Career Planning Tips for Students, Professionals, Freelancers, and Aspiring Startup Entrepreneurs

Whether you are looking for a new job, career change, freelance gig or start a new startup, there are few basic strategies & career planning tips common to each and every career path. You are unlikely to fall into your dream job or create a successful business simply by wishing for it. Even if you aspire to walk an unconventional career path, you need a solid career roadmap. You will need to plan the career (and life) that you want. Understanding what you really want to achieve and identifying what you need to do to achieve this will bring you closer to your career goals.

Career Planning Tips for Students, Professionals, Freelancers, and Aspiring Startup Entrepreneurs

Here are the top career planning tips for students, professionals, freelancers, and aspiring startup entrepreneurs.

 

1. Identify Your Passion and Natural Talent

Find Your Passion

“To truly reach your potential, you need to identify your passions and talents and create ways to utilize them each day,” said Heather Monahan, founder of BossinHeels, a career mentoring group. “If anything is important enough to you, you will find a way to make time for it.”

Choose an industry that reflects your passion and interests. For instance, if you work in real estate but have a passion for photography, you can leverage this skill by taking photos of properties. Not only will this appeal to buyers, but it will also allow you to practice your craft. If you like writing, and currently working in sales, start writing blogs for your company.

Without heart or drive, you’ll never reach your potential. Rather than choosing a job for the money, choose it for your happiness.

If you aren’t feeling satisfied in your work, don’t hesitate to make a change. You’re never trapped.

Speak up to managers when you feel unfulfilled. That way, they can involve you in projects more geared toward you and your talents. By leveraging your skills and interests in the workplace, you will not only perform better, you’ll also feel more motivated, confident and inspired.

Be Good at What You Do (or Want to Do)

At the same time, you need to be pretty good at what you do. Following your passions and turning them into a viable business or pursuit can help to drastically increase your day-to-day happiness, helping you to feel more connected to your work, and motivated to keep on when the going gets tough.

Unfortunately, though, passion isn’t the only ingredient that’s needed to guarantee success. You also need skills and strengths—those things that you’re good at, either naturally or by training and experience.

It’s very easy to get confused with hobbies and passion. You might be passionate about music or cricket. But, do you have the talent and skill set to become successful in extremely competitive fields like music or sports?

According to Mark Cuban, “Everybody tells you ‘follow your passion, follow your passion. … One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passion.’”

Cuban echoes other “passionate” critics who take a more pragmatic approach and suggests people focus their careers more on what they’re good at and what they tend to devote their time to (again because this is what they’ll end up being most good at), leaving true passions for the hobby bin.

Strike the Balance between What You Love and What You Are Good At

The other way around is also a possibility. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a position where you’ve spent a lot of time cultivating a certain skill, only to find out in the end that it wasn’t your true passion all along.

If you think ABC or XYZ is in your future, determine whether it’s something you’ll enjoy and excel at. If the career path is not ticking the two boxes, you might not be walking the right career path.

So, it’s pretty important to balance passion and talent. You have to be very sure that you are good at what you want to do. This will set up the tone for your career. If you’re able to combine your strengths and your passion, you’ll have a winning combination that will give you the drive that you need to succeed – and you’ll feel fulfilled and happy while doing it.

Career Advice for Freelancers

 

2. Focus on the Right Thing(s)

We hear a lot about motivation, stress, emotions, leadership, and team culture, but not much attention is paid to the role that ‘Focus’ plays in your ability to be productive.

The focus is one of the key factors that make a difference between success and failure. Scattering your energy and attention between too many tasks causes you to lose your sight on original goals.

To be successful in your career, academics or business, you need not be super intelligent or a genius. All you need is focus on productivity by eliminating distractions and time-wasting activities.

Focus is so important because it is the gateway to all thinking: perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making.

 

3. Evaluate and Work towards Demand Generation to Create Your Niche

Evaluate the Demand in the Market

Passion and focus are definitely critical. But, you also need to think about what the potential employers, prospective clients or the market needs. You can love an idea to bits, but if it’s not filling an existing need, you’re not helping you or your imaginary clients.

