Author Mark Herschberg of The Career Toolkit discusses his experiences turning a class into a business and working with a liquid workforce.
Teaching Skills for Career Success
Mark Herschberg has taught students at MIT and elsewhere how to network, negotiate, communicate, and lead for many years. While helping these students learn skills critical to career success was very rewarding, the impact was limited. Mark wanted to help others beyond those who were able to attend his classes. Mark says, “I never had great social skills growing up and so had to learn many of them the hard way. The focus on learning them also helped me become aware of the ‘business social skills’ that are so rarely formally taught. I actively choose to strengthen them as I did with personal social skills.”
Mark realized that he could extend his class experiences to others by publishing a book and developing an app that would enable mastery of these essential skills.
From Class to Business
Mark launched The Career Toolkit in 2019, followed by the publication of his book The Career Toolkit in September 2020. His goal with The Career Toolkit is to help others master skills like networking, communicating, leading, and career planning that often aren’t taught but are vital for career advancement. The company’s goal is to help users achieve outsized returns for their careers and incomes through the mastery of these skills. Mark says that his book is “packed with dozens of actionable principles, exercises, and practices that will accelerate your success.”
In launching his company, Mark has relied on experts for assistance in areas such as editing, web design, graphic design, book layouts, etc. “I certainly didn’t have all the expertise and didn’t need the expertise of a full-time employee. Contract workers were the logical choice.”
Mark did have some hesitations before engaging flex workers. He shares, “It can be challenging to hire, contract or full time, in a discipline in which you don’t have domain expertise. For example, I see people struggle with it when hiring software engineers since often the person doing the hiring doesn’t have enough skills to evaluate a contractor well. Although I speak English as my native language, I’m not as skilled as an editor. Nevertheless, I struggled when editors backed out. Even though I used sample edits (where they edit a few pages to demonstrate their editing) to evaluate them, I still had problems. I ultimately had to hire multiple editors when the first did an insufficient job.”
Advice for Working with a Liquid Workforce
Mark shared his tips to make it easier to ensure a successful project with a freelancer. “Ideally, you have someone in your network who can help you identify how to hire a contractor in a specific discipline. Have that person help you define what you’re looking for and how to evaluate contractors you’re considering.” He added, “Preferably, they’ll be part of the interview process for them. Once you have the first few hires, you can leverage them to help hire additional contractors.” Mark says that engaging contractors is very similar to hiring full-time employees. He notes, “1099 versus W-2 is an accounting definition; the guidelines for building teams doesn’t change.”
Mark says that listening to advice from his freelancers also helped him. He shared an experience working with a freelance proofreader. “I had an editor finish the manuscript towards the end of 2019. When the proofreader looked at it, she said it was not ready for proofreading. Looking at her notes, she was right. I scrambled to find another editor on short notice since I was now well behind on my schedule.” Mark was able to find another editor with whom he was able to build a good working relationship quickly. “In just two weeks, she did an amazing job cleaning up the manuscript.” “1099 versus W-2 is an accounting definition; the guidelines for building teams doesn’t change.” Mark Herschberg, The Career Toolkit Tweet
Life as Entrepreneur
Like most entrepreneurs, there’s no typical day for Mark. His days consist of a combination of creative thinking, lots of emails, a varying number of phone calls and meetings, and a fair amount of reading. Mark says, “The creative part is pretty unstructured since you can’t force creativity. Sometimes I’ll give up after thinking about it formally during business hours only to have an idea at night and then go right back to work on it.”
His favorite sources for business advice are two private groups, The NY CTO Club and Renaissance Weekends. Mark says, “Generally speaking I’m pretty egalitarian and don’t like invite-only groups, but such private, high-trust groups allow for a deeper discussion of issues that can’t always be shared in a more public forum like a blog.
Mark defines success as “achieving your goals. The goals themselves vary greatly, be they impact, happiness, money, creation, or anything else you want to achieve.” He’s excited to empower others to achieve their career goals with the support of The Career Toolkit.
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