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Monday, December 9, 2013

On Self-employment

Despite all this information about where the jobs are, what cities offer the best cost of living, and where and how you can get educated and keep up with learning the latest twenty-first century skills, most people simply settle in where they were born or where their family lives, whether that be in the cold cities of North and South Dakota or the warm beach cities of Southern California.

Over more than four decades of moving around and coming back home and holding a wide variety of jobs in various industries, both blue-collar and white-collar, I have come to the conclusion that for me the best situation is to be self-employed.

There are a good number of reasons why I feel this way. Probably the main reason is that I have a hard time taking orders from soul-stealing bosses that really don’t know what they are doing and seem to be on this planet to make good-working employees feel miserable. This is not an isolated problem; it is rampant across every industry. Google “bad bosses” or “horrible bosses” and you will see how much is written about this topic. There is no shortage of advice on how to deal with a bad boss. It is truly a sorry statement about human nature in general. There are way too many bosses out there who manage to turn their authority into ugly experiences for the people they manage.

However, being self-employed does not entirely mean that you won’t have to deal with this problem because your customers or clients are really just another form of superiority that you must deal with in order to be a successful entrepreneur. You are never quite fully the master of everything you do for a living. You have to follow orders of some sort or another in order to be paid.

As a freelance writer, I’ve had to deal with editors and publishers who had their demands and with whom I have not always been in agreement with, especially editors. Once I figured out how to become my own publisher, however, the amount of people telling me what to do lessened considerably. Then, of course, the bigger challenge became how to increase revenues. Dollars have to be generated from someplace. Electricity is not free. This is where all those common misconceptions about how wonderful it is to be self-employed come to the surface. The short story is that you have to work many more hours than your counterpart who has a job with a company that gives him a regular paycheck with benefits. In addition, the stress that comes with not having a regular income can take a toll on you.

If you are risk averse, you are not made out to be self-employed. Moreover, if you are not extraordinarily disciplined and passionate, you are not made out to be self-employed. Add in the need to be very creative; be okay with changing plans fairly consistently (just when you think you have it figured out the kibosh comes); and having a strong proficiency in marketing, public relations, and advertising; and you might have a chance to stay self-employed for most of your working life.  

This chapter is really only a marginal view about starting and maintaining your own business. It would take a separate book to fully cover this topic effectively, and there are plenty of books published in the business section of your bookstore. My goal here is to provide enough information to put you on a path whereby, to the greatest extent possible, you can become the master of your working-life fate. 

I begin by saying that, before you take the plunge, be prepared for a great deal of rejection. Just when you think all your hard work has come to fruition, the rug gets pulled out from under you. This happens time and time again when you are self-employed. In my opinion, this is the one aspect of owning your own business that is the most frustrating and most difficult to accept. Potential customers and clients will always make you feel like an impending sale/project is definitely going to move forward only to suddenly ignore you completely. Unexpectedly your emails are not answered, your phone calls are ignored, and all those thoughts about how productively you were going to use the funds you expected to earn turn into nothing. 

I think during any kind of work negotiation phase prospective customers/clients tend to make you feel like you got the job because nobody likes to be the voice of rejection. If you work for yourself, you have to accept this fact and hope for the best. Owning your own business is a roller coaster ride that challenges you without restraint. It’s extremely difficult to maintain your sticktoitiveness while going down the slope, but you must in order to survive because eventually you will come back to the top of the hill, that is, of course, if you do not give up. 

For many reasons a large percentage of business start-ups fail. According to Statistics Brain, a research provider that claims to be cited by such large media companies as CNN, ABC News, and the New York Times, 50 percent of all start-ups fail by year four and that rate increases to 71 percent by year ten.  
Statistics Brain claims its source of information on startups comes from Entrepreneur Weekly, Bradley University, and University of Tennessee research. Dated July, 27, 2013, it is explained that the reasons for failures are complicated, ranging from low funding; the market phasing out for products and services; inefficient workplaces; and “patent trolls,” which are  people or companies who unjustly sue startups for ill-perceived patent infringements. 

If you are an information company, the likelihood of failure within four years is 63 percent. If you are wholesaler, it’s 46 percent. Forty-five percent of service businesses fail within four years, and 53 percent of retailers fail within four years.  Some of the top management mistakes include going into business for the wrong reasons, getting bad advice, underestimating the time it takes to get going, and a basic lack of market awareness.  Businesses with the best success rates are religious organizations, apartment building operators, and child day care services. Businesses with the worst success rates include grocery stores, restaurants, and single-family housing construction.[i]

My path toward self-employment has been one in which lack of funding has always played a critical role. I discovered, for instance, that if I attended industry-related conferences, I increased the likelihood of getting more business from taking the initiative of introducing myself to prospective clients at such conferences. I could never afford being a conference exhibitor, which is an expensive proposition. Additionally, just going as an attendee, paying registration fees, and financing travel and accommodation expenses were also cost prohibitive. 

I was able to overcome this challenge several times by going to conferences within driving distance of my home and getting a press pass to cover registration fees as an education journalist. Another time for a conference that was not within driving distance, I stayed at a close relative’s house and borrowed their second car. 

My point is these are the kind of challenges one encounters in the world of self-employment. It is a tough pathway, but feasible if you are the kind of person who has a penchant for overcoming one challenge after the next.

Being inefficient has also been a significant problem for me, especially since I work from home, just as numerous other people are increasingly doing todayI’ll start with the primary benefits of working from home. First, you get a tax deduction based on the amount of dedicated space you use in square footage for your home office. Second, you save on travel expenses because there is no commute. The primary burdens of working from home include the challenge of developing a daily routine that forces you to work every day like everybody else and the challenge of keeping your sanity due to the lack of social interaction that comes from working in solitude most of the time.

For sound advice about establishing work routines, see the work of Twyla Tharp, a very successful, New York City based dancer and choreographer. Tharp has two Emmys, 19 honorary doctorates, and numerous other national awards. There is really no secret sauce to her success other than the fact that she has established daily rituals that help to consistently build confidence and self-reliance. There’s one sentence in Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit” that should be framed and hung above everyone’s desk:

When creativity has become your habit: when you’ve learned to manage time, resources, expectations, and the demands of others; when you understand the value and place of validation, continuity and purity of purpose — then you’re on the way to an artist’s ultimate goal: the achievement of mastery.[ii] 

There are a good number of other authors of self-help books about business and creative productivity that I enjoy reading, including, among others, the late Steven Covey, Daniel Pink, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Peter Bregman, and Thomas Moore.  A relative newcomer to this field of heavyweights that I read recently is Pamela Slim author of “Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur.” Slim is great for providing all kinds of no-nonsense and honest advice related to how you can leave your soul-draining corporate job and pursue what you really want to do in life. Her book is loaded with key points and exercises that will help you find the way toward being successfully self-employed. A favorite of mine is where Slim dispels the myths about working from home, explaining that if you have young children, you’ll need a babysitter; that “you need to develop routines and discipline” in order to get anything completed; and, if you have a live-in partner or spouse, be prepared to explain that working from home does not mean that you can more easily take on additional domestic responsibilities. [iii]   

In my opinion,  the bottom-line, one-sentence formula about self-employment is this: To have any chance of success, it takes a very special, hard-working, self-motivating and disciplined individual with a very thick skin that can reflect the great amount of rejection you will experience. 

[ii] Twyla Tharp. (2003). The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, A Practical Guide with Mark Reiter. Simon & Schuster. 
[iii] Pamela Slim. (2009). Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur. Penguin Group.

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