Certification for Freelancers and Home-Based Business Owners
When we think of technical certification, most of us think of the seemingly endless jumble of letters that follow the names of information technology experts-MCSE, MCSA, A+, CCNA, etc. These certifications serve as standardized, objective validations that the person holding them possesses a certain set of skills and a certain level of professional competency.
In today's increasingly competitive business environment, however, certifications aren't just for "computer geeks." There are now a number of highly valuable certifications available in areas beyond information technology. If you are a work-at-home parent or a freelance professional in any field, investing the time and effort to get a non-technical or semi-technical certification can reap tremendous benefits.
Why get certified? I believe that there are three fundamental reasons for you to consider adding a professional certification to your freelance portfolio.
First, just like the classic IT certifications, holding a professional certification demonstrates that you are competent. It's one thing to state on your resume, website or promotional materials that you know how to use Microsoft Word, but it's quite another to state that you are a Microsoft-Certified Office Specialist in Word. The difference is just one passable exam, but to a business considering who to hire for a freelance word processing or data management project the difference is significant.
That brings me to the second advantage. As a freelancer (or the owner of an at-home business services business), being certified always gives you a "leg up" on the competition. This is particularly true if you are fairly new to the freelance market and haven't yet acquired an impressive list of satisfied clients. Holding a certification is a quick and reliable way of letting prospective clients know that you are a professional.
Finally, certification in a relevant field can enable you to parlay entry-level freelance jobs into more lucrative contracts. Data entry work, for instance, is typically one of the most available freelance opportunities; unfortunately, it is also usually the worst paying. Microsoft certification in Access or as a database administrator can help a data entry freelancer transition to a database design and management contract. Today, there are professional certifications to facilitate such a business development strategy for freelancers in virtually every field.
Here's a look at the best certifications for freelancers and work-at-home professionals.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) offers the most widely-recognized vendor neutral certifications in the world. As the name suggests, most of their certifications are in the IT field; however, many are valuable for freelancers of all stripes.
For general business services, including any type of consulting service, CompTIA's Project+ is invaluable. Project+, as the company's website states, is "a global credential that validates the knowledge required to effectively manage projects throughout the entire project life cycle." In addition to project management basics, the exam includes skills such as conflict resolution, negotiation, and team building. In short, holding Project+ certification demonstrates that you know how to do what the typical MBA graduate has only learned about. Yet, there is no academic requirement for the Project+, and the exam, though rigorous, is definitely passable for those willing to study. Sitting for the Project+ exam costs $207 USD, but you can almost always find discount test vouchers online for about $150.
CompTIA's e-Biz+ certification demonstrates a degree of proficiency in the concepts, issues and technologies of IT-enabled business processes. Don't panic, though-you won't have to memorize html code! Rather, e-Biz+ demonstrates knowledge of e-commerce, e-marketing and other issues related to maximizing the benefit of utilizing technology in a business environment. This certification could be highly valuable for freelancers and work-at-home professionals working as business consultants, or for those with Internet-based businesses. The retail exam fee for the e-Biz+ test is currently $225.
CompTIA also offers the i-Net+ certification. This exam covers Internet basics, web development, networking and security issues. Don't let the word "networking" scare you, though. This is a semi-technical certification that is of far more value to e-commerce and marketing freelancers than to network administrators. The i-Net+ exam currently costs $207.
You don't need to be a networking guru to benefit from the prestige and recognition of official Microsoft certification. The company also offers universally-recognized certification options for end users of the Office suite and Microsoft Project.
Microsoft Office certification is available at three levels. For certification as a Specialist, you must pass an exam in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Access. That's right-you're just one test away from being Microsoft certified!
The next level is Expert certification. That requires the passage of a somewhat more rigorous exam. Currently, the expert-level tests are only available for Word and Excel.
To attain Master certification, the candidate must pass a total of four exams: Word 2003 Expert, Excel 2003 Expert, PowerPoint 2003 and either Access 2003 or Outlook 2003. That's a lot of tests, but holding Microsoft Office Master Certification can really set a freelancer apart in the eyes of a prospective client. Test vouchers for each Microsoft exam can be found online for approximately $70.
