How do I leave the self-employment world?
July 5, 2007 9:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I prepare myself for the transition from self-employment to regular employment?

I’ve run a marketing and business consulting business for about six years, after having worked in marketing for technology companies for a few years. I started the consulting business so that I could have flexibility while pursuing a part-time MBA (completed) and so that I could eventually work from home while I had small children. I don’t foresee myself continuing in self-employment for more than another three to five years -- around the time my kids are settled in school. My work/income is currently only limited by the time I have available -- I've got tons of leads and I turn away a lot of work. However, I honestly don’t want to do what it takes to make a high income in self-employment. I hate having to start from scratch all the time -- building new relationships, going through the sales process, learning about a company and so on. I'm not bad at it, but I really do prefer a regular job.

Right now, I get calls from recruiters who are offering positions that would pay $100k. In three to five years, I’d like to go back to the work world as a product manager, marketing manager or marketing director. (I had previously worked my way up to the manager level.) In three years, I will have more than 15 years of work experience. However, a good deal of it will come from self-employment.

How can I best ready myself for the transition back to a full-time position? I expect that many employers will be put off by my years of self-employment. Moreover, I went through three jobs in four and a half years before that. So I sort of look like a job hopper who preferred to work on their own or who couldn’t get along with people. But that’s not the case. I was working for the same boss at two of those jobs and the third involved contracting for the other two companies. Even today, much of the work I do involves people with whom I previously worked.

My other challenge will be presenting my experience. I can’t really show measurable results. I often just get to work on a piece of a project or my client may decide not to track numbers. For example, two of my biggest clients regularly hire me to do marketing strategies, direct mail campaigns, search engine optimization and so on. But they don’t track results or report them to me...even when I ask. Granted, they keep hiring me, so I’m obviously not disappointing them. Still, I have no idea how many leads, qualified leads or sales my work generates. It’s like this with many other projects. I’m concerned I’ll look junior or that I won’t have numbers to put on my resume.

So what can I do to help myself transition back to work? I’ve got a few years to start putting these things in gear. I'm not worried about references or contacts. It has more to do with the way I position myself and my experience. And, no, I'm not willing to leave self-employment yet. Thanks.

(Anonymous because some clients read AskMefi.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Right now, I get calls from recruiters who are offering positions that would pay $100k.

I don't understand. If people are offering you work at a competitive salary, what's the problem?

Anyway, I work for a non-profit industry association representing advanced tech companies (in a smallish city on an island on the western edge of Canada).

Among other things, we act as a matching service to introduce potential investors to promising startups, qualified/non-sleazy consultants to tech firms, and skilled talent to hiring managers.

If you have three to five years, why not target some of the companies you would like to work for. Pitch and complete the projects you can, while building relationships and establish a track record with quantifiable metrics.

In three years they'll probably make you an executive.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 PM on July 5, 2007

I'm not really qualified (as I am not in HR), but it seems to me that one way to better reflect your work experience, rather than listing the companies you briefly worked for, is to highlight the clients you worked for - which not only stresses the continuity of your working relationships, but also stresses the clientele you service, which will automatically demonstrate your ability to work well with people over a long period of time.

In addition, by stressing the work product, instead of the companies (others' and your own) worked for, the competency will more easily be discernable, which should minimize the concerns over appearing junior.

As you already pointed out, the fact that you continue to do work for various clients establishes beyond any pure numbers game that you accomplish their goals, and any hiring department is going to know that you deliver results, even if you don't have the figures yourself (I would think).

Beyond the obvious, which is to keep in touch with the recruiters, (along the lines of "I'm not ready YET, but check back in 6(12) months") and networking with personnel at the types of companies that you will want to work for at that future point, I would think simply continuing to do good work will be all the preparation you need to make yourself marketable (pun intended).
posted by birdsquared at 9:43 PM on July 5, 2007

Another vote for focusing on the tenure of your relationships. And that you carefully position yourself as not-a-freelancer, but a business owner (which you might already be doing). Technically, both titles mean "self-employed," but the latter usually conveys much more authority and responsibility than the former. Even if you don't use the word "freelancer," there's a big difference in perception between someone who lives contract to contract, versus someone with a corporate identity, business plan, etc. (Imagine the difference between a business card reading "Chris Doe, Marketer for Hire" wth an email and a cell number, vs. "Whizbang Strategies -- Chris Doe, Principal" with a logo, mailing address,, and so on.)

