Why You Need a Career Exit Strategy

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait  for the train of the future to run over him.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

When you’re talking job security, hardly anything beats being a Rolling Stone. While nobody understands how the Stones have done it, everyone understands what they have done. They have kept their audience. Their fans aged along with them, but the music the fans loved in 1967 is what they will still pay to hear, live and on stage, today.

Everyone who goes to work each day has an audience. Most people have a layered audience: a manager, his supervisor, and the boss. There may be more or fewer layers. The paying audience of customers is represented by the intermediaries. So, the worker’s audience is not direct; it’s represented.

This is not true in my case. I have far more direct contact with my audience than most employees do. I communicate with a traditional medium: written words. But the Internet has altered the distribution of words. For the first time in human history, the Internet has eliminated the gatekeepers. Nobody can limit my access to readers because he controls paper, ink, or a distribution system. E-mail is essentially free of charge. This has changed the world, and it will continue to change it.

What e-mail has done for me, it can do for anyone who can write and who has something relevant to say. Let me give you an example of how this can work. Recently, I spoke with a youthful salesman at a major electronics-retailing store. He sells computers. He isn’t working on commission, so he will never make a good living at that store. He will have to quit. He needs a career exit strategy. But, like most young men, he doesn’t have one.

He knows about computers. He is dealing with newcomers who know very little about them. Herein lies an opportunity. I told him that he should start a free e-mail newsletter for his customers. He should offer to everyone who buys a computer from him the right to sign up for information on how to get started. He needs a business card that offers a free report, sent automatically on request by an autoresponder.

There are two ways that he can continue to communicate with these people. First, for $10 a month, he can use a sequential autoresponder service, such as biz-reply.com, to send them a series of brief reports.

He can also write a monthly newsletter on whatever interests him that might interest them. If he thinks that a product his store sells is good, he can mention it at some point. Get readers back into the store to buy something. This way, his manager won’t get upset about his newsletter. The company won’t send down a directive calling a halt to it.

The whole idea is to keep in touch with his readers. That’s because at some point he will want to quit his job — and will then be able to use his newsletter to sell information or computer-related services to them.

For my monthly (or more often) Christian economics newsletter (ice@add.postmastergeneral.com), I use a service called Mindshare Design. You can use this service to start a newsletter free of charge. Up to 30 people can subscribe before you have to pay a monthly fee. Then it’s under $20 per month. The software is very easy to use. And they don’t send out an automatic ad attached to your letter. You could use Outlook Express or Eudora to do the same thing. (Note: If you know how to manage a newsletter with Outlook Express, write up a brief manual and I’ll promote it to my list.)

Initially, maybe you will do no more than occasionally send out links to Web pages or otherwise inform your readers about useful, interesting things. But, over time, your list will grow. And because these people will have come to trust you, you will have a receptive audience for anything you wish to sell. One “master” of this strategy writes a free e-mail newsletter that reaches 100,000 people. He uses the free newsletter to sell a second newsletter for $49 a year. At last report, he had (get this!) 50,000 paid subscribers.

People say they want financial freedom. The way to get it is to get 50,000 paying fans. Even 500 would be good enough, if they paid enough. By distributing your sources of income, you reduce your risk. This is what is called diversification. It’s diversification within a very narrow market. It’s investing your time in an area where you have a competitive advantage: specialized information. Then, within this narrow market, you try to find people who will become fans and pass along your information.

Think of that computer salesman. He meets people all day. He sells expensive equipment to them. They could become his initial base of fans. It is as if he were standing at the side of the road. At his feet is a gutter. Down that gutter floats an occasional $1 bill. If he were to buy a scooper, he could do very well. Get a large enough gutter, and the money is substantial.

When your source of income is one person — a manager — you are at extreme risk. If he changes his mind about you, you’re toast. If he gets fired, or quits, and his replacement has his own agenda into which you and your talents do not fit, you’re also toast.

From 1945 to 1980, there were tens of millions of Americans who thought they were immune to the ax. They worked in large corporations with fixed hierarchies. People rarely got fired. But then, one by one, those large companies were replaced by leaner, meaner firms that used computer technology to scrape away several layers of management. The flow of information got much cheaper and more direct, so those employees who had served as information gatekeepers found themselves unemployed.

I tell young people today that they should begin to build up their own personal mailing lists. They need to become part of a networking system. They need to develop an audience of people who trust them. That’s why long-term career strategists join the Rotary Club or other civic associations: to build up a network of friends who can, in a career crisis, help them.

If you look ahead at the potential of being fired, or being asked to move, or some other bump in your career path, you should begin to make exit plans. Every major plan in life deserves an exit strategy. This includes your career. Conclusion: The Internet is just getting started. Mailing lists are being established daily. They can serve as independent businesses or supplements to existing businesses.

Most won’t be standalone profit centers, but they can all be used to create name identification and trust. There is no doubt in my mind that a person with a mailing list of 200 people of like mind is in a good position when a recession, or some other career disaster, hits. He has his own network.

You should begin thinking carefully about this. What could you do to convert your existing mailing list (“addresses”) into a more systematic one? To what uses could you put a list of 200 people? Do you have something to say (or forward) that would be worthwhile to recipients? If not, why not? How can you begin to extend your influence?

If your career depends on one person, you’re at risk. Start thinking about ways to broaden your audience — even if it’s only by creating an occasional forwarding service for interesting items on the Web.