If you want to launch your startup venture, you need to evaluate if your product or service can solve the biggest pain points of your customers.

If you want to get into freelancing, make sure you possess or learn the in-demand skills required by the businesses.

The same thing is applicable while you are looking for jobs. If you are approaching a recruiter on LinkedIn or applying for a job via the pain letter approach, you have to create the demand for your skills in the recruiter’s brain.

When I was in the middle of switching from biomedical research to admission consulting, I tried to figure out if India has got the market for admission consulting. Secondly, I evaluated if my profile, experience and knowledge are good enough to attract paying customers.

Create Demand Generation

Apply the basics of marketing and sales to generate demand for your skills, product or services. Marketing encompasses not only determines consumer need, it also helps create consumer need. It really begins with understanding your potential consumer.

According to Robert Walters, demand generation is basically a marketing strategy that encompasses a wide range of marketing activities in order to build and nurture new prospects and customer relationships.

For example, if I need to sell my CV review/edit & personal branding services to a college graduate, I need to first make the person understand the importance of CV & personal branding in getting jobs.

Similarly, if I want to pitch my blogging & content marketing services (as a freelancer) to a startup, I need to lobby and evangelize for blogging & content marketing. If the startup owner is not convinced about the impact of the blogging & content marketing (or digital marketing as a whole), then there is no point of chasing that owner.

Career Advice for Entrepreneurs and Freelancers

Work on Your Personal Branding and Market Yourself

Once the demand is there, you need to prove that your product or service can solve the customer problems. You need to back your claims with data. Learn the art of personal branding.

If you are a student, your grades, certifications, internships, projects, and recommendations will do that for you.

While looking for clients for admission consulting, I make sure I market the success stories and feedback of my previous clients. Similarly, while marketing my study abroad & career counselling services, I make sure the prospective clients get to see the feedback and reviews of my counselling services.

When I am pitching my blogging & online marketing services to a business owner, I demonstrate my expertise by showing the results of my existing clients (e.g. 30X growth in web traffic for Stoodnt in 18 months) along with references.

Create Your Niche and USP

Before setting up shop, figure out who your prospective customers could be. To market yourself better, offer something different but of value at the same time. According to Shiv Khera, you need to “Know your target customers. How much will they pay for your service? Develop your special style or skills to create a niche identity.”

Once you are sure about your passion or love and what people need, find the space where those two things – passion/love and need/demand – intersect.

Career Advice for Entrepreneurs

 

4. Network, Network, and Network like it’s a Full-Time Job

In today’s age of digitization and social media, it’s extremely easy to research and network with people.

If you are a fresh graduate, you have to realize that all your batch-mates will have the same degree and more or less the same grades and project/internship experience.

If you are a freelancer or a startup owner in the B2B space, your competitors will also have the similar expertise and offerings.

So, research the companies you want to work with. Reach out to the right people. Connect with the entrepreneurs on LinkedIn or Twitter. Comment on their blog posts or LinkedIn updates. You can even use Twitter as a search engine to look for interesting job opportunities.

Reach Out and Work with the Right People

The company or the business brand is definitely important. But, even more important is whom you are working with. This is extremely important so that you can learn about the business and acquire the required skills. I learnt quite a lot in my roles with Careerizma and Stoodnt.

While writing blogs on Careerizma, I learnt many new things about blogging, content marketing and personal branding from Sameer Kamat. Additionally, Sameer is also a very successful entrepreneur and credible admission consultant.

At Stoodnt, I work very closely with Ajay Singh. I got to know a lot of stuff about admission consulting, college admissions, and business.

I am still learning. After all, that’s a lifelong process.

You need to find such people who can guide you in your career path. You still need to work extremely hard. But, the senior and like-minded people who can act as your counsellor, career coach or mentor, help you a lot by providing the right insights, tools, and opportunities.

 

5. Be Creative and Take Risks

The business world is full of rules. Some succeed by following them, others by breaking them. You have to find the right balance. If you break all the rules, you may frighten people. But if make your own rules, they may not even notice.