Like the rest of the global business climate, the world of freelancing and self-employment grows more competitive every day. Professional certification is not a panacea that will guarantee success, but it can certainly help you stay ahead of the competition and win new clients.
RELATED ARTICLESSeeking A New Job While Currently Employed : Tiptoeing Through the Minefield
So, you currently have a job but you are looking for something a little better. You are getting tired, uptight, and maybe just a little stressed out. This is a dangerous time ? the time when job seekers can turn into wing nuts and make key mistakes. So, how do you avoid tripping over those pesky landmines, you know - your current boss, workmates, and customers - and still carry out an effective job search?
An interview is much like a blind date. You have sweaty palms, heart palpitations, shaky nerves and a preconceived notion of what could happen. The perfect scenario unfolds in your mind, where you are calm, cool and collected, dressed smartly, totally in control, enthusiastically meeting the other person's gaze and brimming with confidence. However, that idea has begun to unravel, because as of right now, you are LATE, because you got lost, forgot your resume, wore a shirt that is making you sweat and have pulled a muscle breaking in new shoes. As you are being led to the boardroom, you're informed that your possible Superiors will be sitting in. Panic sets in with the realization that this blind date is over before it even begun.
Career Search from Within
Seeking meaningful and fulfilling work can become a discouraging, confusing and overwhelming journey. Beware spending too much time looking for your answers outside of yourself. Ultimately, coming to know our right livelihood is the inner work of our whole being.
No Experience? No Problem!
Are you a new graduate with little or no work experience? Sometimes it can be tough to get a job without experience, and how do you get more experience if you can't get a job?
When and How to Say I Just Cant Do It!
We naturally hesitate to tell our boss when we can't do something or are feeling overwhelmed in our job. Bosses don't want to hear that, right? Well, it depends.
In many situations, your boss is so busy that he/she doesn't keep track of how much work you're doing. When your boss gives you a new project, he's not thinking about all the other projects you're already working on.
And here's the kicker -- unless you speak up and tell your boss that you can't handle the workload he's giving you, he'll assume everything is fine.
This can have bad consequences for you AND your boss. You know what will happen. Eventually things will start falling through the cracks or you'll rush through tasks and start making mistakes.
You can only do so much in a day, and deadlines will be missed. While you're stressing out, work that your boss needs you to do is NOT being done.
When this happens, your boss will not appreciate your excuse: "But I had too much to do, I was overloaded with work!" Saying that AFTER the fact will be much worse than telling your boss up front -- before mistakes occur or deadlines are missed -- that you're having trouble with your workload.
It is your responsibility to tell your boss when you are overwhelmed, and there's nothing wrong with doing this.
Of course, you don't want to tell your boss, "I can't do that; I'm too busy." But you can say, "I'll be happy to take that on, but I need your help with prioritizing the other projects you've already given me. Which jobs can I put on hold or delegate to someone else while I work on this new one?"
That's way better than keeping your mouth shut, trying to do too much, and failing miserably.
Do You Have the courage to ignore the experts?
Do you have the courage to ignore the experts? Do you have the willingness and ability to understand and use the power that is within you? Courage is that state of mind when you do something that you know is right for you and your loved ones and the rest of the world thinks you're mad. The ability to make the decision and then make it happen. Courage is not progressing through life with gay abandon, ignoring all the fears. Quite the contrary. Courage is an understanding of fear. An understanding of what to fear and what not to fear. Courage is the ability to challenge what is deemed to be common sense.
Cover Letter Warning: Watch Out For the BIG BAD WORD!
The #1 Job Search Mistake To Avoid: Not Preparing Your Mind!
Mental preparation is probably your most important task as you proceed in your job search. This not only needs to be worked on right from the start, but also on an ongoing basis.
Writing Great Cover Letters
Cover letters are an essential ingredient to your complete résumé package. This is the best opportunity for you to demonstrate your personal character, knowledge of the company and your business writing skills.
The following is a relatively generic format for creating your cover letter. Note that most cover letters are designed to target a specific company or at least a specific industry.
You must spark the employer's interest. Focus on your unique characteristics, whether they are based on experience or personal traits that will benefit the company. Don't simply restate your résumé objective statement. You must command attention, not simply alert the employer that you are applying for a position (they already know that!).
