Phase one: Getting the job you want
Start a business. Be an artist withoutstarving. Freelance. Make all your cubiclefantasies come true with these concrete steps.
Thu Aug 7 2008
Be an entrepreneur
STEP 1: How good is your idea? Just because you really like Jäger bombs and hate having a boss doesn’t mean you should open a bar. Elizabeth Ingrassia, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the Fordham Institute for Family & Private Enterprise, says to first determine if you’re cut out for the new venture. “Are you able to work well in situations of uncertainty and little structure?” she asks. Then Ingrassia suggests utilizing her ABC system, “(A) Is there an abundant need? (B) Is it a better mousetrap—is it better than the competitors’ product? (C) Is it competitively positioned in the market?” Kris Reed, director of the Initiative for Competitive Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), encourages new entrepreneurs “to do some basic Internet research about their market.” In other words, waste your current employer’s time by messing around on Google. Try entering your business type and location with search terms like market research, trends, demand, sales growth and risks.
STEP 2: Write a business plan. Besides forcing you to really think your concept through, putting it on paper will help you identify potential obstacles and find ways to overcome them. “A business plan explains your product and shows how you are going to grow the business,” says Reed. “It’s the blueprint, and it’s your proof to an investor or lender.” Ira Davidson, director of the Pace University Small Business Development Center, says that your business model “should be written as a narrative, almost like a short story. If your plan isn’t going to be read, it isn’t going to get funded.” So make it interesting. Go to the website of Score (scorenyc.org), a nonprofit “dedicated to educating entrepreneurs,” for specific advice.
STEP 3: Find a backer. Since funding options depend heavily on personal situations, credit worthiness, experience levels and the business type, your best bet is to contact a small-business counselor (like those at Score or Pace) and let them point you in the right direction. In addition, U.S. Small Business Administration regional administrator Michael Pappas suggests researching financing and applying for an SBA-guaranteed loan (sba.gov). Pappas also encourages shopping around to compare interest rates and loan programs.
STEP 4: Get feedback. After you’ve written your plan, take it to an adviser for critical review. The Pace Small Business Development Center is funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, and offers free reviews and counseling (212-618-6655, manhattan.nyssbdc.org). “We add value by massaging the plan,” says Davidson, “and we also know what banks will give it a reasonable chance.” According to Reed, “Profitability depends on how expensive your product is, how willing people are to pay for it and how labor-intensive it is to produce. If you can only do three a month, you’re never going to get rich on that.”
STEP 5: Make some moolah. “Maybe your vision is great, but the bank will want to know about the dollars and cents,” says Deb Weiner, entrepreneur and co-owner of the LES bakery Sugar Sweet Sunshine. “We turned a profit right away by keeping our overhead very low—for the first year and a half it was just me and [co-owner] Peg. Since we had a bank loan, we weren’t under the gun; as long as we were making payments, we were okay.” Obviously every venture is different, but Ingrassia says it all comes down to “developing your idea, validating it with the key constituents—customers, suppliers, buyers, distributors, investors—and then pursuing it with a passion.”
Employment in numbers
23,900 new jobs
The total number of employment opportunities in NYC has risen 0.6 percent over the past year. So where are all those new gigs? We break it down by industry on the pages ahead.
Be an artist (not a starving one)
STEP 1: Sell yourself. It’s all about self-promotion! “If you don’t have a website these days, it’s like you don’t exist as an artist,” says Barbara Rachko (barbararachko.com), who’s been a painter for 22 years. The Net is also teeming with websites like manhattanarts.com, myartspace.com and gallerynow.com, where you can upload images for free and share your work with the global village, in the hopes that aesthetes looking to buy art will happen across it and jump-start your career.
STEP 2: Network. No one wants to go it alone, so find an organization that can connect you with your peers. The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) (nyfa.org) and Soho’s Cupping Room Cafe (cuppingroomcafe.com) run workshops and meetings where you can discuss things like the relevance of modern sculpture and the cheapest place to get ramen. But to make it into a gallery, you’ll need to track down the movers and shakers. “Get out there,” says David Nolan Gallery director Katherine Chan. “Work in a museum or gallery where you can meet curators, critics and dealers.” Westwood Gallery president and co-owner James Cavello agrees: “Socialize! We have openings during the season that are open to the public.” That doesn’t mean you should show up with a stack of postcards in hand (please don’t); instead, use these opportunities to work the room.
