Getting the sack

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Getting the sack is what launched my “career” as an independent person. Yet as an employee, if you are “terminated” it is a terrible shock, the stuff of nightmares. I had a bad dream about it last night; being called in to the boss and taking only a few seconds to realise what was going on.

I must confess that when it did happen to me, I told my then boss exactly what I thought about him and the firm that was getting rid of me. I quite surprised myself, and even looking back, what I said was uncharacteristic even bearing in mind the provocation.

Immediately after being told I had to clear my desk and go that very evening I knew something very serious had happened in my life. I did not know quite how serious because I supposed that being at the top of my game I would find another post quite quickly.

How wrong I was! I was “over-qualified”, I did not have the right sort of education decades earlier, my skills did not quite fit. What no one said was that I was too old to get a new job, which was what most employers thought when they gave a reason not to employ me or to not even to grant me an interview.

Never mind. As you know I had to get myself a new income, and I started out to earn some money. Helped by my wife, we ended up with four businesses entities between us, and four distinct “flavours” or types of business. Of course not all of them are a roaring success. One business earns much of the money, but the others in different niches help potential customers decide what they want, and even the biggest earner comes in two “flavours” through separate websites and marketing.

Getting the sack, getting fired, being terminated or whatever you want to call it is not the end of the world. You have your brain and you have your experience, and if you cannot get another job or do not want to work for someone else, you can really succeed as an independent. “Living on your wits” is perhaps over-dramatic, but if you have become unemployed it really is a starting-point for the rest of your commercial life and not “game over”.

Be positive, think what you can do best and what you want to do, and get started on your whole new life as an independent business person.

Petty dictators

I remember when I was an employee working for a boss who was always right, even when he was wrong. There was no reasoning with him. We underlings were not allowed to have an opinion as to how things might be done better. We had to follow orders. It was no way to work, so of course staff turnover was high. The business suffered because of this and also because all suggestions made for improving the way business was done were ignored. Petty dictators are control freaks.

As independent business owners we should not be surprised that such petty dictators are hard to sell ideas to. After all, they are convinced they know better than us what is good for their business. They know more about web design than my cleverest designer friends. They know more about tax than I do; at least that is what they think.

Of course we may find out that we have clients who think they know best. From our point of view, we can let this ride unless they think they know better our value to them, and their idea is lower. In that case there may be a parting of the ways because we should never be intimidated. We cannot afford it.

Just because our client is a petty dictator does not mean we should not offer advice. After all, it is up to them whether they take it. We just have to remember that some people never listen.

Do you know any petty dictators?

Job-seekers need to mind their Ps & Qs

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I like LinkedIn. We can connect with all sorts of useful people with whom we can do business, and it is a very good reference for those seeking jobs. Life is tough in the job markets in North America and in Europe, so those looking for employment need all the help they can get.

Of course job-seekers need to give themselves the best chance, which means they should take care putting together their profile and also appearing to be sensible and employable. In that light it was surprising to see an older ex-Civil Servant (over thirty years working for the Government) having a serious virtually troll-like rant in a professional group on LinkedIn, and then arguing vehemently with those who were suggesting that his extreme views were ill-chosen, or at least ill-expressed. Fortunately for him, the Group Leader has apparently decided she or he had had enough and removed the thread, thus removing the embarrassing content.

I hope the perpetrator of this job-seeking faux pas, whose headline is along the lines of “looking for new challenges” learns that it does not pay to be offensive (ever) and engages in proper and sensible dialogue so that those of us who may have been shocked by the outbursts, and those who did not see them can see the value in this guy’s abilities.

Otherwise, everything we say in a public forum remains out there for everyone to see and make a judgement, right or wrong.

Shouldn’t we always add value in our on-line content, and manage our reputations?

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Redundancy at 50 or even 45 – Part 1


Goodbye to all that?

Hard times

There was a story published recently in the Daily Mail about an unemployed accountant who has fallen on hard times. He seems to have lost his employment in his late forties. That is an all too familiar story. It has happened to lots of people in the professions; accountants and lawyers and architects. It has happened to financial services professionals. It has happened to engineers. It has happened to so many skilled workers.

