If we were in a business meeting and someone said something was “future-proof,” I’d reach for my banned words money jar and fine them $20. “Future-proof” is on my banned words list because it conveys the idea that there is a state of being or condition that will automatically adapt to the future. That’s just wrong. When it comes to making a living, the world we live in requires you to continuously, consciously, dynamically adapt. With our new definition in mind, here’s how to think about future-proofing your ability to earn.
Don’t think of your job as a job
The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that baby boomers average 12.3 jobs from ages 18 to 52. That’s an average of 2.76 years per job. (Millennials are likely to switch jobs every two years or even more often.) At those time scales, you should not think of your job as a job; you should think of it as a project. Which means that not only should you think of your boss as a client, you should think of yourself as a consultant engaged to solve a specific problem. You are, for all intents and purposes, a “gig worker.” If you think of your full-time job as just one of your projects (you can and should have other projects), you are going to be well on your way to future-proofing your income.
Inject yourself into the process
Be a student of the world you live in. What’s new? What’s next for your business? Are you in a growth industry? Is your company likely to be the best in its class? If you got promoted, could you do your boss’ job? Would you be better than your boss because you have more competitive, productive skills? The best way to answer these questions is to inject yourself into the process. Pretend you run the whole company. What would you read every day? Whom would you speak with? What would you discuss? Seek out people who do what you want to be doing and get into their groups. There are plenty of tech tools to do this from social media to online meetups. (I host weekly online salons; you can learn about them here.)
Have a side hustle
If you work for a company in a specific job doing specific things, your skills are atrophying. Every day you are on the inside, you are getting weaker and people on the outside are getting stronger. The best way to keep your skills sharp is to do side projects. If your employment agreement prohibits moonlighting, or you’re not comfortable working directly for other companies in your area, just find a side project that will help you hone your skills. It could be doing a specific function for a charity organization. Avocational training can also have huge vocational benefits. When we evaluate new potential employees at The Palmer Group, the quality of a candidate’s side hustle is more important than where they went to college.
You may not get “Kimye” famous, but “fame” is a relative term. You need to be famous in your world. Get permission from your company and start to blog. Create a body of knowledge that sets you apart from your peers as an expert in your area. Post a minimum of once weekly. The quality of your writing is more important than the quantity of posts. Take the most common problems faced by the people who might hire you and demonstrate through your writing that you are the best person to help solve them. Then, promote your work using social media. This is also a job. Treat it like one. Importantly, this is a career-long commitment. There is nothing more pathetic than an abandoned webpage with your name on it.
To that end, if you have an old website — you know, from that time in the early 2000s when everyone was doing personal websites — and you have not updated it, either put up a splash page with your social links or, better yet, just forward your domain name to your LinkedIn profile or something that won’t embarrass you—or cost you a job.
Pre-pandemic, going to a few business events or even specific networking events and collecting business cards was not considered networking. Attending an online event and exchanging email addresses isn’t networking either.
Networking is a job in and of itself. It requires you to carefully pick the events you will attend. Research the speakers and the probable attendees and target people you want to meet at the event. When you meet the people you are there to meet, try to find some common ground or a subject that you can use in your follow-up.
After you’ve established contact, you will correspond or meet at appropriate intervals and do your best to build a business relationship. If you don’t think you’ll do this with a new contact, throw away their business card or delete their contact information—there was no reason to ask for it. This takes an incredible amount of time and energy. It’s not a second job; it is your job. Relentless networking is an exceptional way to future-proof your income.
Plan your career
Do you know the goal of almost every svp in marketing? It is to become the evp of marketing, or evp of anything, anywhere. You may disagree with this statement. Great. Set your own objective. But have an objective! (If you’re having trouble focusing on your path, we have some tools to help.)
Don’t worry about your next job. Think about the job after that one. How will you ultimately get on Jeff Bezos’ short list for head of Amazon’s new initiative? What would your resume have to say? Do you need “digital” or “data science” or some other crossover job that bridges the gap between the traditional way your job function has been done and the way it is done—or going to be done— at the job after your next job?
Predators and Prey
Consultants can be opportunistic predators, employees cannot. Which means, for the most part, employees are prey, simply waiting for a reorg, layoff or a change in strategic direction to send them packing. You may argue that I’m painting with too broad of a brush, but the trend is clear. We are quickly transitioning to a world where “jobs” as they have been previously defined no longer exist. So redefine your “job” description and add some future-proofing tools to your skills. They will help you translate the value of your intellectual property into wealth.