We all know the death knell of any business is stagnation. You have to be constantly improving, innovating, and growing your business or else run the risk of falling behind. And in this economy, you can’t afford to fall behind. Chances are you’ll get left in the dust and never recover.

The same goes for your career.

If you stand still, others will pass you by. You can count on it. You must treat yourself—your career—as a business that needs continuous development, enhancement, and marketing. After all, the most valuable product you have is YOU, whether you work for somebody else or you work for yourself.

If you’re gainfully employed, working but looking for something better, underemployed or even unemployed, there is ALWAYS something you can do to better your circumstances. Doing nothing is never the answer.

As many of you know, I have recently been shifting my attention towards MY next big venture (whatever that might be!). I bring this up because, in my situation, the easy thing might have been for me to stand still, but I am never one to rest on my laurels for long.

For starters, I’m doing all the traditional stuff: polishing up my resume, sending out feelers to friends and colleagues, and eyeing what’s out there for business and career opportunities. On top of that, I’ve engaged in a number of activities designed to create leads and start conversations with people and companies.

  • Mailers, emails and announcements letting my network of friends, associates, and colleagues know my intentions.
  • Networking through professional groups, executive groups, alumni associations, and even church groups so that others get to know me and I get to know them (and I’m not talking about simply showing up for cocktail hour at the local chamber event; I’m talking about active participation at meetings, events, etc., and even speaking at some).
  • Charitable work is a great way to meet like-minded people and let them get to know the real you. It’s a great way to engage others while rolling up your sleeves and being a good citizen by giving back to your community (and simply donating money to a cause, while appreciated and necessary, really doesn’t work here).
  • Social Media, LinkedIn, Blogs are great virtual networking and communications tools. Information begets leads, and leads beget opportunities. You just never know when that “right” connection might get made, especially if you’ve built your virtual network with care (like me). Stay engaged. The worst thing you can do is drop out of sight.
  • Don’t discount the value of chance encounters. You never know when opportunity might strike, but you must be willing and able to recognize opportunity when you see it. Whether it’s bumping into someone on the sidewalk, sharing a cab, hearing from an old friend, or standing in line for your Mocha Latte, don’t be afraid to chat it up.

Of course, helping yourself is also about helping others. When reaching out, ask friends and associates “How can I help YOU?” . . . and really mean it. Genuinely intend to help, to give. Open up your network. You’d be surprised how what might start out as a simple conversation about how you can help someone else can come back around to help you.  And if you’re helped, be sure to let the “helper” know the difference he or she made (or is making) with a follow-up and a thank you!

All it takes is one sliver of sunlight, one kernel of an opportunity, to change what might seem like a bleak career path or hopeless job search into a resounding success. I’m not talking “hail Mary” pass here—throwing the ball up an hoping your receiver comes down with it—but rather moving forward with confidence, purpose, and intention. I’m talking about being active when it comes to your career and your business future instead of passive.

How have you taken charge of what’s next for you and your career, your business?

You can start helping others right now by sharing your success stories here.

RECOMMENDED READING—Referral of a Lifetime by Tim Templeton is a great look at “networking” as business development. In the book, the author explains how to segment your network into three groups—(A) those who like you, know you, want to help, and know what they can do to help; (B) those who like you, know you, but aren’t sure if or how they can help; and (C) those who barely know you, acquaintances—and how to focus efforts on those in a position most likely to help (groups A & B). It’s a short read at 135 pages and I highly recommend it.