Provide more detail about your professional qualifications or relevant educational background. Highlight your professional accomplishments and/or achievements, not responsibilities. Use active verbs when describing things that you have done and back it up with a statistic or concrete fact when possible. Tailor this paragraph to the position that you are applying for.
Demonstrate knowledge of the company, their industry, and the challenges that they may be facing. This is where you connect what the company needs in an employee and the skills that you bring to the table. You want to implicitly show your knowledge of the company without regurgitating something you read on the company's website. Alluding to general industry trends that are affecting the company will let the employer know that you can see the big picture and how your position affects the company's strategy.
This is the final paragraph of most cover letters. You should demonstrate your confidence and enthusiasm in working at the organization. Be sure to include a call to action, requesting an appointment with the decision maker (using the word appointment over the word interview helps make you sound more confident and professional). It is also recommended that you alert the employer that you will follow up with them, usually one week after sending your résumé package.
10 Ways to Speed-Up Your Job Search Effort
Today everyone knows at least one person who has lost their job to down-sizing, right-sizing, cut-backs, production reduction or a mean, vicious "bogus leader" who could care less about your family, your life or your existence at the company. This may sound a bit overboard, but everyone has probably experienced the manager, supervisor or company leader from hell, and if you haven't just stick around.
Invest in Your Career Change--Put Your Money Where Your Dream Is
You say you want a new career, you say you want to start your own business, you say you'd love to be a freelance writer and travel more but are you serious? Can I really believe you? Are you investing in your dream?
Hot Business Trends for 2004? And Beyond: Maybe One Will Turn Into a Creative Business Idea for You
I always look forward to the December issue of Entrepreneur magazine. That's the issue that features the publisher's annual pick of hot businesses, markets, and trends for smart entrepreneurs ? or those who aspire to be.
Some of the high tech businesses cited like mobile gaming or online learning tend to require six and seven figure start up costs. This can seem daunting (although not impossible) for the person just venturing into self-employment. So I've decided to focus on the markets, trends, and businesses that speak to someone operating on a somewhat more limited budget. Let's start with hot markets:
HOT MARKET: Middle-Aged Women
Since I've recently entered my last year in my 40s, I thought it only appropriate to start with this group (although like most boomers, I still have a hard time thinking of myself as anything close to "middle aged"). Not surprisingly, products and services for women in their 40s and 50s that center around anti-aging and menopause are hot. The magazine cites such promising areas as counseling, exercise spas, yoga, smoking cessation programs? any product or service that helps women stay healthy and feel good about themselves ? both inside and out.
The reference to smoking cessation got me thinking? Residential treatment facilities for other forms of substance abuse are common- place, but I've personally never seen a retreat, spa, or other residential-type place specifically aimed at people who need help quitting smoking, and who would benefit from doing so outside their home environment. I'm picturing morning walks, meditation, massage, support groups, good food, and of course, lots and lots of punching bags!
HOT MARKET: Toddlers/Tweens/Teens
According to market research firm Packaged Facts, last year 5 to 14 year olds spent $10 billion on food and beverages. Other favorite product areas for kids are sports, fashion, music, and technology.
And apparently home décor and remodeling isn't just for adults anymore (who knew?). Stores like IKEA and Pottery Barn are starting to selling home furnishing products aimed at teens.
With baby boomers having more discretionary income with which to spoil their grandchildren, babies and toddlers have also become hot markets. Online start-up ELittle Luxuries offers designer baby furniture and more than 600 other upscale baby items. (http://www.eLittleLuxuries.com)
HOT MARKET: Overweight People
After reading how much kids spend on food and beverages, it's no surprise that 15% of children and teens are overweight. But we adults have them beat. A whopping 64% of Americans are considered obese or overweight. Businesses that offer products and services to help people slim down and develop more healthy habits are the most obvious. But entrepreneurs willing to think outside the "solve the problem" box by looking for ways to make overweight people's lives easier verses trying to fix them, will also do well.
HOT MARKET: Metrosexuals
With the enormous appeal of stylish soccer super star David Beckham and shows like Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where gay men help straight men with fashion, grooming, home décor, and social skills, a growing number of heterosexual men are allowing themselves to tap into their fashionable side.
