What are the big issues of leaving a corporate life and striking out on your own? What unretirement advice do you need?
One of our clients talked to us about having taken this step and becoming a consultant. In just three years, he was starting to feel out of touch with current language, trends, law and more. He specifically mentioned two things that were referenced in a workshop he ran – one was a new buzzword, jargon if you like. The other was a piece of legislation that is pretty critical but had passed him by.
In the scheme of things, they were not that important, but at the time it unsettled him – he didn’t feel comfortable asking what people were talking about in case he should have been up to speed on these topics.
There are three issues to consider if you want to carry on using your skills in unretirement:
One of the big issues is how you stay young in mind, up-to-date and relevant once you have left full-time working life? While I am looking at this as ‘unretirement advice’ for people wanting to use their skills, frankly it is something we all need to consider if we want to stay in tune with our children, grandchildren and society generally.
Just look at these dates, when various tech platforms started – they each became everyday language well within five years of starting:
The pace of change is on an exponential curve. An article in Forbes said that rapid technological change is the biggest threat to global business – but I think there is just as big a threat to people and society if technology excludes them.
When you are leaving corporate/professional life and looking at options to keep working in some way, then ensuring that your skill set is presented appropriately online is essential to success these days.
An increasing number of people who are approaching retirement don’t want to see this as an end to working life but as the beginning of being able to start working on their terms.
In fact, it can be one of the most exciting times of anyone’s life, finally achieving that longed for work-life balance.
For many, they will find this balance in the form of consultancy or a similar role. However, to find these types of roles or to be found for specific projects you need to highlight your skills to the wider market. The easiest way to do this is to package your skills in a clear personal brand, and then use social media to promote your skills to relevant people – in a natural way. The most successful people on social media are not ones saying ‘look at me’ but the ones who help others and, in the process, demonstrate their skills and expertise.
Below we discuss the ways in which you can ensure that your skills are front and centre online and you are maximising your opportunities to find something you want to do.
You will probably gather by now that the best unretirement advice by far is that if you are not active in social media, you have to start. It is not going away and the longer you leave it, the more disconnected you are becoming.
I interviewed Dorthy Miller, one of the founders of Primewomen who started the business in her 60s. She said:
“I have to say I wasn’t very active in social media when I started this business, and I assumed that other women weren’t either! Of course, I hadn’t made the link between social media and being found on Google searches – in the meantime social media has really taken off for this older, more professional generation.”
Dorthy Miller, Founder of Primewomen
Everything, for better or worse is now dictated by the digital world. To utilise this effectively you need to ensure you understand what the digital landscape looks like. This may seem an odd starting point! But you need to think about what people might search on Google or LinkedIn, so that when they are searching for a specific skill set, your name appears.
As an example, I do a lot of public speaking and want to do more. So, I have the word ‘speaker’ on my various online profiles.
When someone is looking for a speaker, they are likely to type in words and phrases such as ‘communications expert, speaker’ or ‘leadership and communications speaker’. Hence including the words international speaker on my profile – if I don’t include them, I won’t appear on searches.
I receive one or two invitations a year to speak, from people I have no connection to and who have found me online – usually from LinkedIn. A good example was Farrer & Co who invited me to be their speaker at a private dinner for communications directors of professional firms, at their beautiful London office. They found me on LinkedIn. For me, this was a perfect match of my skills and the people I want to meet.
When you work in corporate life, most people have a clear identity from their job title. Once you move away from this, you need to create a new identity for yourself.
Have you thought about your online ‘brand’ and how you reflect this across all social media? And how your online brand is linking to you as a professional in unretirement?
Personal branding is important for several reasons. It shows what your specific skills are and what kind of projects you might be looking for. And it also allows you to pursue whatever you’re passionate about whilst building a following.
You have to position yourself in such a way that you stand out from others.
There are two stages to this process. First, identify what you want to achieve and the skills and attributes that you need. If you are looking for a consultancy or trustee role within a specific sector, it is worth looking at advertisements to see the words, tone and qualities they are pushing online. By this stage in your career you will have a plethora of relevant experience so pull out what is relevant to match these, think of keywords and write your LinkedIn profile to reflect these skills.
Make sure you are clear in this about the work you want to do and how you can help others.
Ajaz Ahmed founded Freeserve when working for Dixons – the company was sold for £1.6bn. Ajaz now has a rich portfolio of activities, including helping businesses. But he says:
“It was only in the last year that a friend said to me – why don’t you put on your website that you want to help businesses?
“It completely changed things and I now get approaches. Before, people thought I was too busy to help them. It was such a small thing, but made a big difference.”
Ajaz Ahmed, Freeserve Founder
The best way to bring a person to life is to tell stories and give examples which bring out your passion and USP.
A while ago I was asked to give a talk to 50 female directors in the hospitality sector. The talk was about personal branding and how to use your brand to get promoted or find non-executive director roles. I researched the guest list beforehand, looking at their LinkedIn profiles - here are two typical examples of what I found:
There is nothing distinctive here. No personality. Just what you would expect a good director of a well-known company to be doing?