In the Daily Mail story we hear of all those job applications, the financial problems with the income disappearing. The accountant has a professional qualification; a well respected one. The problem for forty-plus applicants seeking a job is that qualifications matter rather less than they did when they were in their twenties.

Recruiters’ insecurity

Every employer is eager to take on newly qualified staff in their twenties. The fact that someone has passed exams is at least an indication that they have some ability to understand how to do the work. It is an indication of potential and of intelligence.

For an older applicant, the employer is more interested in their experience most recently, and generally the sort of work they have been doing, and the level of difficulty of that work. Often someone has become specialised in a particular area, which is no bad thing because niche workers are invaluable if that specialism is a requirement. It is also a difficulty in persuading an employer that someone can adapt to a different role.

The experience of an older job applicant can work against her or him in other ways. Many interviewing business owners of managers may be younger. They may feel uncomfortable at the thought of taking on someone older than themselves. They may worry how an older worker will fit into their team. They may worry that an older worker will know more than they do and embarrass them; “show them up”. So the older job applicant is really up against it in getting new employment.

Cut adrift

Just the same, if someone has been unemployed for a while, they have no recent experience to impress recruiters and that will be a major negative factor for their job prospects. Being seen as being out of the loop is even worse than being seen as a threat to that younger manager.

What would you do in that situation? Should our unemployed 50-year old accountant get on his bike?  I will leave that on until next time.


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The Other Man Who Fell to Earth

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Street of Buenos Aires, Argentina by Martin St-Amant. My home in a parallel universe?

I have been in a contemplative mood recently. I am another year older, and it might be tempting to wonder whether I could have made different choices in my working life which would have resulted in my being in a different place both literally and figuratively.

I am not tempted, though. I wouldn’t be anywhere but where I am now.

It would be so easy to dwell on past mistakes. Easy to wonder whether I had chosen the right career. Should I have started work with an insurance broker or a merchant bank? I wouldn’t have worked in tax then, and I could have made loads of money. On the other hand I might not have done. Actually I didn’t have the right and posh enough background to get a nice job like that in the first place coming from a family of bank clerks. Education was less important than ancestry. It’s no use worrying about that.

Should I have taken a junior role with an institution that might have sent me to Hong Kong or Buenos Aires?

Should I not have taken the job which led to my final exit from employment when they got rid of me after thirteen months? Last in, first out, an expression which used to matter in tax as well as employment, or rather in unemployment. That was a very hard fall to Earth.

Well, in some terms the financial losses as a result of certain decisions, or not being aware of what were the right decisions, have been costly. I am not sorry I have my business independence and of owning three businesses and helping in another.

I might as well say that maybe I should have married that girl I was in love with when I was twenty-one. I think she would have married me. Perhaps I let her down. Well, maybe I should have married her, but that would have meant I wouldn’t have been married to the lovely woman who is my wife now. I like what I have. In fact that’s rather understating it.

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!”

I think that is a good philosophy for having no regrets. That doesn’t mean any of us should be without ambition in our business lives . Of course we should want more in terms of business and to be more successful. We should plan to the best of our ability what we believe can control.

We should always think of the future. Accidents will happen but the more our destiny is in our own hand the safer we are, because employment makes so many hostages to fortune.

Do you have regrets? Is there any point?

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The fear of the unknown

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The premise of this blog is my story of starting my own business by accident, because I became unemployed and couldn’t find another job. I had no choice.

Of course prior to my involuntary arrival in what was a freelance market (my businesses have evolved and diversified since and some is outsourced) I would not have dreamed of going out there on my own from the comfort of an employment with a great monthly “pay check”.

Lack of freedom

In employment we have little freedom, though. We do not make decisions about the business which could affect us or improve our situation. We cannot plan to change things. We can suggest to our bosses how things might be done differently. Our best ideas may be taken up, but we cannot guarantee to get the credit or the benefit.

When we are bosses ourselves, I hope that we do give our employees credit where it’s due, and proper reward, but as an employee we have rights in connection with our employment, but not rights to be appreciated.


