How Does “Free From Corporate America” Apply to a Down Economy?

Harsh economic times can also pry open minds that were previously closed to certain innovations. With more traditional options off the table due to cost, all kinds of "guerrilla" initiatives may finally get a fair hearing.

Jon Reed notes, 1/17/2008: For those who are eager for new material, I recommend you check out the final “spit and polish” version of my Free From Corporate America book conclusion. I just posted it recently. Since then, I also posted a final version of one of my favorite chapters, “The Myth of Success and Failure,” so you might want to check that out also. The book itself should be available in a couple months. Home stretch.

The economy has shifted drastically, and not for the better, since I posted my first chapter draft in October of 2005. Friends and web site visitors have been asking if the economic downturn impacts any of the methodologies I present in this soon-to-be-published book. It’s a critically important question, but the short answer is a pretty easy one: no. As I work behind the scenes to finalize Free From Corporate America for publication (it should be ready in the next few months), it’s been interesting to read through the skewerings of 401ks and home ownership and careerism that I wrote years earlier.

I can’t claim to be Nostradamus; it didn’t take a genius to decide that stocks were overvalued, the market was careless and greedy, that corporations would hire and fire with impunity, and that we put too much faith in home ownership, in particular the notion that property values would always rise. It was good to see some accountability return to the market, but on the other hand, a lot of people have suffered as a result. None of it changed my resolve to get this book in print.

Needless to say, putting some of the philosophies of this book in place, such as creating income-generating assets, can help a person (or family) weather the economic storm by creating cash flow that isn’t dependent on the rickety job market.

But it’s too simple to say “if you’d followed the advice of this book, you’d be in good shape right now.” I’d be a fool to assert it, and it isn’t true at any rate. What I do feel comfortable saying is that none of the ideas put forth in this book are rendered invalid due to the economic predicaments of the present.

No one can say what the ultimate outcome of this particular financial crisis will be, and I’d recommend keeping anyone at arm’s length who thinks they do know. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, trying to mentally summon a crystal ball, and the only thing I have for you right now is not something very reassuring: everything is harder than it was before the markets crashed. That’s it. Furthering your career is harder, saving money is harder, putting the principles of this book into action is harder. That’s not chicken soup, but it is what it is.

Of course, anyone who understands investing knows that when markets sink, that’s an ideal time to pick up bargains, whether it’s cheap real estate or a blue chip stock that finally seems like a reasonable investment. I’m not going to detail these buying opportunities here, for two reasons: first, this book is about helping people get started on a better financial path who do not necessarily have sums of money already stashed away. If you have the money stashed, and now it’s a matter of investing it, then the silver lining of this kind of turmoil is that you can find numerous buying opportunities for that excess capital. There are plenty of resources to help you figure out how to spend it.

The other reason I’m not offering any buying advice is that I believe that much of the smartest investing is industry-specific. Instead of putting money where the herd is, it’s wiser to buy into something you know. Kicking tires is a big part of smart investing, and the precarious nature of the stock market should be a good lesson here. Not that buying stocks is bad, but buying into some generic investment advice that you don’t have the expertise to evaluate might be. So whether it’s a promising small business down the street, or a spouse who has a knack for haggling a price for rare books at tag sales, the best buying opportunities are going to resonate with your own expertise and interests, not with some one-size-fits-all “making money” infomercial.

As we get a better feeling for “life in lean times,” we should be sharpening our eyes for the opportunities we can capitalize on in our work lives and in our free times. For those of you who are already independent contractors or small business owners, there may be some action with outsourced functions. When companies institute hiring freezes, sometimes firms on the outside can benefit from the need for increased outsourcing during the freeze, though this cuts both ways, as I have found out with some unpleasantness of late.

How it works in reverse: companies looking to protect as many full time folks as possible can cut the cord on contractors and service providers and look to cover that work internally. But this is not always easy, as companies outsource precisely because they don’t have internal talent in that area to begin with. So it’s worth pursuing chances with companies that need skills while a hiring freeze is on – in some cases, the same skills they kicked out the door. Realizing they can’t do without those talent gaps, they are forced to contract it back in. The right place/right time can favor the savvy independent who is plugged in enough to know where the outsourced needs are in their industry.

Finally, harsh economic times can also pry open minds that were previously closed to certain innovations. With more traditional options off the table due to cost, all kinds of “guerrilla” initiatives may finally get a fair hearing. Often times, these new tactics are Internet-based, where affordability and scale can come easier. An obvious example is in the area of marketing, where social media like Twitter or even Facebook have created chances for savvy companies to engage in marketing conversations that extend their brand and deepen customer relationships. You may be able to lead the charge towards innovations that would have never gotten a fair hearing in more prosperous times.

So that’s where I’ll leave this particular entry. I need to study this market more before I make any more recommendations for navigating it properly. Most of the rules of engagement that we used to rely on have changed; we might as well admit it. Better to acknowledge that we’re not sure where we’re going than to offer a premature roadmap that sends us closer to the cliff.

Touching on social media in this chapter was no accident. Social media and “conversational marketing” has become an important part of my business model. Not only that, but when I look at the topics that were not covered sufficiently in my soon-to-be-issued book, social media is at the top of the list. The point of this web site is to allow the book’s content to move into dialogue, so for those of you who want to hear more about how social media fits into the approach I write about in Free From Corporate America, worry not, I will have more to say.

Want to buy Free From Corporate America or see reviews of the final published version from readers like yourself? The printed book is now available on with product reviews.

You can also get a discounted version of the final book in eBook (PDF) format, or you can pick up a copy on the Kindle. The published version of the book is significantly enhanced from the web version available on this site.

One thought on “How Does “Free From Corporate America” Apply to a Down Economy?

  1. Jim,

    Sorry for the delay responding to you, I have been wrapped up trying to prep my book for publication.

    Thanks for reading the material and sharing your comment. I’m glad to have a comment on here from self-described “average folks” who are living debt free, you should be commended for that effort. One of the themes of my book is the importance of not living beyond your means and managing expenses and credit carefully.

    At the same time, I do have some different perspectives on the extent of this crisis as well. It’s true that irresponsible use of credit and irresponsible lending is part of the reason for our current economic crisis, but a major factor that spread this fire was the packaging of these sub-prime mortgages into investment vehicles by so-called “Wall Street.”

    One of the big themes in my book is that even with the best effort to manage your debt, bad things can happen sometimes. I know hard working people who have lost jobs or had brutal medical bills and no amount of responsible financial practices prepared them for that moment. Suddenly they found themselves in debt. So, when you find yourselves debt free, it’s not just good practices, but good fortune, that brings you that life. Those who have it have plenty to be grateful for as well as proud of.

    To better prepare folks for such situations, a big part of my book talks about the importance of creating income-generating assets so that even if a job is lost, there is another source of income that can carry you.

    Thanks for chiming in, there are a lot of aspects to these issues, and I enabled commenting precisely to create this type of conversation.

    - Jon Reed -

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