Be creative and don’t be afraid to take an unconventional career path.

There come times in everyone’s life when you’re faced with a choice that involves risk. Perhaps you want to change careers, move to a different place, quit your job and start a business, begin a new relationship, have a child.

A risk is uncertain and unpredictable. You’re heading off into uncharted territory. You may lose your life savings or lose face. You risk criticism and humiliation or having to pick up the pieces and start all over again. You’re giving up what you know for what might be. The rewards can be great, but so can the cost.

So, why should you take a risk?

  • Risk gives you an opportunity to open up to your talents, interests, abilities and dreams.
  • Taking risks teaches you to set clear goals and follow through.
  • It allows you to feel powerful and proactive, making things happen rather than waiting for them to happen to you.
  • Risk opens you up to new ideas, skills, opportunities and experiences.
  • Taking risk allows you to grow and discover new things about yourself and the world, to develop your strengths and talents.
  • Risk allows you to conquer your fears. It is exhilarating. It makes you come alive.

Taking risks can cause you to become more creative. When you put yourself out on a limb, with a no-excuses approach, your natural problem-solving skills kick in and you’re open to new ideas and are willing to try something new.

Taking risks is not just about gambling on a favourable opportunity and hoping you win – it’s also about taking responsibility and having the courage to get back up when you lose.

Creativity thrives in situations where boundaries can be pushed, rules can be broken and experiments can take place.

Entrepreneurship and Startup Tips

Every time we are faced with the obstacles that inevitably accompany taking risks, we are forced to either retreat from them or think critically about how to solve them. By doing the latter, we can push ourselves to innovate in ways that we may not have otherwise.

Continuous learning and constant innovation are crucial to long-term business and career success. So, take time to let your mind loose and brainstorm new ideas. If you’re not used to getting those creative juices flowing, try setting aside some time to try out a few brainstorming exercises.

 

6. Keep Learning and Acquire New & Advanced Skills

Maybe you have ticked all the above boxes. You are combining passion with your signature strengths. You are well connected and getting into something that has got demand in the market as well.  But is that going to earn you big bucks?

According to author, educator and entrepreneur Shiv Khera, “Converting a passion into a commercial venture takes a lot more than spirit alone.” To turn your hobby into a money-making venture, you need to be skilled. For that, you have to train yourself before you can succeed.

So, how to learn and acquire the advanced skills?

Experiment

Whether you’re looking for your first job or your fifth, you’ll benefit from exploring unusual ideas and engaging unconventional individuals. If you experiment with your life, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the rest of the human race.

Struggle, failure and setbacks are inevitable when you are trying to do something different. But, don’t let that stop you. You might just need to tweak your strategies, and not necessarily quit.

Get International Exposure

If you want to compete in the global economy, especially in a melting pot like India, you’ve got to hit the road. You need to learn the regional ropes by studying or working abroad because every employer (or business) is banking on international sales to fuel their future.

Learn the Arts of Marketing, Sales and Customer Service

Customer service is at the heart of any business. Every CEO needs to know how to keep his customers happy. Nowhere is this truer than in the hospitality industry, where gratifying guests has become a science.

If you’ve worked for incentives & tips, you have an advantage over the average executive. You understand what people want. You recognize the little things that make them happy. And you know how to solve their problems. You just have to figure out how to make those incentives & tips work for you.

This is why people, who possess degrees in business administration, humanities & liberal arts or hotel & hospitality management, always have an edge as entrepreneurs and senior executives.

 

Commit to Continuous Learning

Be honest with yourself. Which areas of your job do you struggle with, and how could you develop? Think about your typical working day and the tasks which tend to take longer because you find them difficult. How can you improve in this area?

Ask any recruiter or go to sites like PayScale. You will see more than experience and degree, the advanced skills make the difference in pay scales. If you want to get ahead of your competition, standing still is not an option.

Attend workshops and seminars. Enrol in the online courses to learn a new skill or upgrade your existing skills. If you think you need an advanced degree, pursue a full-time program like MBA, MS Business Analytics, Finance, Marketing, Data Science, or Hospitality Management.

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