Try for Independence

A friend of mine sold his successful business and retired. In order to fill his spare time, he took a job in a small specialty store. Money was not really a factor, but the adjustment from “employer” to “employee” was a challenge. It’s interesting how we generally think in only two contexts: working for yourself, and working for somebody else.

The ideal motivation, whether you’re the boss or the employee, is to be productive. If your life is better off for having done the work, it gives “working for yourself” a whole new meaning.

Many people assume it’s easier to be self-employed, but ownership also brings risk and responsibility. As the boss, you have to answer to customers, stockholders or whatever the case may be. The extra burdens might or might not be worth it.

Some people yearn for self-employment because they want independence and autonomy. One of the biggest emotional barriers to branching out on your own is fear of failure. Is self-employment always riskier than being employed by someone else? Not necessarily, says Steve Pavlina, author of “10 Myths about Self-Employment.” He says, “Security comes from control, and self-employment gives you more control over your income than you have with a regular job. When you’re self-employed no one can fire you or lay you off.  Which is more secure – owning your income stream or leasing it? Ownership, obviously.”

As we continue to endure high unemployment figures, these words ring truer than ever. But being employed by an established company can provide a false sense of security. “I have this job now and I’ll be taken care of forever.” Well, it doesn’t always work out that way (note the bankruptcy of General Motors back in ‘09). It’s not whether self-employment is inherently better or worse, it’s all about what you want, what you need, and what matches your talents.

People with impressive skills who are working for a large employer have told me, “I could legally and ethically branch out on my own tomorrow. Most of my clients would follow me. But I can’t do it.” When I ask why, all I get are vague references to health insurance, “security” and the like. Or they say, “I wouldn’t have my sick leave and vacation days.” Well, of course you wouldn’t! When you work for yourself, your time is your own. You can give (or not give) yourself all the days off you want. Another happy tradeoff for a business owner is that it’s often easier to ride out economic cycles because you don’t have just one customer; you have a bunch of them. By working to keep as many of them happy as possible, you’re buffered against economic downturns in ways that corporate employees are not. For some people, that can symbolize a reduction in stress.

And then there’s the saying, “The customer is always right.” If you’re self-employed, you’ll certainly have to deal more directly with customers’ concerns. But if you’re doing an honest job, most problems will get resolved. And if a customer is being irrational, you get to decide which ones aren’t worth the trouble. As Pavlina writes, “If you’re self-employed, feel free to fire customers that cause you grief. Some customers just aren’t worth having.”

If the thought of being self-employed intrigues you, start now by developing a “self-employment attitude.” Treat your current job as part of your career track to bigger things. Don’t look to others to take care of you. Don’t fixate on what you’re “getting” or “not getting” from your employers. They are not your mommy and daddy. Become independent by thinking independently.

Total independence isn’t for everyone. The hours can be long and the risks can be high. But then there’s the freedom and increased security of having control. Songwriters George and Ira Gershwin summed it up perfectly: “Nice work if you can get it. And you can get it if you try.”