You may be re-structured, but don't be flattened: it's the best opportunity for giving yourself a sparkling relaunch. Hester Lacey reports
In these uncertain times, when workers everywhere are faced with downsizing, rationalisation and the flattening of workplace hierarchies (all thinly disguised versions of suddenly being sacked), who has not dreamed of starting up a successful enterprise of their own? Well, now, it seems, we can all do just that, but without going down the jewellery- studio-in-the-garden-shed or the dog-food-home-delivery-franchise routes. Running yourself as a company is a concept that is gaining ground - now everyone can have their own branch of You & Co or You plc.

There are several ways of going about this. It is possible to remain strictly career-minded and keep the whole notion in the workplace, or one can run one's whole life along the lines of a tiny business. William Bridges, an American management guru and author of the recently published Creating You & Co (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, pounds 12.99), takes the career view. He believes the way forward in today's "de-jobbed" workplace is to become an independent contractor, providing services for others, rather than expecting to remain a lifetime employee - to think in terms of "work" rather than in terms of a "job". "This is a change moving right across the economy," he says.

Bridges's philosophy is to start by taking stock of strengths and weaknesses. "A person needs to look with new eyes at what they have to offer," he explains. "I started in a very fixed job box as a literature professor. When I was leaving my job, I thought, `What can I do? Teach literature' when what I wanted to do was not teach literature. You need to look at what is in you that doesn't simply replicate your job description." His next step is to find a gap in the market. "You have to develop a marketing eye - see the world as made up of little markets. Your company, your neighbourhood, your church - they are all markets with unmet needs. See what's needed. And the third step is to combine the first two into a product that answers a need."

His book offers more detailed suggestions on reinventing a go-it-alone career; but it can take time and nerve, he adds, so don't rush into giving up the day job. "When I decided to go independent, I felt confused and demoralised, so I'm under no illusions that it is a difficult step. I think people are afraid to take it, and I don't blame them - when the whole basis on which you've constructed your life and career shift, it can be a terrifying experience." But better, perhaps, to jump before you're pushed. "Today lots of people are getting hard shoves off the springboard. Ultimately, it can be a very positive experience, though I'm shy about saying that to people who can only see the distance from the diving board to the water - it sounds glib and you're likely to get punched in the nose."

For a positive example, see The Full Monty. "The steelworkers who got pushed off the springboard were flattened by the experience - until they started seeing the alternatives," he observes. "There is nobody currently out there helping people search not for new jobs but for new ways of working - more widespread use of the techniques in Creating You & Co would help take the pressure off in the current stampede for jobs."

Alan Austin-Smith's approach to running oneself as a business is rather different. He uses the idea as a metaphor which can be applied to any aspect of everyday life. Austin-Smith is a presenter with CPM Skills Training, which runs two-day courses which aim to show his trainees how to "Take Control". His emphasis is on the simple and practical. If you want to take control, he says, the first step is to take responsibility. He offers five "rules of responsibility", and number one on the list is: "Run yourself as a company".

"Just imagine that you are the chief executive of You plc," he exhorts. "You are the chief executive of yourself and the responsibility for success or failure of that business rests with you. Run yourself with a commitment to giving a great service to your customers."

These customers are employer, family, friends, colleagues, and Austin- Smith recommends a regular management audit, including profitability (are you controlling your credit card?), team work (how are your relationships?) and quality control (keeping your attitudes up to scratch).

"If you are a top guy, you can look at You plc very much as a personal development plan," he says. "If you are an employee, there is another message. Let's assume that You plc is a service company and your most important customer is your employer. The way you operate depends on your success. If you are committed, this customer will keep you as their supplier. If you have a don't-care attitude, don't be surprised if they take their custom elsewhere."

Running your life along business-like lines is something we are all going to have to get used to, he says. "The important thing is to wake up to it. Some people don't seem to be aware. The waves of change are crashing in and you can stand with your feet in the sand, but if you stay there long enough you'll drown. The alternative is to get on a surfboard and ride the waves. People who say, `But it used to be like this' will never get anywhere, which is sad."

So, if you are feeling bullish, float your company - after all, at least a hostile takeover is unlikely.

The next "Take Control" seminar will be held on 26 and 27 January. For information, call 01908 678479.