One enterprising guy who jumped into the metrosexual market early has seen phenomenal growth. With $20,000 and a dream, Tom Granese launched Regiments, an online store that sells high-end grooming products for men. Less than two years later, Tom opened his first storefront in Dallas with a projected $210,000 in first year in-store sales.
HOT MARKET: Hispanics
The Hispanic market is certainly nothing new ? in fact it's made Entrepreneur's list for many years now. The magazine cites opportunities in anything from food and entertainment, to financial services and Web services.
Now let's look at two of Entrepreneur's picks for hot trends in 2004?
HOT TREND: Outdoor Living Spaces
Into gardening or design? According to Joanne Kostecky of the American Nursery & Landscape Association, and president of her own garden design company, the concept of outdoor living rooms that is so popular in the south and some urban areas is beginning to reach the rest of the country. The fact that more consumers are investing in courtyards and elaborate gardens means the gardening and outdoor design businesses are bound to grow!
HOT TREND: Fast-Casual Food
Health and taste conscious consumers on the go are turning to fast- casual restaurants and chains. In my own small town of Northampton, two of the more popular joints are benefiting from the fast-casual boom. One serves upscale burritos (my favorite is the Thai burritos) and the other is a hip soup, salad, and sandwich joint that opened in a greatly remodeled former Taco Bell restaurant.
Idea: Back in my old softball days I always wished someone would cater to all those hungry players and fans by starting a high quality food wagon.
Other Hot Trends? Boating and water sports, the hunger for low- carb foods (a trend being taken seriously by restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers), oils and sauces, and multiculturalism which includes the gay and lesbian markets.
Hot markets and hot trends lead to hot businesses. Here are some of Entrepreneur's picks?
HOT BUSINESS: Children's Enrichment Programs
With so many parents in the workforce, more kids than ever before are engaged in extracurricular and after school activities. If you like the idea of working with kids, you can opt to open a physical location like a gym, dance or art studio, or camp, take your program into the schools, or provide private lessons.
If you think opening your own place is financially out of reach, think again. While $12,000 is no small sum of money, it's a lot less than a lot of people might expect they'd need to shell out to start their own dance studio. But that's how much former dance student turned instructor Archer Alstaettter dug up in cash and credit cards to found Dance Emotion in Irvine, California. That was five years ago. Today Archer's studio has 500 clients and expects 600-plus to be enrolled by spring. You go Archer!
HOT BUSINESS: Home Improvement
Remodeling, refurbishing, and redecorating are all the rage. There are some 30 cable shows on home improvement alone. And home improvement isn't all about décor. Worth noting are businesses that help home owners maximize the space they have as well as those making homes more accessible to an aging population. (To read about a unique, highly successful, and legitimate home business opportunity that matches home owners with reputable home repair contractors go to http://www.ChangingCourse.com/hrnsuccess.htm)
HOT BUSINESS: Yoga & Pilates
According to Entrepreneur, companies are bending over backwards to cater to the growing market of people practicing yoga. Clothes, mats, DVDs, music, and classes aimed at seniors, pregnant women and children as young as three are just a few products and services aimed at this growing market.
And with a reported 47 million Americans taking Pilates, a work out that builds abdominal muscles, opportunities abound for gym owners and instructors alike. If you like the idea of teaching Pilates, studio owner Maria Leone recommends starting out by keeping overhead low. She suggests renting space for one-on-one sessions from a small gym or chiropractic office. Fees for a typical Pilates session range from $50 to $70 an hour. Meditate on that!
HOT BUSINESS: Upscale Pet Services
According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, Americans spent an estimated $31 billion on pets in 2003. A few of the luxury services cited include pet hotels complete with heated floors, limousine rides, day cruises, and personal shoppers. And apparently the spa trend has extended to the pet world with exfoliating treatments, aromatherapy, liposuction (I kid you not), and chiropractic services.
HOT BUSINESS: Outsourcing
Outsourcing is one of those good new-bad news things. If your job is being eliminated because it's cheaper for your company to outsource functions like HR, accounting, and network security, then outsourcing is a bad thing. Outsourcing is particularly hot in IT ? and when it comes to outsourcing jobs overseas, it's also controversial. The good news for freelancers is the federal government plans to open 850,000 jobs to outsourcing, with $85 billion in federal IT contracts to be awarded over the next three years
Other Hot Businesses: Spas, organic foods, online matchmaking, senior care, wireless, tech security, and voiceover IP (VoIP).
