to achieve a modicum of success. I have recently left the corporate world and the 'dream' that we are all taught that we must live in.

    I will be pursuing my writing passion whilst my fiancé works on her art. I have a children's book written that she is in the process of illustrating. I am not sure yet how we will go about publishing it, but I am inviting abundance in and am confident we will come into contact with a solution. We will also be creating other forms of art and functional artisan pieces to pay the bills along the way.

    I am also a shade tree mechanic, simple woodworker, MacGyver of sorts, and lover of life and people. I can relate to what your site seems to be focused on. I am grateful to have found you and look forward to perusing the posts.

    All my best,