By Vickie Elmer
The world is full of slashes – people who are earning most of their living in one field, but starting up in another. There's the barista-artist and the lawyer – novelist and the energy consultant – photographer.
Yet those slash careers, which engage and encourage you and diversify your sources of income may confuse others or put them off. This may be true especially if one of your slash careers seems frivolous or a little funny (as mine does) or not in line with your main career choice.
So even as you embrace your split focus, consider carefully how you characterize yourself before you head out for a sales meeting or professional mixer.
"It's important to establish your credibility in the situation you're in," said Marci Alboher, author of the book One Person/Multiple Careers and a slash herself (She works full-time for Civic Ventures encouraging older people toward "encore careers" and speaks and promotes her books too). A few years ago, she wrote a column for the New York Times on small business, which established her credibility.
When you have multiple careers simultaneously, choose the one with "the most cachet or the most relevant to the setting you're in," Alboher said. "You really want to establish you're a player in that space," so at a marketing professional organization, introduce yourself as a marketing manager, not a princess party organizer.
"The one-size-fits-all approach never works for people who have custom blended careers," she said. "Take the time to examine your own situation; see what works for you."
Keep in mind your professional goals and guard the reputation and standing of your main income source, so it is not compromised by the start-up. Some slashes could hurt your main gig, if you're not careful.
Here's some other things to consider:
What will your clients or lawyer friends think when you show up to a law review alumni gathering with your puppets on your shoulder? Unless you're in entertainment law you may want to leave your puppetry part-time business in the background. Strive to show your professionalism and make sure you fit into whatever industry group or environment you're in.
Start by reading the employee handbook and pay careful attention to sections on outside activities, conflicts of interest and disclosure of personal pursuits. Then consider your boss's personality and perspectives – and decide how or whether to tell your boss about your new micro-enterprise. Some people want to get permission first, said Alboher. Others decide to try to the "don't ask permission, ask forgiveness" if concerns are raised.
Some slashers fit everything on one, especially when there is synergy between them: Think professional speaker and author or web designer and photographer. But others find it works better to have separate business cards and carry both of them. "Every slash combination and every profession has its own approach," she said. It's all right to pass out both cards in one setting, as long as there's a clear reason for it, or possible demand for your second income services, Alboher said.
Conflicts of Interest & Trust
Consider the potential for creating an ethical dilemma with your second or third slash career. Psychologists and social workers especially need to be careful, Albhoer said. So do journalists who write about an area and also want to participate in it (as I do in the Ann Arbor area, where my small cart-based Italian ice company Mity Nice operates). If you're not sure on this, talk to a trusted advisor or mentor about this and err on the side of caution and care.
In my case, I aim for transparency about my slash career – journalist/writer and social entrepreneur. But sometimes mentioning both seems distracting or irrelevant to the conversation at hand. Still, I usually try to bring up my primary focus - career, consumer and business writing - rather quickly, except if the temperature tops 80 degrees, the sun is blazing and the customers are lining up for some Michigan-made Italian ice.
Alboher believes in the slash lifestyle and sees huge interest in it. But she warns people not to expect to tip toe into a slash career unnoticed. "It's a lot harder to do things under the radar than it used to be," Alboher said.
Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards, large and small. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more.
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