If you believe as I do that it's better to be the boss, than to have one, why not make 2004 the year you start putting your entrepreneurial plans into action? You don't have to quit your job or mortgage your home to get the ball rolling. You might resolve to do some research, start putting together a business plan, take a course on marketing, glass blowing, woodworking, web design, or whatever sparks your fancy, get certified to teach yoga, buy a book on how to launch a successful on-line business, start a Barbara Sher style Success Team? or just order a subscription to Entrepreneur.
If you don't already subscribe to Entrepreneur you can do so at http://www.Entrepreneur.com. The site also features a ton of free resources for anyone who already is ? or dreams of ? working for themselves. For other free resources for people who want to start their own businesses visit http://www.ChangingCourse.com/newbiz.htm
Okay, but what if you don't see a trend, market, or business here that speaks to you? Then find the one that does! I had a client who is crazy for horses and photography. It took me all of 30 seconds on Google.com to find a group called the Equine Photographers Network.
In addition to their conference this February in Florida, the group offers a free public online discussion group with over 700 members who range from top-of-their-field working pros to amateur photographers to magazine editors and writers to horse owners, all interested in improving their equine photography skill and knowledge. Learn all about the Equine Photographers Network at http://www.EquinePhotographers.net.
The way to find the "hottest" business idea for you is to get in touch with the passion that burns the brightest in your heart. Then make 2004 the year resolve to you take those first bold steps on behalf of your dream!
Job Interviews: Answering Whats Your Greatest Weakness?
Many interview guides advise candidates to answer the common "What's your greatest weakness?" question with a positive trait disguised as a weakness. For example, "I tend to expect others to work as hard as I do," or "I'm a perfectionist."
Career Change: Success Tips
Successful career change is based on first making an honest assessment of your skills and experiences. Then you match them against the current market conditions. Finally you set realistic goals. Here are five strategies to keep in mind when changing careers:
Plan for a longer job search.
Changing industries requires research, which requires time. Assess your financial situation and make realistic decisions. You may have to consider an interim position or part-time work or even volunteering to bridge to your new career and gain valuable experience.
Resume Writing Tips
Resume Writing doesn't have to be a solo gig
Business & Career: Know Your Ruling Star!
"Know your Ruling Star. One man is better received by one nation than another, or is one welcome by one city than another. He finds more luck in one office or position than in another, and all though his qualifications are equal or even identical. Let each man know his luck as well as his talents. Follow your guiding star and help it without mistaking any other for it. Know how to transplant yourself. There are nations with whom one must cross their borders to make one's value felt."- Balthasar Gracian, (Spain, 1600's)
Are You Busy Living or Dying?
If you are not busy living, then you must be busy dying. Most of us do this subconsciously and are unaware of which side of this equation we reside on. It must follow then that if you have lots of money, you are probably busy living and living well. Everybody wants more money. But is it the money itself or is it the freedom it buys? Lots of money = lots of freedom.
Tell Me About Yourself
The need to tell people about yourself may present itself during an informal conversation with a colleague, on the Little League field with a neighbor, on the phone with a past acquaintance, or in a face-to-face meeting for a job opportunity. "Tell me about yourself" is a favorite question that has befuddled many an unsuspecting candidate.
An RX For Your Résumé
Whether you are an accountant, virtual assistant, or a corporate executive, your job skills are constantly refined. A new sales presentation you've organized or the new spreadsheet package you've mastered should be included on your résumé. You may have new skills that could turn your dead-end job into a new career in another field. If you update your résumé continually, it makes it easier to send it out at a moments notice. Your résumé should be well written, typeset and laser printed. It should also be suited for your targeted employer and field, focusing on your key experience. It should be free of all grammatical errors and appealing to the eye.
Preventing The Runaway Candidate
Municipal and law enforcement officials in Georgia are still calculating the final costs associated with the "runaway bride". Much like the runaway bride, the "runaway candidate" can have a devastating effect upon a potential employer. In today's competitive market for top candidates, most employers consider a candidate "onboard" once they have accepted the job and signed their offer letter. I would counter we're not at the finish line, or "honeymoon", just yet.