It is understandable when we come across employees who are talented enough to run their own businesses that they are afraid to make that big step. As employees they feel more secure in getting a regular income, but that is month-to-month security. It is not a guarantee that the future will bring the same rewards they are getting right now.

Of course there is no guarantee of success in running one’s own business. There is much more control of our destiny, though. We can make a decision which will have an impact in the future. We can make changes to our lives with more freedom. We can build relationships with other businesses. It’s just simply being much more satisfying.

I would not try to badger a talented employee into making a giant leap into starting a business, but I would give every encouragement if I thought their idea was sound. What would you do?

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If only I had…

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There are the chosen few who have never worked for anyone else, and then there are the rest of us who used to be employed but now run our own businesses.

When we were employed we did not have total control of our destiny. Perhaps we didn’t choose the right employer or we could have moved somewhere else and we didn’t, and later we wished we had.

You know the sort of thing?

  • If I had known when I started work that I should have began at an investment bank and then I would have been paid today’s equivalent of 250K per year even if I were still making the tea.
  • I should have made a fortune working for an insurance broker and would have known to get out at the right time.
  • I shouldn’t have worked for XYZ. They were dreadful employers and just used me.
  • I should have earned megabucks in the Far East when I had the chance.
  • I should have stayed with EFG because they had and still have the best pension scheme ever (but I left to preserve my own self-respect).

We might all have certain variations on those themes. All those situations depended either on how we were dealt with by others who had power over us, or would have been pure luck along the lines of “if we had known then what we know now”.

Luck is chance and we can’t do much about unforeseen incidents in our lives. However in being in business for ourselves, we make our own decisions. We shouldn’t be at the mercy of anyone as we might be if with a bad employer. Our future is in our hands. We need to make the right decisions of course, and we need courage sometimes. We will still come to forks in the road and must do our best to take the right one. If we make a mistake we can learn from it, and need not look over our shoulders at what might have been.

When I started work I would have been surprised to be told where I might be now, but as an independent person in business who enjoys his work, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Anyway, if I had started at the investment bank, I wouldn’t be talking to you now, though I might have been a fat cat taking the flak for the economic crisis.

So having regrets is pointless, and being in control of one’s own destiny in business is beyond value, isn’t it? And isn’t business fun?


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Networking, nepotism and family values

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A couple of weeks back now, the British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said “it was “wrong” that his own career had been boosted by parental connections when he was starting out, getting him time at a bank and his first job in politics.”  I thought I should let the predictable press nonsense die down before adding my two-pennyworth.

I don’t write directly about politics and I am sure Mr. Clegg means well and is embarrassed at having had certain advantages from having a successful businessman as a father, and having gone to “posh” Westminster School. However I don’t think he should be embarrassed that his Dad got him an unpaid internship (aka work experience) with a Finnish Bank. It happens all the time. We do our best for our family and we cannot sacrifice them on the altar of political ideals.

Closer to home

My wife’s granddaughter is going to have some work experience with a solicitor soon. The offer has come through a family friend and seems ideal. That has nothing to do with privilege. It is just how society works and has always worked and throughout the strata even when we had distinct social classes. It has always been possible to “have a word” to get a young lad an apprenticeship, to get a poor Victorian girl a post as a housemaid (OK, probably not a great life when women were treated as second class citizens), young Billy help in joining the Army or the Church, and young Lottie into Girton College or the like. I cannot see anything wrong in that even in modern society.

Nepotism or networking?

Why do we network? It is to find people we trust and can very likely work with, or to whom we can make recommendations when they need help. An employer will always want a recommendation when taking someone on, so if there is an offer of an employee they already know something about , that is an added comfort. It is no different from taking up a really good reference which employers would always ask for when engaging a new employee. Should we employ people without knowing anything about them?

I think that these days people can largely get on though their own merit, and that includes using their network, or, shock horror, their family’s network. Someone without ability is unlikely to get a job this way, or if he or she does, is not likely to keep it. Education is given more people more opportunity since the mid twentieth century (disclosure: I went to a posh school as a scholarship boy with a free place as my parents couldn’t have afforded to pay). Modern networks do not amount to nepotism but helping people work with those they feel comfortable with.