There'll be a big difference in title/compensation too, I would guess... a business owner brings de facto management skills, financial sense, long-term strategic ability. It's a small tweak in perception, but as you know perception is everything! If you haven't currently set up a visual identity, company brand, etc., you might consider taking the next couple years to do that on the side. It can only help your hirability.

I was working for the same boss at two of those jobs and the third involved contracting for the other two companies.

That's a selling point, in my opinion. Can't you emphasize this on your resume? I would definitely incorporate this into the descriptive text. Ex: At Job #2, "continued working for Jane Doe, formerly of Company #1. Clients included X, Y and Z."

Then, under Job #3, "continued providing services to X, Y and Z as a subcontractor for Company #1 and #2." It's not common, to be sure, but someone will either grasp your continuity of performance, or openly inquire -- which allows you a chance to explain.

I expect that many employers will be put off by my years of self-employment.

On the contrary: I think smart employers who know anything about the marketing industry would be impressed that you were able to stay in it on your own for six years, especially through 2001-2002 when the national economy was really in the toilet (i.e. outsourced creative services are usually the first thing a company cuts from the budget, a wrong-headed but demonstrably-fat-trimming move).

I have a friend in a similar circumstance and if she'd re-enter the corporate side, I'd hire her in a millisecond for an exec marketing position... what she's learned as a principal, occasionally having to wear all the hats, can't compare to the relatively narrow experience of someone who's worked their way up the food chain at a 9-to-5 gig.

two of my biggest clients regularly hire me to do marketing strategies, direct mail campaigns, search engine optimization and so on.

Can you demonstrate befores and afters? When I've needed to show the value of softer stuff like campaign work, and hope that the person seeing it appreciates what it represents, I try to include screenshots or samples of clearly inferior campaigns or strategies that the company was doing before me. Or, if none such existed, I point that out.

Still, I have no idea how many leads, qualified leads or sales my work generates.

If I was an interviewer, I wouldn't expect you to. Companies that hire an outside contractor for this stuff won't necessarily then hand over internal business information like sales targets, leads, etc. If someone asked you for that hard info or alluded it was missing, you could simply respond that, as an outside vendor, you wouldn't expect to have access to those kinds of proprietary numbers, but that you viewed your continued employment as proof of your value to that company. So, instead of the angle, "Sorry I don't have hard numbers!", take the unapologetic position, "No, I don't have those, nor should I."

(as you might have gathered, I'm in marketing now and also had a long consultant/contractor stint prior. I'm happy to talk in more detail about my changeover, email if you like!)
posted by pineapple at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have just done exactly this for similiar reasons -- 7 years as a strategic communications consultant, great client list, flexible schedule but no security/benefits, too much networking, tied to the billable hour. I am one month in to a job I love at a big corp and it was a transition, yes, but wow! All the paper you need to print with! Lots of colored pens and pencils! Grown up clothes! Aeron chair! A team, support, organization, time to learn the ropes without worrying that the clock is ticking. And best of all, I will finally get to see my projects live -- from idea through implementation and feedback, something I've missed.

Here's how I did it: I studied job descriptions on mediabistro, the Ladders, Indeed and then created resume versions that fit the parameters of the various jobs I thought I fit best. I paid close attention to their key and buzzy words and made sure I adopted their language in my resume where appropriate. I made my resume jazzier, more of a marketing tool than a static document. I lined up 5 great references, in advance, and made sure my portfolio corresponded to projects I'd worked on with them. I customized each cover letter, and put a lot of effort into them -- really, hours for each.

It took about 4 weeks for me to get called for 4 interviews. 3 of those were interesting to me. 2 made it to the final cut, and I made it to their final cut. As we moved along, I surprised myself by being more attracted to the position that was more 'corporate' and less entrepreneurial. After 8 weeks I had the job I wanted.

The downside is that for the first time in a very long time, I'm stuck at my desk all summer long. And although a steady paycheck is great -- my consultant's delusional financial picture (you know, spend it when you pitch the job, spend it when you get the job, spend it when you get paid) no longer applies -- it's been a long time since I've seen my salary whittled down so far so fast.

I can tell you I'm very glad to have found a professional home. Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sorry, missed a key point in your question: I was completely honest about why I was leaving consulting. I referred to the short list of negatives I listed above, and emphasized that it was my plan all along to go back to work once my kids were a bit older. My interviewers -- particularly the women -- easily related to that.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:34 AM on July 6, 2007

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