Long before I wrote 168 Hours, I wrote an op-ed (in 2004!) for USA Today called “The Sanity of Self-Employment.” The idea was that for young people facing an uncertain market, the only truly stable career was one you designed yourself. I got a ton of feedback on that op-ed, and eventually it turned into my first solo book, Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career without Paying Your Dues (McGraw-Hill, 2007). In Grindhopping, I showed Gen Y-ers the new rules for building a career outside the grind. Because hey, if you can’t get a job, you can always make a job. And I firmly believe that your 20s are the right time to start a business, because if you fail, so what? You can always hop back in the grind.
I really liked that book, though it didn’t do as well as I’d hoped (book publicity tip #1: if you coin a word in the title, you better have a huge publicity budget to explain it. Oh well.) Anyway, with the Great Recession, this topic is back in the news. The New York Times ran a business section cover story this past weekend called “No Job? Young Graduates Make Their Own.” The story featured the work of Scott Gerber, owner of Sizzle It (which makes promotional videos), whose new book Never Get a “Real” Job, came out last week. He agreed to answer some questions for us on why we should all be more entrepreneurial.
LV: A lot of recession career advice centers on digging out and polishing your resume. Is this a waste of time?
Gerber: I believe this advice isn’t just a waste of time–it’s also very dangerous. This “advice” is telling people that the “work hard, get good grades, go to school and get a job” mantra is still alive and well–when it certainly is not, and will never be again. In fact, the notion that we are still a hand-out society couldn’t be farther from the truth. Globalization, outsourcing, automation, and an over abundance of educational institutions… the list goes on when it comes to reasons why jobs aren’t coming back in record numbers. Why are we as a society continuing to push an agenda that isn’t working? Sending out resume after resume in hopes for a different outcome is like a person putting a quarter into an arcade game, finding out it’s broken, but still putting in a second quarter hoping to play the game. Today, the only safe career is one of your own design and creation where you are the boss and you are in charge of your financial future.
LV: What can people who are on staff somewhere do to develop an entrepreneurial mindset? How can they behave differently at the office?
Gerber: Get what you want out of the job, then make a plan to exit. If you want to learn more about marketing or sales, find ways to have conversations with employers and mentors. If you need to learn more about operations, watch how your business works from all levels. Bottom line: don’t get stuck, don’t get comfortable, mine your job for all of its valuable lessons and resources, then move on to take control of your own life.
LV: If you work full time, how should you manage your time to be entrepreneurial on the side?
Gerber: Here are a few tips. Maximize output and minimize distractions. Cut back on your spending so that you can put all of your available resources into your entrepreneurial endeavors. Stop thinking big picture, millions of dollars, fame or any other egotistical nonsense–and find a way to earn your first dollar. Keep your business simple and manageable. Once you prove to yourself that you’ve got a real business on your hands–one that generates real revenues and has a real business model–you must re-assess the part-time nature of your entrepreneurial endeavors. My advice: be afraid to be sitting on a couch 10 years from now, looking back at your life, and saying you never gave yourself the chance to fail.
LV: True/false: most people can’t significantly change their income.
Gerber: False. I’m living proof this is a lie. In my book, Never Get a “Real” Job, I talk about my first venture that nearly bankrupted me in my early 20s. Still motivated to not work a 9-to-5, I took the remaining few hundred dollars I had in my bank account, learned from my previous failures and grew a business that today generates tens of thousands of dollars per month–all without investing large amounts of resources.