As terrible as they are, marketing layoffs have been very good to me. Years ago, I got my first major career break due to layoffs. Over a period of three months, position after position was eliminated, and the boss handed me the work to do instead. Mainly, this was because I was the cheapest position in the marketing department.
These battlefield promotions can be the making of a young marketer. I am grateful to this day for the opportunities that allowed me to gain the experience in months that, normally, would have taken years.
Several companies and economic crises later, I was the expensive senior person who was let go. I hadn't seen it coming; the shock was tremendous. But, in that moment of stunned disconnect from normality, I was able to take a leap that would have never occurred to me: I started my own company.
Things were tight. I lived on popcorn and caffeine for the first year. By year two, I could afford to have Thai food delivered while I worked without respite. By year three, I was able to take every other weekend off to sleep and do laundry.
It was also the most exhilarating adventure of my life. If it had not been for the first recession, I might not have had the ability to do literally every job in the room when I couldn't afford a full staff. If it were not for that second recession, I would have remained a typical "company man" sitting in committee meetings for the rest of my working life.
Anyhow, my advice for layoffs, beyond all this perhaps annoying stuff about making lemonade out of lemons:
If you are a department head, the staffers to keep are the ones who have a proven record of learning new things and taking on duties outside their job description. The ones to consider laying off are those who already complain they don't have enough time for everything on their plate.
If you're a specialist, ask for duties outside your current skill-set without extra compensation. See where else you can pitch in, show off your teamwork, and learn something new. Plus, consider taking classes on the side (even on your own dime) to gain a new skill, such as email marketing or search optimization. Anything you can show off internally to say, "Look, I can grow and learn as the team gets smaller."
If you're a potential entrepreneur, see my column from a few weeks back (link below) discussing how to prepare to launch your own marketing business.
Also, if you're interested, I'll be on an interactive conference call with MarketingSherpa members this Wednesday. We can all discuss the possibilities of starting your own marketing consultancy or agency.
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