Book Review: Reviews of Two Freelancing/Consulting Books
From time-to-time, as we receive career-related and job-hunting books and other resources from publishers, the staff of Quintessential Careers will review them to help you make better decisions about the best books to use in your career and job search.
Here, we offer reviews of two books about freelancing, consulting, and self-employment.
Reviewed by Katharine Hansen
Soul Proprietor: 101 Lessons from a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, by Jane Pollak, $14.95, Paperback, 200 pages, The Crossing Press; ISBN: 1580911080.
Editor’s note: See our Q&A with author Jane Pollak.
I absolutely adore anecdotes. I could read about subjects I have no interest in — say, auto mechanics — if the material contained anecdotes. Fortunately, the many anecdotes contained within Jane Pollak’s Soul Proprietor revolve around a subject that does interest me, and all the more so because of Pollak’s engaging style of laying herself bare for all the world to see both her missteps and her triumphs.
Pollak, who dubs herself a “lifestyle entrepreneur,” started out as a wife, mother, and art teacher who evolved into an artist/craftsperson, creating, of all things, decorative eggs. She fully parlayed her artistic passion into a successful business, reaching ever-higher levels of the realms of decorative arts. As if that weren’t enough, she also achieved success as a speaker and author.
Every one of the 101 lessons Pollak offers is accompanied by at least one anecdote from her fascinating journey. Each anecdote illustrates the point she is making in the lesson. More often than not, the lessons she learned and generously passes on sprang from mistakes she has made. To get a good taste of the kind of anecdote Pollak employs, see the Q&A interview she did with Quintessential Careers in which we counted three Pollak stories that are typical of the way she illustrates points in her writing.
What may amaze readers — as it did me — is that Pollak seems like an incredibly “together” woman — well-organized, with systems galore to keep her that way, confident, and totally in charge of her life. Yet, she admits to weaknesses and character flaws that seem hard to believe in light of her accomplishments. “When I was a kid, I was a crybaby,” she writes. “And for years I tried to cover up my hurt feelings with ice cream and unsatisfactory relationships. But both devices stopped working when I turned forty and found myself feeling the pain I had avoided for so long.” Through various therapies, Pollak says, she rose above her misery, but remarkably, it has been only since 1989 that she has been working on becoming the very together role model she now appears to be. And there’s the lesson — that if she can climb her way out of a life that wasn’t working for her and become happy and successful — so can any of us.
That’s the overarching inspiration, but each of the 101 lessons provides its own smaller nugget of wisdom. The book is packed not only with good ideas but positive and uplifting ways of looking at the issues that self-employed folks consistently face. Pollak’s 101 lessons are grouped into categories that include image, systems, surprises, letting go and perseverance, risk-taking and overcoming fear, customer service, listening and passion, support, and lessons from the masters. Which one of the 101 lessons does she consider to be the most important? Find out in the Q&A interview she did with Quintessential Careers, where you’ll also see what Lesson 102 might have been.
Pollak’s book is a quick read — even for a slow reader like me. I read it in an afternoon by the light of a picture window during a power outage. I came away from it feeling not only that I had immersed myself in Pollak’s world, but that I didn’t really want to leave it.
Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself, by Daniel H. Pink, $14.95, Paperback, 384 pages, Warner Books; ISBN: 0446678791.
Author Daniel Pink did a very smart thing. Pink, who became a “free agent” after serving as speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore, updated the 2002 paperback edition of his book, Free Agent Nation, to be much more useful to would-be self-employed readers than the hardback edition had been. In fact, I was all set to publish a review of the hardback edition, which carries the subtitle: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live, as a fascinating and inspiring socioeconomic study of the new revolution and trend toward being self-employed — but one that it didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of practical advice for aspiring free agents. Then I noticed that that Pink had changed the title of the paperback edition of the book to The Future of Working for Yourself and had added a resource guide specifically to help folks get started on the path of free agency. Smart. And the embellishments increase the value of Pink’s book exponentially.
The portion of Pink’s book that made up the hardback edition is full of facts, figures, case studies, and like Pollak’s book, anecdotes, all of which will leave the would-be free agent feeling as though he or she can be part of a growing movement. But the reader of that edition might have been left thinking, “Yes! The author has validated my feeling that free agency is the way to go — but how do I get started?” it’s the resource guide in the back of the paperback edition that really serves as the how-to for those seeking independence in their careers.
The resource-guide material, including 10 steps for getting started as a free agent, 101 free agent survival tips, 10 sources of free agent health insurance, 10 other books worth reading, and 10 suggestions for starting a free agent support group, don’t comprise the typical advice you see in all other books for prospective entrepreneurs. They are fresh and original. Pink suggests, for example, taking a free agent to lunch to pick his or her brain. He provides a password for a Web-based Free Agent Nation Aptitude and Instinct Collector (FANATIC), a self-assessment that tells you how prepared you are for free agency. And he advises that free agents send out postcards when they launch themselves as free agents to tell everyone they know about the new venture.
Pink’s 101 survival tips have a great deal in common with Jane Pollak’s 101 lessons and are organized around the topics Money Matters, Selling Yourself, What to Get, How to Work, Family Business, Creativity, Health and Well-Being, and One Thing to Do in Bed.
The chapters that precede the resource guide explain what a huge phenomenon free agency has become and how it got that way. (One reason: In the Information Age of computer, wireless handheld devices, and the Internet, workers can now own the means of production.). He talks about three types of free agents — soloists, temps, and microbusinesses. Pink tells what it’s like to be a free agent, as well as how and why free agency works. Despite the many advantages, all is not a bed of roses, though, as Pink lays out in his chapter on free agent woes, such as health insurance, taxes, and zoning. Finally, he boldly predicts what the free agent future will be like and what the free-agent revolution will mean for politics, economics, and even real estate. His predictions, based on statistics such as a Gallup Poll finding that twice as many Americans now consider big business a greater threat to the country than big labor, take on considerable credibility in a post-Enron, post-WorldCom world.
As so many authors are doing these days, Pink caters to what he calls “time-starved” readers by providing a reader-friendly device, in this case, a box at the end of each chapter that summarizes the foregoing material in 150 words or fewer.
If you are contemplating any form of free agency — self-employment, entrepreneurship, temping, freelancing, consulting — both Pink’s and Pollak’s books belong on your bookshelf. The bulk of Pink’s book will get you fired up and convince you that free agency is the wave of the future, while Pink’s resource guide and Pollak’s 101 lessons will energize you with powerful how-to’s.
Check out all our book reviews in Quintessential Reading: Career and Job Book Reviews.