What is needed to paint a more detailed and vivid account of what your skillset is, ‘I was behind developing the world’s first beer sold in a glass on supermarket shelves, which tripled sales in a year and won five industry awards. We did this by …’
I have made all this up, but hopefully this explains how to bring stories and personality to your profile, explaining your skill set in the process!
If you think social media is about what you had for breakfast or writing mundane thoughts about your life, let’s make this clear – It isn’t. There is simply too much noise in the digital space for more drivel. You need to be writing about your personal experiences in a way that demonstrates your expertise, your ability to look at what is happening now and apply it to the future and make yourself look interesting.
Most people struggle initially as to what to write and post without simply adding to this noise. Charles Moore of the Telegraph and Spectator summed it up rather neatly in the extract below:
It takes time to find ‘your voice’ and set your own rules but this is imperative to creating a differentiation in your story. The best place to start is to think about what you enjoy doing and are good at, who could do with your skills and then write your profile reflecting these. A useful question for this process is to ask, ‘What problem am I solving?’ and this helps for you to write all this in the language of people who might want to use those skills.
We would always recommend that anyone who is online keeps their profiles professional and not with photos or mentions of their children – I fundamentally believe children have a right to privacy but also you are presenting yourself as a professional, so you need to reflect this. We have all seen LinkedIn profiles of people with their children in shot and whilst this may work for some to soften or humanise them, for the majority it isn’t creating the professional persona they need.
Your personal and professional lives are two separate things, and your personal brand is best served if you emphasise your working self. This is your brand and your decisions. Think about the opportunities and risks and what you stand for, then set your own rules about how you want to appear online.
Once you are happy with your brand and profiles, go out and engage with your market. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Find the people you rate and respect – or would like to work with. Follow them, share their content, comment, link with them. Get to know them. Build up a target list, strategy and plan – as you would for any business – and then put it into practice.
One thing to be aware of is the difference between social “width” and social “depth”. When you are aiming to create a social network be sure to consider what the aim of the connection is. This may seem contrived but if you want to reach out to as many people as possible then choose to connect with those who can help you achieve this spread as they have significant connections too. If you are aiming to reach a specific audience for a specific role, then choose people who have “depth” within that target market. Look for individuals who have important connections within your target audiences and then connect with them.
There is a caveat here. Just as you may not have been active on LinkedIn or elsewhere till now, the people you want to engage with may be similarly inactive. The more you do online, the more you will learn who is likely to respond to your discussions.
You will be stunned at who you can find and who you could be having conversations with in seconds on topics that are relevant and helpful to your brand and what you want to do next.
Whatever you decide, be consistent. From time to time you should refresh your brand and your profiles, but people engage based on consistency and values. When you stay true to a core identity, it shows that the identity is a part of who you are, not just something you created for marketing or promotional purposes.
Trust is built on three factors - transparency, reliability, credibility (divided by perceived self interest). You need always to ensure it is clear to others who you are and how they can engage with you.
Building a quality online network takes time. I started in social media around 2008 and it took three to four years before we really began to see the benefits and had built a ‘community’. That was early days in our B2B market and things can be done more quickly now – but it is still not ‘quick’.
One thing is for sure, the longer you leave it to manage your brand and online presence, the more out of date you will look – and the more opportunities you will miss.
On LinkedIn and all social platforms your profile page is the short and sweet description of who you are and nothing more. To really spread your brand and increase your online presence make the most of online opportunities. For example, LinkedIn allows you 2,000 characters for your summary. How can you demonstrate your expertise, innovative thinking and influence in your sphere in just a few words? You can’t.
To increase your influence and communicate effectively with more people you need to start blogging and add personality to your profile with your blog. A good example is our client, Pat Chapman-Pincher, where she wanted to influence boards about how they manage technology and artificial intelligence. And blogged on topics such as...
She quickly built a clear brand of technology from a boardroom perspective – and was invited to speak at events as a result.
You don’t need to create your own site to include a blog, you can post blogs straight on to LinkedIn. This way they will show up when someone looks at your profile.
Have a look at Alice Laugher’s profile to see how this works. She runs a Dubai-based humanitarian business working in places such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Liberia. Her blogs tell a great story and adds colour to what the business does and her passion to make a difference and bring peace to war-torn countries sings through.
While the practical unretirement advice above may be useful for some it may also leave those approaching retirement scratching their heads thinking “Well that’s all great! But how does it get me a working opportunity?”.
Many leave planning their next step until they have the time in unretirement to do so. This creates two issues, firstly when they reach retirement their network can quickly shrink meaning they have less of an opportunity pool. Secondly there are now many more people who are in the same scenario and competing for these opportunities.
Taking time to weigh up your options is advised but if you want to keep working long term you need to maintain contacts and the image that you are staying current and active. This way when you decide what you want to do next, in any capacity, you will have your existing networks and new networks that you can leverage to find opportunities you want.