STEP 3: Gain gallery access. With exposure to curators and collectors (and their money), galleries are the place to be—that’s why getting your work into one is so tough. (Cavello estimates his gallery takes on one new artist annually from the hundreds who submit.) To maximize your chances, do some homework before sending anything in. “Go to galleries to get familiar with what they’re showing,” says Gloria Rabinowitz, an artist who heads New York Artists Online (newyorkartists.net), a virtual exhibition space for area artists. “Then you can send your artwork to the ones that best fit your work.” When you do, keep it simple with a DVD or an e-mail with links to your site. (Hi-res photos that crash computers won’t make you any friends.) Some galleries won’t even look at submissions, but that’s where your networking comes in handy. “Many times galleries will pick up an artist when one of their artists recommends or champions a friend,” Cavello adds.
STEP 4: Find money. It might seem too good to be true, but it is possible for an upstart artist to get some government funding. Groups like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (lmcc.net) already have applications online for various 2009 programs, and last year NYFA awarded 144 fellowships (worth $7,000 apiece) to artists who made it through a panel-review process. But don’t expect a wheelbarrow of money to be dumped at your door, because most grants are project-specific. “People will call and say, ‘I want money to fund my art,’ but not many places will do that anymore,” says Christa Blatchford, NYFA’s program officer for artist learning. “I encourage artists to look for grants only after they have a specific project in mind.” Likewise, you might want to consider applying for more meat-and-potato offerings, like the ones that provide supplies or workspace. Hey, you need those, too.
STEP 5: Find space. For $300 per month you can join a collective like 3rd Ward in Williamsburg (3rdward.com), a one-stop multiarts space that gives members access to a digital media lab, wood shop, metal shop and photo studios. And they host events and parties where you can trade notes with like-minded creatives. Consider joining a co-op gallery that’s owned and run by the artists who exhibit there. Places like Phoenix Gallery (phoenix-gallery.com) and Ceres Gallery (ceresgallery.org) will give you guaranteed exhibition space for an initiation fee and monthly dues. “You just show what you want to and build whatever following you can,” says New York Artists Online’s Rabinowitz, who once earned a positive review from a New York Times critic who saw one of her co-op shows. (See? It does happen.)
STEP 6: Wait for the dough to roll in. Lots of overhead (paint and canvases ain’t cheap) means that you’ll be scraping by for a while. However, says Rabinowitz, “It is possible to support yourself. Many of the artists on my site do, but they really have to market it.” Indeed, Westwood’s Cavello optimistically notes, “Our prices for selected emerging artists’ initial work have been in the low thousands. ” And David Nolan Gallery’s Chan knew of some who sold early works for $10,000. But if you do score a deal like that, make sure you don’t spend it all on palette knives—the gallery typically gets a 50 percent cut.
Employment in numbers
6,200 new jobs in leisure & hospitality
According to Martin Kohll of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industries have benefitted in the past year, with a 2 percent hike in new positions added, including hotel and restaurant jobs, because all those visitors need somewhere to stay and something to eat.
Profit from tourists
STEP 1: Find a niche. Forty-six million people visited our fair city last year, 8.76 million of which were from the land of the euro. You can get a piece of this $28 billion pie—and you don’t have to dance around in your undies in Times Square to do it. “I’m an accidental entrepreneur,” says Bret Watson, founder of Watson Adventures (watsonadventures.com), a company that hosts scavenger hunts in museums and other historic locations. “I first did it as a goof for friends, but people started saying, ‘You could charge for this.’” David Freedenberg, a.k.a. Famous Fat Dave (famousfatdave.com), the Checker Cab driver who shuttles wide-eyed visitors around the city on food tours, also began by supplying his service to his buddies. “I thought the idea was crazy and nobody would pay me to do it,” he says. “It still blows my mind.”
STEP 2: Go legit. Unless you just make an occasional macaroni portrait of the NYC skyline (that you hawk when no one’s looking), your new company will have to be licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs (nyc.gov/consumers). Giving tours? The DCA licenses tour guides, too. (The test costs $50 for two attempts and takes about an hour; if you get 97 out of 150 questions correct you’re cleared to pay another $50 for a two-year license. “I got a 103 without studying, but it’s actually a very hard test,” says Freedenberg. “About half the questions are a page long that you have to read through. It’s harder than the SATs.”) And then there’s tax law, copyright, insurance, liability—in short, get ready to hit the books. For a detailed description of all the laws that govern New York businesses, check the lists on the DCA’s website, under the “Publications” subheading.
