How to Make a Career Back-Up Plan

These recently laid-off workers avoided financial catastrophe by falling into their own safety nets.

By SHARE

Nicole Crimaldi started her blog, Ms. Career Girl, as a "passion project"—something to play with when she wasn't working hard at her commercial banking job. She woke up before dawn to work on it from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. every day before heading to the office, and slowly began earning money through speaking engagements, advertising, and consulting, all focused on helping young women get ahead in their careers.

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"We've lived through Enron and September 11, and you never know what's going to happen, so when you have a little side thing, you have more control," says Crimaldi, 27, who lives in Chicago. "You can't think that your company is responsible for your well-being," she adds. One of her most popular speaking topics is what she calls "career insurance," in which she teaches participants how to build their social networks and develop more than one revenue stream.

Suddenly, several weeks ago, Crimaldi got laid off, and was forced to apply those lessons to her own life. She decided to work full time on her website; she's now expanding into other services, events, and e-products. In a way, she says, the layoff was a blessing because it allowed her to pursue her longtime dream of self-employment.

Crimaldi represents an increasingly visible group in the workforce today. Instead of waiting for pink slips that sometimes seem inevitable, workers are creating "Plan Bs" before they have to, developing independent streams of revenue that can replace, at least partially, full-time jobs. These workers are often entrepreneurial, socially-networked, and work in creative, knowledge-based fields. "One reason freelancing is so popular is because it's so quick. You don't need anyone's permission, and start-up costs are extremely low," says James Clear, founder of the personal-finance website Passive Panda.

However small, that second income stream can offer workers some measure of financial protection. A recent survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that underemployed workers are less likely to make withdrawals from their retirement accounts than unemployed workers, suggesting a lesser degree of financial stress. [See: And on the Side, I'm an Entrepreneur.]

J. Money, the pseudonym of the blogger behind popular personal finance blog Budgets are Sexy, had been steadily building his website when he was laid off from his graphic design job last December. His website was already generating enough money to replace about 80 percent of his salary, largely through advertising, affiliate links, and guest posting for other sites.

Since the layoff, J. Money has further ramped up his revenue by devoting at least 12 hours a day to his website and related projects. Now he's trying to find ways to scale back his work schedule to a more sustainable level without compromising his output. "My goal was to survive, to make enough to work full time for myself, and now that I'm doing that, my new goal is to have more time," he says.

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Amy Stringer-Mowat is on a similar trajectory: After turning her Etsy shop into a booming business, she is now thinking about how to continue to run it while having more time for herself, especially since she is about to become a mom. During the recession, Stringer-Mowat lost her full-time job as an architect and started freelancing in retail design. In May 2010, on a whim, she posted state-shaped cutting boards that she designed for her wedding on Etsy.

Within a few months, she was featured in several magazines and holiday gift guides and sold thousands of cutting boards. "I didn't realize there would be such a mass-appeal for state-shaped things," she says. Her background in architecture and manufacturing techniques (as well as access to the machinery) made it relatively easy to ramp up production.

Today, Brooklyn-based Stringer-Mowat, 36, is one of the most successful Etsy sellers and runs the store full time, spending about 50 hours a week on the business. She plans to expand into other home-décor products soon, including baby-related ones. "I've always been interested in doing things on my own, and I've worked for a lot of small-business owners. [The Etsy shop] seems accidental, but it was also in line with what I set in the back of my mind," she says. She is now looking for ways to outsource some of the work in preparation for her baby's arrival.