Strategies to Defy your Career’s “Use By” Date

By: Doug Freeman

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 Dateon you and your career as an age 50+ professional. (By “professional,” I mean that you are skilled, knowledgeable and experienced in about any type of career area.)

Maybe you haven’t noticed such a date. But if you’ve applied for jobs, I assure you that the job application algorithms or hiring/interviewing staffers have seen 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 may be to go into business for yourself.

Yes… entrepreneurship can be scary in some ways and there are hoops to jump through in launching a solo business. No… it’s not like having job security as an employee (in reality, there is no job security in most industries these days). And you don’t have the brand or market presence of an established company behind you. Yes… there are plenty of excuses for not appreciating the value you can offer organizations within and outside the industry sector of your experience.

Get over it. Move forward. The reality is that self-employment may be your only career option, depending upon your industry and the market for your skills. With some courage, resiliency, resourcefulness and entrepreneurial thinking, you can do this.

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.

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 – Be careful not to limit the application of your skills across sectors/industries. Don’t 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. That game is not a sustainable, quality-driven business model. 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 – Unless you’ve been locked away incommunicado for years in your previous work, you have a network of clients and contacts available for marketing outreach. Communicate and collaborate with these individuals, letting them know what you now do. 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 very high percentage are awarded to vendors the contract managers already know and trust. The fact is that being in business for yourself and succeeding is all about relationships and, then, reliable performance.
  • 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. Therefore, you must have a clear idea about their current or potential problems for your customized pitch.
  • Focus – Just because project or contract opportunities arise doesn’t mean that all of them deserve an investment of your time and effort to pursue them. Concentrate on the best fits for the services you have to offer and the types of work you’re most interested in doing.
  • 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. How about focusing on a Best if used by date? That’s a date set by your clients but it’s all about your value. 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.

By Doug Freeman, of Ideascape Inc., is writing a book on career strategies for age 50+ professionals while still providing business communications services to clients across the U.S.

You can reach Doug at: (