STEP 3: Minimize risk. Having your own business isn’t cheap, so play it safe by hanging on to that day job and moonlighting for a while. Says Georgette Blau, founder of On Location Tours, Inc. (screentours.com), “I maxed out credit cards getting it off the ground. And I hadn’t been working that hard before I launched. Big mistake! Definitely give it a year if you can.” When you’re finally ready to join the game, time it to the peak tourist season: According to NYC & Company (the city’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organization), 12.5 million visitors will have swarmed our streets between June and August this year—and they all have money to burn.
STEP 4: Market yourself. If you build it, they might not come. “It’s more like, ‘Build it and now go shout about it,’ ” says Watson. Word of mouth takes time, so force the issue. Get your company into any publication that has editorial listings (like this one!) and start a blog. “If you’re updating it and people are linking to you, that puts you to the top of a Google search,” explains Freedenberg. Or just drop some money on Google AdWords (adwords.google.com), which is cheap target marketing that costs only five bucks initially, plus a one-cent cost per click.
STEP 5: Know what you’re getting into. “I’m not getting rich, but I’m paying the rent,” says Freedenberg, who’s earning a master’s at Columbia in public administration, just in case. According to Blau, you might not become a millionaire, “but being really well supported is possible.” Luckily, this job is about more than money. “I don’t have to go to midtown at 9am,” says Freedenberg, who loves that he gets to talk to folks for a living. Then there’s the flexibility. “Special-event spending is down,” says Brian Foley, cofounder of NY Statues (nystatues.com), a three-artist collective that performs as living statues. “I specifically built a statue costume for Central Park to capitalize on the tourist influx, and recouped the cost in the first two days.”
Employment in numbers
4,900 new jobs in healthcare
Yes, you want a job that gives back to the community—and you also happen to know that you'd look pretty sexy in a lab coat. Lucky for you, new health-care jobs shot up 1.2 percent in NYC since last year.
Live off the rich
STEP 1: Have the right background. Getting any job catering to the wealthy—whether as a private chef or personal assistant—requires that you are able to impress the not-so-easily impressed. In other words, you need skills. Robin Baron, of high-end residential interior-design firm Robin Baron Design, admits that while a degree from a top school is nice, you will have learned very little about what it takes to actually be in the business. After graduation, she recommends starting at entry level and getting paid to learn and interact with clients as a professional. With that basic background, the job clincher is often simply how well you click with your potential employer. “People skills are really important in terms of being successful in this market,” Baron says. “People can pretty much sum you up within the first 30 seconds of meeting you, so how you look and how you carry yourself matters. They don’t teach that in school.”
STEP 2: Search smart. Manhattan’s elite chooses from the cream of the crop; this is simply not a market you can sneak your way into. Word of mouth is key. “You have to have worked in restaurants to begin with,” says Paul Hassett of his 16-year job as author Jean Stein’s private chef. “You have to have an idea of what working in a kitchen really is, and what’s involved.”
Before delving into the world of personal service, Hassett had already racked up experience in restaurants around the country, including his own, Tarje, in Connecticut. While freelancing for a caterer in the city, he learned of a private-chef position. At his interview—he auditioned by preparing dinner for Stein and her husband—he was offered the job on the spot. “I sort of fell into being a private chef, which probably happens to many people who do this type of job,” says Hassett. “I don’t think a lot of people even realize these jobs are out there.”
But they are out there. If your impeccable résumé and schmoozing with your friend’s rich uncle don’t land you a sweet gig, look to a personal-service staffing firm, such as local agencies like Pavillion Agency (pavillionagency.com), Sterling Lifestyle (sterlinglifestyle.com), Fortune Employment Agency (fortunenanny.com) and Celebrity Staffing Services (canyceleb-staffing.com). At Pavillion, which focuses on filling nanny, housekeeper and private chef positions, “We look for someone with long-term experience with families, good skills and flexibility,” says president Clifford Greenhouse.
