Diversify, DIY, or die

CAREERS & ED: How to turn economic crisis into professional catharsis


You never thought your innate talent for margarita mixing or jewelry design would get you very far, so you went to business school, or got into publishing. Soon, you were working your way up in a dependable industry, the sort guaranteed to provide you with a secure income.

Then the financial crisis hit.

This November alone, in the biggest one-month drop in US payrolls since 1974, employers cut 533,000 jobs. Seemingly invincible corporations like AT&T and Citigroup have laid off thousands of employees, and many jobs once coveted for the security they provided are now as unpredictable as Bay Bridge traffic.

It's time to look up your secret margarita mix recipe. In order to survive the recession, Bay Area residents are rediscovering their old talents and secret passions. Got an eye for detail? Help people perfect their résumés. Speak three languages? Tutor someone preparing to study abroad. Whether you're recently laid off or simply nervous about the prospect, this type of diversification can provide relief in a time when reliable jobs are scarce.

If you're unsure how to market your skills, take some advice from Allan Brown, who may be the poster boy for career diversification.

Brown, a "senior level marketing guy by trade," is currently the director of marketing for a publishing services company. In addition, he runs a résumé and cover-letter business out of his home, as well as a private bartending service.

After being let go from a publishing company a few years ago, Brown searched for a way to make some extra income while looking for a new job. He remembered how his father used to help the neighborhood kids write résumés, and thought he might have a knack for it, so he posted some ads online. "I thought, maybe I'll make a few bucks," Brown told the Guardian. "Instead, I made a lifestyle change without even realizing it."

His customers were so impressed by this work that they referred him to their friends, and it wasn't long until his endeavor developed into a rather lucrative enterprise, one he doesn't even feel comfortable calling a "side business" since it brings in so much income. Once his résumé-writing business took off, he started a private bartending service, which he does "for a little extra money" as well as for fun.

"All you have to do is think outside the box," Brown told the Guardian. "In hard times like these, people don't want to — or can't — work in an office. So what if the industry is dried up? Think of what else you have to offer."

Brown believes that by taking in internal revenue that has nothing to do with the corporate office, people can develop their own kind of job security, even in times like these.

He's one of the few people who are currently optimistic about their own financial state. "I feel I'm diversified enough to withstand the tide," he says. He admits holding three jobs is "a juggling act, to say the least" — still, in this economy, it's better to have too many jobs than none at all.

The crucial tip for diversification, Brown says, is Craigslist.org, the online listings community to which he says he is "forever indebted."

"Twenty years ago, people with my type of skills found it very hard to make a living because it was hard to let people know about them. The only thing we had were classified ads. Now, we have Craigslist, and it's a wonderful tool."

Peruse Craigslist.org and it's clear that many others are following in Brown's footsteps. "Need a Latin quote or love poem deciphered? Possum te adjuvare [I can help]," writes John Sullivan.

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