8 observations from 8 months of getting off the full-time employment grid

2018 has been a landmark year for me. It was the year where I gave up on full-time employment after 20 years of assuming that is the only/best way to earn a living!

I have never not had a job, since I started working as an intern at IIS Infotech, in June 1998. Even while shifting between jobs, I have at best taken a short 15-30 days break, but that’s about it. It was always a break where I know I’m heading into another job.

We have this horrendous habit in India when we leave a job. Our colleagues ask us where we are headed and we always seem to be evasive about it – “Hmmm, I’m exploring a couple of options!”, “I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll do something on my own!”, “I don’t know… maybe I’ll take a break and think about it!”. It usually is never any one of these and is simply a month’s break before they join another company that they have already committed to. It’s almost like we will jinx the new job if we tell our soon-to-be-ex-colleagues where we are joining. Or, it was too shameful to admit that one did not have a job. Employability and monthly income-earning capacity is a big part of our self-image, for some reason!

The younger generation seems more confident about this part given that I have seen (and heard, during interviews) a LOT of people comfortably taking breaks between jobs… sometimes lasting even a year or more, cushioned by savings and parents!

After 20 years, I considered that it was time to give myself the time to think about how to proceed. There were jobs, no doubt and I have met quite a few organizations, half-heartedly, before quitting… to almost think of continuing with the same, yet again. It seemed, to me, like a massive time-suck – work for work’s sake.

But what would I do if I quit?

I had conducted training sessions during my work at Text 100, Edelman and Ogilvy, but it was only in Ogilvy that I truly enjoyed them. As a process of putting up the relevant training material and the actual delivery. I still cannot believe that I used to stammer all through my school and college life and to think I’m moving to a career delivering workshops and training that requires me to talk in front of an audience extensively! That is what I do now, besides consulting for a few organizations on their digital marketing and PR mandates!

So, here are 8 observations from my 8 months of being an independent consultant.

1. I took the first 2 months off. I did nothing. Well, I did write 90% of my book and got myself a publisher. But, apart from that, I didn’t do much. April/May holiday time for kids meant I took a vacation, drove to Valparai for the first time in my life and thoroughly enjoyed the place. Largely, I chilled! I really needed that… that feeling of just staring into the future like it’s an endless ocean!

And yeah, I discovered my love for capsicum, after having hated it all through my life, at Valparai’s Sinna Dorai bungalow. Small things, big difference!

2. I registered for the GST number. I started the process even before I quit. I was told by a lot of people that it would be cumbersome and that there is a Rs. 20L limit (under which you do not need a GST). But I was sure that I needed one. I have worked extensively with vendors at Edelman and Ogilvy and most large clients used to route independent consultants through the agencies, for payment. When the GST regime kicked in, GST was like entry criteria for independent contractors to get work from large organizations. If you didn’t have one, it became slightly more cumbersome to get the work. It helps to have one if you are serious about your work and want to work with large organizations without hassles.

3. I got a new set of cartridges for my home printer! No, I’m not joking! Being an independent consultant means you print a LOT of stuff at home – invoices, service agreements, vendor empanelment forms, NDAs etc. You print them, sign them, scan them and send both the scanned version and printed version to assorted prospects and clients. It helps to have a decent printer at home. And you also need access to a place that can help you with e-stamping (fortunately I have one close to home).

4. I also rediscovered my love for the nearby post office. Yes, the post office. I have to send a lot of documents to clients and since I do not have a courier service near my home, I found that the post office, from where I can send speed post, is only 500 meters away from home! In the 5 years I have lived near it, I have never been to the place more than once a year. This year, I’m there almost every week! It may seem old-fashioned, but I love the hum of the post office – the familiar faces, the unhurried rhythm of the work there, the many people who borrow assorted stuff from me (since I’m more like a mobile stationery depot ready with everything at my disposal), like stapler, glue stick, paper clips, pens etc.

5. I have given in to the temptation and attended a few interviews even after April-May. But the more I did, the more I was convinced that I’m over that phase. The way I was able to utilize my time during the day was far more fruitful and purposeful when I was on my own. I have my own rhythm, and it was timed to my best parts of the day, not to the rhythm of city’s peak hour traffic or an office’s working hours.