STEP 3: Understand the commitment. Be prepared to be someone’s bitch. “Your life is not your own,” says one rap mogul’s former assistant (neither can be named due to a confidentiality agreement). “Very The Devil Wears Prada.”
Still, if you can stick it out, check your ego and consistently prove yourself invaluable, the rewards can far outweigh the frustrations. Executive personal assistants earn from $75,000 per year, on top of occasional access to their employer’s glamorous lifestyle.
“I earn a salary comparable to any of the top chefs in the city,” says Hassett, who only has to prepare two meals a day, never works weekends, never works holidays and never will. “A number of my friends are still working in restaurants and I keep telling them, ‘Find a job like mine!’”
Employment in numbers
1,900 new jobs in education
Stop fiddling with your iPhone and pay attention: Despite the city's jittery budget, jobs in the education sector are on the rise, with a healthy 0.6 percent increase in new positions in the past year.
Quit your job and freelance
STEP 1: Can you handle it? Ah, the pleasures of the freelance life: avoiding the dreary commute, cherry-picking your projects and weeping over A Baby Story at 2 in the afternoon. But before you send your boss that “Go eff yourself!” e-mail, consider the financial security, social interaction and health insurance your current nine-to-five affords you, and compare any office hell with the stress of, say, not being able to pay rent. Still ready to trade in the watercooler for an empty fridge? Then proceed with cautious optimism. Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union, says, “Find what you love to do. Freelance isn’t always easy, but it can be very fulfilling.”
STEP 2: Get ready to go it alone. Preparing for your future dream no-job while still earning a paycheck will make it less likely that you’ll have to temp or, worse, get bailed out by Mom and Dad when your first six months prove fiscally disastrous. “Build yourself up before you quit,” says Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide and the upcoming My So-Called Freelance Life. “Squirrel away as much money as you can. Ideally, you’ll have enough to cover your start-up costs, like a new computer and Internet service, as well as six months of living expenses.”
STEP 3: Test the waters. Meanwhile, take projects you can fit into your off-hours (sologig.com and freelanceswitch.com both list job ops). Remember, doing freelance business on company time—and on the company’s computer, phone or stationery—is tantamount to stealing from the supply closet, so do it at your own risk. “Your cubicle is not your freelance HQ,” says Goodman. “Go on a ‘cigarette break,’ and take your cell phone out of the building to make freelance calls.” Better to wake up a couple hours early or use your lunch hour to complete those tasks; at the very least, keep your freelance-related e-mails on your personal BlackBerry. Leave the daily grind on good terms, and you could even parlay your employer into your first client on a consultancy or by-project basis.
STEP 4: Be a tough boss. Once you’ve said sayonara to your former coworkers, it’s time to make freelance your full-time job. That means 40 hours a week, same as every other desk jockey works. “It’s easy to piddle away the entire day,” says Goodman. “No, you won’t have a Monday morning staff meeting to go to, but you will be responsible for more accounting—filing taxes, submitting and paying invoices—that you won’t get paid for and will take up about 25 percent of your time.”
STEP 5: Sell your mad skills. Hustling is part of the job too. Besides advertising, you can improve your chances of landing paying gigs by meeting the right people—in other words, your so-called competition. “Meet other freelancers as soon as possible,” Goodman says. “They’re your best chance for referrals. They won’t give you their client lists, but it’s possible they’ll have spillover work that they can pass on to you. Word of mouth is far superior to online listings for jobs.”
STEP 6: Find your community. “Get out of your house and out of your pajamas,” says Horowitz. “Your network is good for support—and to help you through a dry spell.” Lucky for you, NYC is a haven for employer-free types, especially in the finance, advertising, nonprofit, health and media industries, with focused resource providers and networking groups. Seek out Listservs, associations and other communities specific to your chosen field, for events, newsletters and job-posting boards. Avail yourself of the workshops, parties and other offerings (health insurance, namely) of organizations like the Freelancers Union (freelancersunion.org), which also advocates for independent workers’ (i.e., your) rights. And if leaving the apartment ceases to be an option, check out biznik.com, a social-networking site for self-employed stiffs just like you.
Employment in numbers
2,200 new jobs in computer systems design
The past year saw a huge surge—you've only got to visit the Meatpacking District and find all those Google workers wandering around to see the 5.1 percent growth in this sector.