Older workers are often viewed as being 'past their use-by date'

"You are best used by any date when clients want their project completed on time, on budget, the highest quality, with someone they’d love to work with many more times."

By Doug Freeman, Ideascape Inc.

Let’s talk “use by” dates. No, not the ones on your cereal or that questionable looking take-out leftover in the back of your fridge. I’m referring to the supposed use by date on you and your career as an age 50+ professional. By “professional,” I mean that you are skilled, knowledgeable and experienced in any type of career area.

If you’ve applied for jobs, I assure you that the job application algorithms or hiring/interviewing staffers have noted it. And, fair or not, they’ve quickly determined that your shelf-life, desirability or potential contribution to their work culture cuisine isn’t a good fit.

The job market for age 50+ workers is tough and likely won’t get any better in the near-term. Therefore, one of your best options to minimise this form of ageism may be to go into business for yourself.

Start by developing a simple business plan. It identifies elements such as the skills and knowledge you plan to offer via your services as well as your value proposition, niche market to start with, fee range, and marketing strategy. Of course, there’s more to starting a business but this is a good initial action plan.

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Based on my more than 30 years of self-employment as a freelancer/contractor/startup co-owner, here are some key lessons learned to achieve success in this arena:

  • Generalize your skills – Don’t limit the application of your skills across sectors/industries. Never think that your skills only apply to a narrow market niche you’ve worked within already. Test the boundaries by looking for opportunities on the fringes and even outside “your industry.”
  • Value your value – In many industries and work areas, you face a global marketplace that competes only on price. It’s often a race to the bottom for hourly or project rates. Be aware of the market rate for the clients you want to target but set your fees so they reflect the value you offer.
  • Leverage your professional network – You likely have a network of clients and contacts available for marketing outreach. Your contacts can provide referrals and alert you to unadvertised contracts. Just so you know, most contract projects are not advertised and even when they are, a high percentage are awarded to vendors the contract managers already know and trust.
  • Do your homework on target clients – Before you contact or pitch prospective clients or customers, do some research. Get a solid understanding of their business, including how they operate, who their customers are, their position in their market, their business style and branding, the key challenges they face, and their competition. As a consultant or service provider, you offer a solution customized for them in your pitch.
  • Continuously market yourself – Even during times when you have plenty of work, never stop marketing. It’s far better to turn down projects than to suffer dry spells. And every opportunity, seized or not, is a chance to open new relationships and establish valuable contacts.

So, the point I’m making is that it’s critical to re-frame your work strategy as an entrepreneur. You are best used by any date when clients want their project completed on time, on budget, the highest quality, with someone they’d love to work with many more times. It’s a matter of you offering them the best by helping to make them the best.

If you’re still working, do you ever feel like you’re viewed as past your use by date?