6. Because I’m working from home, I did not stop my exercise. In fact, I doubled down on it. I still run 5 kms every single day, weekends included, on the treadmill. It’s quite the high point of my day, from a runner’s high perspective. And I catch up on my TV series during that time. It’s highly immersive and I really look forward to it every day. I started doing it in the evenings when everyone’s grappling with the city’s traffic and that schedule works perfectly!

7. I still read a LOT. Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, made a fairly big impact on me. His line, “The more you know, the more you can know” is something I very strongly believe in. I read with a purpose, from a pipeline online that I have built specifically for my interests – professional and personal. The more I read, the more I’m able to connect the dots between assorted things, large and small. That connection is called ‘creativity’ in ad agency circles, incidentally! And that comes only from gathering knowledge and storing them in the back of your mind, ready to be applied when there is a need.

8. I have been fortunate enough to get a steady stream of work – both corporate workshops/training sessions and consulting engagements, both short term and long term, all through this period. But, more than fortune, if I look back at the work that has come through, except one (which was a referral from an ex-colleague), every other work that I got was from someone who does not know me directly but had ‘heard about me’! One reached out to me through my blog’s contact form! Most others reached out via LinkedIn direct message or Twitter. Some got my contact number from someone else who is a common connection on LinkedIn and Whatsapp’ed me.

This is a point that I persistently make all through my book – ‘who you know’ is not as important as ‘who knows you’. We were drilled to remember that networking was very important. We need to meet-and-greet important people and know them. We should expand our phone books and have the numbers of important people. What is significantly more important—and something that has helped me immensely—is to leave crumbs all over the place about who I am, on my own. It helps with the ‘who knows you’. That’s good old ‘word of mouth’.

This is where social media really, really helps. You can rant about assorted stuff, offer your 2 cents on politics and complain to assorted brands when they goof up. Or, you can, with a purpose, build your personal brand on social media, consistently and persistently. It’s not necessary that you need to have a million followers on assorted platforms. What’s even more important is that you have a credible and consistent body of material online that shows what you are good at and that you are not a one-off. When someone’s ‘heard of you’, they name-search you. When they do, giving their life’s valuable 60 seconds on you, you better present your best self, with enough depth to make them remember you.

Even if someone who has heard of you doesn’t name-search you the first time, be at it persistently enough that they hear about you more times and at one point, they will be compelled to name-search you with a ‘who the hell is this person?’.

Even if someone doesn’t know you, when they ask around in the context of something you sell (as a product), they better get your name among other options because someone else they know has ‘heard about you’. This is simply offline SEO, achieved through online content!

Having done this since I first encountered social media in 2007-08, it has helped me immensely when I went off the full-time employment grid. 90% of the work that I get is inbound leads that come from someone who has read my blog, or my LinkedIn post, or heard about me from someone else who read something I wrote, somewhere. I still need to convince them I’m worth it, of course, but the door has already been opened – and that IS a very big deal! A recent interview with the CEO of Atari has an interesting question about the power of a brand. And he explains the same point that I’m making, from Atari’s brand perspective!

In that way, I’m my book’s very own guinea pig. The book is literally all about what I have done for myself online, and it’s working for my own post-employment career! It’s also a bit of a #meta – my main product is a one-day workshop for senior executives, about personal branding using social media. And most people come to know about it on social media, through me or someone who knows me… thereby proving what I offer as training actually works!

The trick, though, is to be at it – to be persistent and consistent across a long period of time. I have been blogging in this blog since 2008. My first blog post was on December 15, 2008! I write on music, as a blogger, since 2005. Writing online is a daily/weekly habit for me. I plan it weeks in advance, have drafts for multiple posts at the same time and ensure that I do post, based on a schedule like my life depends on it. Since I have quit full-time predictable employment, that’s quite literally true 🙂

PS: What you should write on that aligns with your personal brand, how often and how to find inspiration for it is part of my training session, explained in detail over the course of a day, with hands-on exercises. It’s meant for senior executives in an organization, in batches of 8-10 (maximum, since it is highly customized). Do let me know if your organization’s senior executives need that training.