In our prior article (In the Company of Strangers – Part One), we outlined the unique challenges facing the self-employed entering the untested waters of seeking a job elsewhere. To wade confidently into this ocean, you will need to apply the very same skills that you applied in establishing your own business!
Before you ever took the leap, you did your research. You found a gap in the market and determined that you would be able to fill it. Maybe the gap was simply the fact that there were no pizzerias in a ten-block radius of your target market, so you opened a pizzeria. Or maybe you bested the existing competition by offering off-site catering services. Maybe you offered specialized transportation and errand-running services to clients in a predominantly senior market. Whatever type of business you ran, you located a gap or a lack, ascertained your client base, and then created your product/service offering(s) to meet the clients’ needs.
In this economy, every single employer is either fighting to hang onto his market share or penetrate new markets as a hedge against the economy. That is his gap. Remain informed, and retain that entrepreneurial edge, and you can promote yourself as a better potential employee than the usual suspects accustomed to functioning in a more compartmentalized manner.
Read the news. Check your browser page several times a day for breaking news of job trends, companies opening or navigating in new directions. Peruse industry journals or more generalized sources such as Business Week magazine. What are these companies hoping to accomplish? What is their deadline? What is their target market, their competition? Are they branching out overseas or restructuring here in the States? Have they allotted a chunk of their revenue to a new undertaking?
Once you determine the answers to these questions, understand how you might assist the employers in reaching their goals. And know that this phase of your search may be the most difficult, due to your own perceptions!
Start viewing your skills as applicable to new environments. If you don’t, there is no way that prospective employers will consider you a serious candidate. As a small business owner, you wore many hats. You were manager/supervisor, buyer, bookkeeper, benefits and payroll administrator, sales and customer service rep. Perhaps you negotiated the coffers of investors; maybe you convinced a bank to take a chance on you and float you a small business loan — attributes that demonstrate your long-range planning, budgeting, investment/re-investment, and cost control abilities. You were also a savvy marketing maven and a proactive problem solver. In the vast soup of skill sets, you have what the potential employer requires. Understand that, and showcase it.
Craft a resume that highlights your professionalism and initiative. Include your accomplishments — these are musts! You may wish to consider two or more resumes, centering on various aspects of your background. The benefit of this tactic is that you will appear more focused should you apply for a job whose functions are more closely defined, rather than broad. Write an individual cover letter to each employer. Tell him or her how you can be an asset to their current and long-term objectives.
Gathering accolades in writing from your business landlord, your vendors, your customers, and if applicable, write-ups in local newspapers, industry awards, and honors bestowed upon you by the community.
If you claim to have taken the business from zero revenue to $175K in the first two years of operation, be prepared to back it up with financial statements or even tax returns. And if you think this sounds uncomfortably like Big Brother, understand that employers conduct rigorous background searches on candidates, including investigations into their finances. If you were a regular job seeker hailing from Corporate America, the employer would check your credit history and outstanding debt. Since you’re an entrepreneur, be prepared for a more thorough check and put yourself in the employer’s shoes; you would do the same in his position.
And feel free to use that line during your interview. Capitalize upon the fact that, unlike many traditional employees, you do see the big picture, the bottom line. Tell the employer that your mindset compels you to own a project, a mission, and see it through successfully. Appear hungry, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and willing to adapt, and you will stand apart from your competition in the best possible way.