Entrepreneurship in a Pandemic: 5 Lessons Learned

6 second take: The current pandemic has presented key lessons for self-employed individuals. Here are five key takeaways from the last six months.

Last Monday was the first Labor Day in over 40 years (!) that I was not on someone’s payroll to receive a paid holiday. Since I work for myself now and manage my time to complete client projects, I can take “holidays” any day that I want. 

After eight full months of entrepreneurship (all but 10 weeks amid the current pandemic), here are five “Barbservations” on factors that have helped me expand Money Talk and could help you achieve success:

1. Be Visible on Social Media

“Work Out Loud,” as the book by John Stepper advises, and post information (including links and photos) about your work projects in a way that is helpful to others. 

In addition to frequent tweets, I paid attention this year to posting regular LinkedIn content for the first time ever in my career.

This resulted in dozens of “people are watching you” notifications, inquiries about my work, and three new clients. 

I use Hootsuite to schedule tweets that drive traffic to this blog and create graphics with Canva or Microsoft Paint, or by converting PowerPoint slides to JPEGs. I also very intentionally incorporated the words Money Talk when establishing my Twitter account, blog, and e-mail address, all to build brand identity.

2. Do Some Pro Bono Work

Consider doing some high-impact and/or high-profile work projects for free if you are in a financial position to do so. 

The experience will leverage resources (e.g., podcasting equipment) provided by partners, build your brand visibility, and provide the satisfaction of helping others (e.g., people needing COVID-19 resources). 

So far, I’ve done pro bono webinars for AFCPE, the NY Public LibraryeXtension, and Rutgers Cooperative Extension as well as podcasts for the Military Money Show, Money Mammals, and Wine and Dime, all of which were a win-win-win for program hosts, their listeners, and me.

3. Get a Video-Conferencing License

Connect with clients and potential clients face to face. The $149 annual fee that I paid for a Zoom Pro account has paid for itself 20 times over in helping to land client projects at a time when professional conferences and meetups in hotel hallways are out of the question. 

A video-conference platform (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Webex, etc.) is also useful to host your own meetings and webinars (instead of depending on others) and for long-distance family get-togethers. 

Another great resource for me is The Wall Street Journal, which costs less than $1 per week with my Rutgers professor emerita “dot edu” e-mail address.

4. Say “No” to “Bad Fit” Assignments

Define your “wheelhouse” (i.e., what you do well and what you do not) and passions (i.e., what you really enjoy doing — for me, writing weekly Money Talk blog posts). 

Then, as the saying goes, “stay in your lane.” In the past year, I said no to six potential projects for the following reasons:

Online University Teaching: Steep technology learning curve and an indeterminable amount of work time.

Company With Vague Deliverable Plans: Anticipated frustration and indeterminable amount of work time.

A Professor Wanting a “Ghostwriter” for Research Papers to Get Tenure: No, for obvious ethical reasons.

A Commercial Financial Content Website: The company wanted ongoing free labor (a.k.a. “guest posts”).

A Topic Requiring Lots of Research: Too much data searching and an indeterminable amount of work time.

A Nonprofit Research Study: Research is not something I choose to do now or have available resources for.

With the last two inquiries, I referred colleagues whose “wheelhouses” fit these projects. 

In the case of the research study request, I pitched the client another project that was in my wheelhouse and was hired to do that work instead. COVID-19 has spurred several projects that enhance digital content for online teaching.

5. Chart a New Path

Build bridges as you cross them. I had no role models for transitioning from academia to financial education entrepreneurship. Older colleagues simply stepped away from the labor force when their long-term careers ended. 

Many of them also dropped their memberships in work-related professional associations. COVID-19 travel challenges have made it easy and affordable to attend virtual conferences, webinars, and other meetups this year to stay connected and visible. 

Publishing my new bookFlipping a Switch, has also helped keep my name “out there.” Fewer people now make the mistake of thinking that I have “retired” than those who did in January.

I hope that these personal insights and observations are useful to anyone else thinking about starting a business, especially as a “second act” in later life.

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