Recently, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s conference, my first professional meeting in my new career. I learned a lot from meeting other writers, many of whom had changed careers as I did. Here are the lessons I learned.
- It takes a lot of courage to change careers. Support from a community of friends and family is critical. Key quote from author Ransom Stephens: “If your spouse doesn’t support your change, get a divorce.” While this was delivered off the cuff and is a bit overly blunt, I think it is true. He went on “Your family loves you, and want you to be happy pursuing your dream.” I am thankful every day for the love and support I get from my wife.
- Writing a book is a one person business. The author needs to not only write the book, but also do the marketing. This includes creating the website and building a following well before publication.
- A book is a startup company. Like all startup companies, as its product development passes milestones, the value of the company increases. Right now, an agent or publisher can buy my book relatively cheaply. The more progress on the book, the more its value increases.
- An author’s title from the previous world doesn’t matter. A new career means that I need to establish a new network. It’s exciting to do something completely different, but it can be a drag to have to pay the dues again. However, I have learned that most people in the new world want to help. If I act like a beginner, which I am, they are more likely to offer their help.
- Skills and experience from the previous career matter a lot. What I did before helped make me who I am today. I am writing about corporate culture and the business life. I know it well. Those skills that made me successful in the corporate world- communication, networking, planning, problem solving – they all transfer directly.
- I need to build two networks. The first is potential readers/customers who get value from my writing. The second is peers and colleagues in the writing ecosystem who can support the growth of my career. Peers are particularly important because they also provide moral support.
- Resource allocation is critical. How much time do I spend to writing, and how much building my network? According to Adam Frankl a startup marketing expert, a very new company should allocate 50% of its resources to R&D, and 50% to customer development. I will target 25% to 50% of my time to building my network.
Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience for me. Do these lessons resonate with those of you who have changed careers in other fields? I’d love to hear what you have learned. How did your family react, and how did you build your new network? And if you are thinking of making a change, my advice is to go for it. To quote my favorite Rabbi, “If not now, when?”
Adam Frankl on LinkedIn
Ransom Stephens is a writer, physicist and speaker. His lecture on becoming a writer inspired number 1 and 4 on this list.