Over the Thanksgiving Weekend, I met with some friends for coffee. As we were catching up on old times, one of them said to me, sotte voce: “I love that you finally decided to do your own thing. I’m looking to break free as well. I know which sector I want to be in but I have no idea where to start in terms of what I could do. How did you come to your decision?”
She was referring to my decision to leave a corporate career and start my own practice as a financial advisor. We talked some more and I promised to get back to her with a shortlist of resources that I turned to about a year ago.
Listed below is a set of resources I tapped as part of my primary investigation before I decided to start my own financial advisory practice. Let me add a couple of caveats about these preliminary research sources and approaches:
1) You do not have to exhaust each one but I highly recommend picking at least 5 and being thorough - meaning going beyond the comfort of internet searching and talking with real people. That said, there is a good mix of online and offline resources here to give you enough flexibility, I think.
2) Beyond this list, once you’ve narrowed down 2-3 options for yourself, a deeper level of more active / hands-on research should be conducted. I will write about this in another post later as it also involves seeking out a small set of mentors to help you along the way.
So, here’s my shortlist, in no particular order:
1) Professional / Trade Associations – Believe me, there is an association for pretty much everything you can think of these days. See if you can talk with the membership management folks and ask them about their typical member profiles. As an example, I spoke with at least 5 associations for financial planners / advisors and learned about the different types of members and careers within the industry. I was lucky enough to get referrals to 3-5 existing members and do informational phone interviews with them about their work / profession choices and approaches.
2) Occupational Outlook Handbook – Bureau of Labor Statistics - Look for a close-enough field or sector here if you cannot find an exact match. You can even call one of their information specialists for more specific information or any further questions you have about what they have posted online (I recommend this).
3) Fortune / Forbes / CNNMoney Annual Best Jobs Lists – While some of these are skewed towards large company careers, you can still get a good sense of the kinds of opportunities that are set to grow in the coming few years. The Forbes list is better, in my opinion.
4) Colleges / Universities – I found this to be a rather surprisingly good avenue, considering that I wasn’t specifically looking to get back to higher education at the time. When I picked up the phone to talk with academic departments related to my field, they were very helpful with advice on various career / profession options related to my interests. If you are able to go in person and get someone to meet with you on a quiet afternoon, you may well come away with a treasure trove of useful information. Years ago, when I lived in Kalamazoo, MI, still in the corporate sector, I had started researching an entirely different profession. I called the specific academic department at Western Michigan University (WMU) and managed to get a meeting with the very busy department head. He invited me to his home one evening for tea with him and his wife (which was rather kind of him, I thought). We talked for hours and he gave me a couple of signed copies of his books while sharing little nuggets of hard-earned wisdom. Even though I chose to eventually not pursue that path, I still have those books and I occasionally remember that evening with a sort of wonder and gratefulness. So, you never know where an incidental connection might take you.
5) Career / Trade Fairs or Conferences – These may or may not be feasible, depending on your sector. However, again, I find that, if there’s an association, there will be some kind of formal / official get-together of its members. So, if you can find a way to get to one, you will come away with a lot of practical pointers, greater clarity regarding your options and some new friends.
6) Local Library – Your local or county library will be able to point you to books, websites and journals / periodicals. And, if you click with a librarian, he / she may also be forthcoming with more varied information sources than you can imagine.
7) Blogs / Websites – Find other people / companies who are in the sector or have written books / articles about it and read about their paths and their advice. Interact with them respectfully on their blog through the comments section and they may well reciprocate with all kinds of helpful information in response.
8) SCORE / SBA – Your local chapter of SCORE or SBA exists to help in just these kinds of situations. The retired professionals who volunteer their time here are very patient and candid. I was lucky enough to get a retired financial advisor as a phone mentor and got some excellent tips for my business plan. These organizations also offer free webinars and low-cost in-person seminars. Avail yourself of everything you can here in the early stages. You will likely outgrow these organizations eventually, but they are definitely worth some of your time.
9) Networking (online / offline):
- Meetup.com – There is likely a local meetup for practically every kind of interest here. And, if there isn’t one, you can start one. While I have not personally participated in a Meetup yet, I know people who have and they have had positive experiences.
- LinkedIn – Tap into your network for introductions to people in their networks who may be in the field (note: use the Advanced Search functionality to find these people who are “2nd connections” so that you can be specific in your introduction request). Join Linkedin Groups related to your sector and connect with a handful of Group members. I strongly advise following the expected Linkedin etiquette when reaching out to people this way. Read The Startup of You for more tips. Or, peruse their blog for ideas.
10) Other Online Resources:
- BrightTalk – professional communities presenting videos / webinars. I have attended quite a lot of these related to entrepreneurship and personal finance and found the content more useful than I expected, considering this is a free service.
- Major Universities – institutions like Stanford, Harvard, MIT et al have dedicated repositories of information for entrepreneurship or about specific sectors – check them out. They will likely have their own market research, studies, journals / articles and, possibly, even some low-cost or free lectures / talks that you could avail yourself of. I’ve attended a couple at Stanford and learned a couple of interesting aspects about startups that I had not considered before.
- Related Publications – as with associations and websites / blogs, there is a publication on practically every topic these days. Subscribe to the ones related to your sector. My preference is to use an RSS aggregator like Google Reader rather than subscribing to individual newsletters. When I first started switching into the financial sector, I think I subscribed to at least 10 different online publications and 3 physical magazines. I have narrowed that down to an essential few over time as my knowledge has grown and I found some more useful than others.
Well. That’s it. I’m sure there are many more such resources out there, depending on your appetite and your inclinations. Let me know if you have leveraged any of these (or plan to) along your way to self-employment. Are there others that you would recommend / share? Did they help you narrow down your options and proceed with increased confidence?
Reader: If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing for free email updates straight to your inbox – with additional tips and resources. Click here for easy signup. Your information will never be publicized, shared or used for any kind of solicitation.