By Polly Smith

Advising clients in self-employment goals can be intimidating to even the most seasoned employment counsellor. This is likely because most of us have little or no experience in business. We think of huge financial start-up costs and giant risks to our clients, but self-employment can simply be about putting the skills you used in previous employment to work for you in a new way. It does take planning, research and time to get started, but so does the traditional job hunt which can be challenging and daunting as well.

For example, if you are a displaced employment counsellor, you likely have organization skills, event planning and training experience, research and project management skills that you could put to work in a new way. Perhaps you could start a business training other employment workers in your areas of expertise. Instead of working for one agency, you could also become a service provider for a number of agencies offering training or employment support. Maybe you could write blogs for a job-finding website, or perhaps you could do all of these things on a fee-for-service basis. You could even become a conference or training planner in a whole new field, transitioning your skills to a growth industry.

Cheryl lost her job at a multinational bank during the banking crisis and recession in 2008. She worked in “sponsorship”, which is essentially event planning and organizing perks for major customers of the bank. She worked long hours and was always in fear of losing her job as she knew it was not an essential bank service. Within one week, after getting in touch with her business contacts, Cheryl was able to secure three contracts with three different companies to work part-time on an ongoing basis.

The corporations still needed some sponsorship work completed but downsizing had left them without the departments to carry it out. Her proposal for part-time contracted work created a win-win situation.

She researched how to set up her own home-based business and talked to an accountant about bookkeeping. She was soon working again but now she worked fewer hours, for more money and with less fear of losing her job. Cheryl now works primarily from home which saves her travel time and money she used to spend on lunches out and clothing for work. As an added bonus, she is able to write off some of her housing costs as expenses at tax time.

This story is the best-case scenario. However, many people are able to find new ways through self-employment to create their own work and increase their income. Remote employment or “work 3.0” can be a great way to find self-employment opportunities that range from project specific work to regular set hours for certain companies. Positions can be highly skilled like translation work, editing, language tutoring, IT support and many entry-level customer service positions.

Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Services (Ontario Works) embarked on remote employment training for employment counsellors and clients less than a year ago to combat the 12% unemployment rate. This year, we have seen a number of program participants regain their confidence and find work. Some have exited social assistance; others have increased their income to better support their families. In 2013 we are expanding our client training to focus on building small business-related skills and awareness to enable more program participants to create their own opportunities in Chatham-Kent.


Polly Smith is the Program Manager of Employment Services with the Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Services Division. She has worked in Ontario Works Assistance employment programs for the past 20 years and with the goal of finding new ways to help people increase their income and find joy in their work.

Interested in learning more? Check out Anne-Marie Rolfe‘s article on remote employment. Also, stay tuned for the CERIC webinar “Remote Employment 3.0: Legitimate Opportunities to Work from Home”, also facilitated by Anne-Marie Rolfe, on February 26, 2013. More information available on