Strategy #2 to Survive a Down Economy: Network OUTSIDE Your Career Orbit

By Kevin M

In 10 Ways To Survive in a Down Economy (published on Christianpf.com June 1) we listed ten strategies to help you deal with the bad economy. Last week we took a closer look at Strategy #1, now we’ll outline Strategy #2:

2. Move outside your comfort zone. Network outside your career orbit; you never know where the next opportunity may come from, or who might assist you in getting there. Pigeonholing yourself into a single job or industry may prove to be a strategic miscalculation in the future.

Most of us have invested a considerable amount of time and energy developing a network of contacts within our respective careers or industries, and in the last article in this series we discussed ways to expand the number of contacts you have, to go wide with many contacts, rather than deep with a few.

Obviously the more contacts you have the better positioned you are in the event of a job loss. However, during difficult times, it is equally important that you make contacts outside of those directly linked to your career. This is especially important if you are in an industry which is being especially hard hit in this economy, such as the many finance related businesses.

Where to Begin

As discussed in Strategy 1, maintain active contact with people in your immediate career circle, only here we’re saying don’t stop there. Start with existing contacts as a base, and then work outward from there.

Network in fields which are loosely related to your career or industry. I say loosely because if your industry is in trouble, it’s likely that nearly all other businesses substantially connected with it will also have fallen on hard times. If you work for a car manufacturer you’ll probably find little salvation in attempting to find work at your company’s parts suppliers. However for all of the same reasons new cars aren’t selling, opportunities may be steady at companies involved in auto repair work. People who can’t afford to buy new cars will likely spend more keeping their current vehicles running. That’s one single example, but there are similar relationships in virtually every industry.

Even though the economy is in poor shape, people still have to live, and in order to do that, they need to buy things. Even if what they’re buying isn’t what your current employer is selling, rest assured they’re buying something else from someone. The job then, is to determine what it is they’re buying and where—and that should yield some career prospects.

Consider networking in businesses or career fields that interest you. Many people have a desire to do a certain type of work, but avoid it because the shift from where they are into the new career will require too big of a hit financially. The reality of the current economy is that many of the recently unemployed are landing in lower paying positions just because “it pays the bills”. If you’re income will drop no matter what you do, can you pay the bills working at a career you actually like? If you truly enjoy the work you do, not only will working become more pleasurable, but there’s a real possibility that you will flourish and grow in the new field, and ultimately generate an income that’s higher than what you’ve known in the past.

Finally, take a chance on some scattershot networking in totally unrelated fields. Network with people in careers and businesses that you’ve never entertained working in. Most of us tend to keep our networking efforts centered in areas that we know—that’s our comfort zone. But it’s important to realize that opportunity can come from any direction, and the more people (in more businesses) that you know, the better the chance of stumbling upon an unexpected opportunity.

Networking Outside Your Comfort Zone

So how do you go about networking outside of your career field, where you may have little knowledge and few contacts?

For starters, the internet has made networking easier than ever and provides a networking opportunity in virtually any career or business of your choosing. It would be worth your efforts to find some career/professional networks in fields which members are reasonably likely to be in a position to be aware of job openings that might require your skills. Being active in a network unrelated to your field will give you the advantage of being the only person in the group with that skill set—which is exactly where you want to be.

There are thousands of blogs and forums representing different industries, and certainly there are a large number who would welcome even an outsider.

Join local network groups, maybe even general business networks, close to home. Face to face networking can be even more effective than joining web groups. Look to meet people and groups and be prepared to tell them your story and what you’re looking for. Just remember that networking works both ways, and be sure to offer support and relevant leads to others.

So why do this? If you’re an accountant and you mostly network with other accountants, what chance will there be of finding an open position that others within the same network haven’t already applied for? Conversely, if you networked with a group of IT professionals, someone in the group might know of a job opening for a good accountant from time to time. If you’ve been successful in management or marketing in a financial concern, could you bring your skills into a completely different industry? Now is the time to try. Make sure to be open and available to keep abreast of what’s happening.

Get to know people you come in contact with. In our everyday lives we come across people who work in dozens of occupations—use this to your advantage. Slow down a bit, listen to their story, and tell them what you’re looking for. Swap emails and exchange more substantive information, even resumes. Every one knows people, and may be aware of someone who’s looking for a person just like you to fill a job.

No matter where you choose to network, always make sure others know why your there—to look for opportunities—which is the same reason everyone else is.

Business Owners

For business owners, moving outside of your comfort zone is even more critical. A downturn in the economy is the perfect time to get connected with sources outside your industry, not so much for possible employment, but mainly for new lines of business.

In many businesses, it may be necessary to face the reality that certain products or services may not recover with the economy. Technology and globalization are taking a toll in different areas, and any product or service you offer—or even your entire business—could be at risk.

Just as with job hunters, you’ll need to go beyond the familiar and look to expand contacts beyond your industry. It’s all about the search for niches, something most business owners are familiar with even during more robust times.

Look for additional product lines that compliment the ones you now carry. Pay attention to the trends (another outstanding benefit of networking) to look for entirely new product lines to create new revenue streams. Gravitate toward products and services you might like to have provided in the past, but were too busy to take on when business was booming.

For many businesses right now, the goal may be not only to survive but also to preposition your business for the next wave. Now is the perfect time to do this, and networking outside your comfort zone is an excellent way to get started.

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