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11 Steps to Starting Over Today

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Eric Pratum, the social marketing strategist at the nonprofit marketing agency, Grizzard Communications Group. Find him on his smart marketing blog or, even better, say hi on Twitter.

Often, very often actually, I am asked how to find a new job, pick up a new skill, become location independent, or otherwise change a person’s life and lifestyle significantly. I’ve done it. Well, most of it, and no, I’m not a location independent travel blogger or some 20-something living on a shoestring budget. I have a nice “corporate” job that I love, helping clients that I really care about, working alongside people that have made an emotional and financial investment in me…and conversely I in them.

To get here, I worked diligently to pick up new skills, meet people, and make it known to the world that I had something valuable to offer. But, to do that, I almost had to start from scratch, building off of what I already knew, but picking my own path as if I was starting from square one.

For all of you that are looking for a change, here are 11 steps to starting over today:

  1. Determine what you really want to do, what you are meant to do. Saying, “I don’t know what I want to do,” is not an excuse. This is your life. Do you want to talk to people for a living, design things, be a wordsmith, something else? In my case, I chose marketing because I like talking with people and numbers fascinate me. Plus, I saw people in the blogosphere that I aspired to be like, and they worked in marketing.
  2. Stop wasting time by not focusing on getting where you want to go. Everyone wastes time, and rarely do people feel like they have free time, but if you want to make a change and get ahead, it requires sacrifices and a time investment. If you watch TV, waste time reading unnecessary “news” online or offline, or otherwise do things unrelated to your new skill and field, stop. As much as I’ve hated it at certain times, I stopped playing music (now and then), stopped collecting comic books, stopped spending time on Reddit, seriously cut back on time spent with friends, and more. I’m not saying you have to do this forever…just for a while. Don’t pay lip service to something by saying, “I’d like to be a…” Do it by saying, “I am a…”
  3. Find more time. It’s amazing how much time you spend commuting, exercising, cooking, waiting for appointments, and doing many other things that are generally necessary to hold a job, have friends, and be healthy. That is all time that you could be reading, listening to related podcast, or otherwise keeping yourself up-to-date and in-the-know. For my part, I listen to podcasts when I walk to and from the train commuting to work and also when I go for my daily run. As well, I read on the train each day.
  4. Save your money. Eventually, you will quit your job, and whether you’re traveling the world, becoming a freelance consultant, or just trying to find your next gig, you’re going to need a launch fund. As hard as it is to do, you have to scrimp and save. That might mean selling your car and other possessions. It could mean buying cheaper food or canceling your internet or cell phone. Also to save money, join a frequent flyer program and peruse FlyerTalk so that you can find out how to get thousands and thousands of dollars worth of airfare for free. This will be invaluable, whether you’re location independent or just still working on your skills and want to, say, go home for the holidays without breaking the bank.
  5. Pick a technical skill to learn. Anyone can talk the talk, but it takes technical skills to walk the walk unless you have years of experience in your new field. If I was coming to marketing from some other field, I would choose to learn things like HTML, photoshop, or SEO. I would get a book, enroll in an evening or weekend course, and practice practice practice. You’ve got all of this new free time. Now, you need to focus it on learning a new skill that you can put on your resume, demonstrate, and sell to a client or employer.
  6. Blog about it. You might hate writing. You might even be a bad writer, but you cannot get around the fact that search engines love text, and so do people. Even if you know nothing right now, as a potential client or employer, a blog that chronicles your development tells me what level you are at, what your thought processes are, and most importantly what you are about. Additionally, having a blog is great for networking. SEO bloggers read each others’ blogs, point out problems or solutions, and help each other…as do photography bloggers, social media bloggers, and a million other kinds of bloggers.
  7. Find a volunteer position or side job. If you’ve been a diligent student, chances are that, after 6 months, you know HTML, SEO, or whatever else pretty well. You’re not an expert, but you’ve learned as much as you can without further guidance. As long as you’re not violating a work agreement, either volunteer your newly found skill to a local organization (charity or otherwise), find yourself a client on Craigslist, or get a job where they know you don’t know a lot yet, but are okay with that since they’re not paying you much. Do not get yourself into a hole though by committing to an arrangement that doesn’t make sense for your current plans. 3-6 months is probably all you need to spend on this if you are working hard for 10-20 hours each week.
  8. Find an overseas position doing what you’re meant to do. This is really only for those of you that want to be location independent overseas, but there are plenty of opportunities where you can get overseas at the very least working if not also doing what you’ve been training for. While it is not necessary that you get a position before going overseas, working for WWOOF, teaching English, and any number of other things, even if unrelated to your goal field, can make it much easier to get acclimated and learn your way around before really going for what you’ve been working on for months. Just after I finished college, I went to Germany and received room and board in exchange for 20 hours/week spent on a WWOOF farm, which led to me moving to Sweden, playing on their national baseball team, writing an essay that got me a scholarship to do my masters in Germany, and then being offered several jobs over there afterward. Mine is just one of many examples.
  9. Offer your skills online…if you’re not looking to work for someone else. You’ve now been working on your new skill for six months, had a volunteer or side job for 3-6 months, and maybe worked overseas. It’s safe to say that you know this skill, and probably others, very well by now. You might not be an expert, but you know enough to turn that blog of yours into a business, put yourself on Elance (or oDesk or Guru), and let your network know that your business is open for business.
  10. Look for that new job…if you want to work for someone. You know your field well by now. If you want to find a dream job working for someone else, it’s time to let your network know, start applying, and get smart about getting your name out there. Now, let’s get smart about advertising. Figure out where you want to work and for whom. Then, buy Facebook ads targeting people that work at the companies you want to work at, and buy Google ads for the names of managers in the departments you want to work in. Direct those ads to custom landing pages on your blog that have content specific to the company, person, position, and your skills. Having examples and videos does not hurt either.
  11. Be happy. No matter what happens, you’ve learned a new skill, demonstrated your expertise, introduced yourself to a whole new field, and likely made friends you did not have before. Don’t be impatient if things don’t go perfectly, and definitely do not give up. Stick to it. If things do go well and clients or an employer pay you a lot for your new skill, be grateful and stick with them. Hard work and change can be addicting, but always putting this type of work before other things in your life can ruin relationships and even make you selfish…making you always think about how other people “waste” your time, cost you money, or keep you from improving yourself. I know, I can now and then be a workaholic. Be happy. Take a breath. And, enjoy your new position in life.

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