I realise not everyone will agree, especially given the fuss over Mr. Clegg’s comments, but let us get over the hair-shirt complex, use our network and move on. What do you think?

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Ageism, realism and working life in the twenty-first century

My starting point

Lake District work opportunities

As many of you may know, when I lost my job nine years ago I came to realise that at the age I was, I was not allowed to have another employment. I was too old, by which I mean I was somewhat over forty. It took a while for me to understand that was the problem. For a while I laboured under the illusion that there were not many jobs about and that was why the recruitment agencies had trouble finding me interviews. Ageism is a bitter pill to swallow, as many people who have just come out of employment will be finding out.

My solution

Realistically, the only way I could earn a living was to start my own business. That is why I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur”. I have actually set up several businesses because I had to get money coming into the household. I had a specialist field from my employment days, but I also had to do whatever it took to try and achieve some inflow of money.

Over the years since and especially at the beginning I had various short term contracts and also took subcontracted work from another firm. Effectively the services I provided have helped businesses to avoid taking on an employee. I had no security in doing what I did.

Two of the firms I helped just told me they didn’t need me any more, one with no notice at all; I had no expectations of a continuing presence with them so I had to shrug my shoulders and move on to the next assignment, and of course I had been steadily building up my own business and individual clients. My business is both B2B and B2C, to use the jargon. It is a long while since I had to depend on just one or two clients for an income stream. Nowadays I subcontract quite a lot myself. It is an efficient way of doing things.

The ageist job market

Not much has changed since I left employment for the last time. If anything, the work market for older people is much worse. There is legal protection against age discrimination within an employment but once a reason for redundancy is identified or contrived there is little an employee can do.

Age discrimination in the job market is hard to prove. One can be annoyed by an ad such as the technical writing opportunity for a “newly qualified” person I saw yesterday. Newly qualified? We know what they mean.

Older people want to work. They are just not allowed to be employed, as Julian Knight reminded us the other day when writing in the Independent. Apparently there are those who think that older workers are just standing in the way of the young. I agree with the hypothesis that a younger manager would rarely think to take on a person twenty or thirty years older because

  • the person will be too slow
  • the person will be off sick a lot
  • the person will show up the manager by knowing more and being better than he or she is

We know that most “old-hands” would take fewer sickies, be as quick as anyone and know better than to embarrass the manager, but these prejudices remain.

The work market of the future

I don’t claim to have second sight, but since I started my businesses I have ploughed the furrow which many others have to do or will in the future. Realistically, the bureaucratic burdens on employers and their prejudices over age will need them to be more interested in taking people on short-term ad hoc contracts where there is no long term commitment on either side. The current employment laws both on the HR side and in relation to tax do not match up yet, but Seth Godin said recently “In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded.”  I agree with that.

I think that employment rights are going to have to be watered down to relieve the employment law red tape mess that businesses have to suffer. In the future, there will be no such thing as a job in the old sense, and there isn’t even now for many over-forties, which is why so many of us are already out there in the brave new twenty-first century. There will be more mobility, which surely is a good thing?

How do you feel about this?

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Mutual envy

Local businesses
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Many of us in business for ourselves feel we would be unemployable if we were asked to go to work for someone else. We enjoy the freedom of making our own decisions and being in charge. We make our own hours of work of course, rather than abide by someone else’s rule, though it is easy to work too much rather than too little. We always want to maximise our income potential and we do need a certain discipline to avoid becoming our own slaves.

We do know we would rather not be wage slaves and have come away from that mindset. That is why if we sell our businesses to someone else with an agreement to work on for a year or so, that situation can soon become very uncomfortable. It is not nice to be looking over one’s shoulder at the person watching us.

At the same time, there was a comfort in the relative certainty we had as employees that we would have a known income at the end of each week or month. If we are doing well in our business we do have that still, but it is down to our own efforts and managing ourselves.

Those still with jobs would mostly be frightened to have the responsibility we have for our own financial survival, but at the same time they envy us being our own bosses, as they see it awarding ourselves holidays and bonuses and time off in the summer for picnics. Of course our lives are not always about picnics, but there is some truth about the freedom if we are doing it right. What do you think?

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