One of my favorite cartoons shows a politician giving a speech at one of those thousand-dollar-a-plate dinners. He’s saying, “…And during my administration, we’ve created 200,000 new jobs!”. Applause sweeps through the room as a busboy is shown in the background picking up dishes, thinking, “And I’ve got THREE of them.”
Well, personally, I haven’t held a steady job in 30 years, but I can tell you that it was one of the most soul-scarring experiences of my life: not only was I expected to show up at the same time and place every morning, but I had to stay there and pretend to be doing something for eight long hours every day, with no consideration whatever for what I REALLY wanted to be doing.
Okay, I’m (sort of) joking, but if you still find yourself working for The Man, then it’s no joke to you, and if you’re trying to make a go of homesteading AND holding down a steady job (or three) it may be down-right depressing.
Which brings us to ask why you want to have a job anyway.
Maybe you’re doing it for the money. In which case, you need to remember that if your employer weren’t making a consistent profit on your salary, then you wouldn’t be working there for very long. That means your work has more value to him than it’s earning for you.
Maybe you’re working because you really like the work, but do you really need your boss to tell you how or what to do? It could be that your employer provides an environment you could never equal, (maybe you’re starring in a Broadway play, for example) but maybe he just has the organization and drive that you, so far, haven’t exhibited.
Maybe you’ve got a job because you like the security. In which case, maybe you haven’t been reading the papers for the last few years. For the vast majority of wage earners, job security is only a myth. We’re currently looking at a higher unemployment rate than this country has seen in years, employers are cutting back on basic benefits and loyalty seems to be a thing of the past.
Okay, you’re thinking that this is all pretty easy for me to talk about, but when it comes to the real world, you can’t just get up tomorrow morning and decide that you’re going to stop going to your job and start working for yourself.
Well, actually, you can, but if you have a job that your family is depending on now, I certainly don’t recommend that you do so.
The Time Has Never Been Better
However, you’re a lot closer to that goal than you may think. If you’re reading this, then you already have access to the internet and probably have at least entry-level computer skills. That alone gives you a greater advantage at self-employment than entrepreneurs have had since man first started marketing the wheel.
The first order of business is attracting business and right now, right under your fingertips is the most affordable method of advertising and promoting yourself that has ever existed. Ten years ago, I was spending thousands each month on advertising and now, thanks to the benefits of the internet, that cost has shrunk to a few hundred dollars per month, and frankly, I’ve found that my best sources are close to free.
I promote my business with a weekly newsletter to a mailing list I have collected on my website over the years. Even though I have been collecting these addresses for years, many of the most valuable ones tend to be just a few weeks old. I do not, and you should never, resort to spam. There are two reasons why you should never spam. First, is because the only people making money from spam are those that charge net-naive companies to spam for them. Spam does NOT effectively promote any worthwhile product or service. The second reason is more philosophical, perhaps spiritual: a business cannot thrive if everyone hates its guts. (I know what you’re thinking, but everyone does NOT hate Microsoft’s guts, only those who like to do things their own way.)
The first thing you have to do to launch any successful enterprise is to get over the notion that it’s impossible. This may fly in the face of good-intentioned friends and relatives, so if you need the support of someone else to make you feel that you can succeed, make sure you talk to someone who’s already done what you seek to do.
First, Eliminate Your Excuses
Then you have to eliminate all the excuses for why you think a self-reliant lifestyle won’t work for you. Here are probably the big three, but you may have a few of your own to work through:
EXCUSE No. 1: I’d like to work for myself, but all I know is [ fill in the blank ] obviously, you can’t do that over the internet.
A lot of people were saying that five years ago, but look how many businesses thrive in virtual space today. Maybe you can’t paint someone’s house by sending them a download, but you can advertise, take orders and schedule your jobs in your own time leaving yourself free to perform the skill you do best. You don’t have to be seeking a worldwide market. You’ll be amazed at how many of your closest neighbors are wired to the world, even in the most rural locations.
EXCUSE No. 2: I’m broke. We just have enough to live from paycheck to paycheck.
None of us has enough money (and those that do are often the stingiest in spending it). If all you have is access to a computer and your good looks, you can still start your own business. To make an extreme example, let’s say you’re a heavy equipment operator. A new bulldozer may cost upward of $150,000 so you can’t possibly start up as an excavation contractor, can you? Well, yes, you can. You don’t need a new bulldozer to be an excavation contractor, you need a client who will pay you more to do a certain job than it will cost you to borrow, rent or make payments on the equipment you need to do the job.
EXCUSE No. 3: I have the ambition of a three-toed sloth. If it weren’t for the threat of complete self-destruction at the end of each workweek, I’d probably never get out of bed at all.
Of the three, this is without question the best excuse, because, in order to build a business large enough to replace your job, you will almost certainly spend more time working on it than you did at your employment. If ambition is your problem then probably this is not the direction for you. However, I think you’ll find that working for yourself is much more rewarding and more interesting than letting someone else call all the shots. You might just have it in you after all.
If you’ve been an employee all your life, then the most important parts of gaining self-employment may be relatively unfamiliar to you, that is, decision-making.
More Fun, But a Lot of Work
Success at being your own boss depends very much on the basic decisions you make as you start up your start-up; decisions, like, “what do you want to do in the first place?”. Here, you have to balance practicality with what stirs your soul, and I would emphasis that it’s most important not to let either aspect have dominance.
In order to promote success, you need to spend your time working in a field that you find interesting, challenging and fun. If you don’t really enjoy what you’re doing, then you may as well stay on the job you have now. On the other hand, you can’t ignore the fact that the path is littered with the dead corpses of young start-up companies dedicated to the owner’s favorite hobby.
Maybe you love canoeing, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll love manufacturing canoes, or that you’d enjoy running a guide service, or thrill over publishing maps of rivers. Maybe you’d be better off concentrating on a completely different field and letting your hobby remain your hobby.
One thing is certain, though, if your hobby is the basis of your new business, you need to make sure that the business end takes precedence over the hobby. To oversimplify, if you make doughnuts, you need to be sure you don’t eat up all the profits; if you want to move from being a coin collector to being a coin dealer, you need to be able to purchase items that will sell, not the ones you want to own the most.
Maybe you already have an idea for your new business, or if not, perhaps you’d be happy to take the job you’re doing now for wages and convert it into something you do for yourself. You already know how the job is done, and you may have a few ideas about how to do it better. Maybe you’re thinking that your area won’t support another egg-candling shop, but I think you’ll find that in many ways, competition can build up both businesses. Notice how often auto dealers try to locate themselves close to their competitors. Sometimes your rivals’ advertisements will wind up bringing people to your showroom/storefront/website and sometimes the opposite will happen, but you’ll both do more business than you would alone.
One more word about competition: while this may not be true in big business, I think you’ll find that in any job you do well and diligently, your competition will not be a problem. The world is littered with successful, but poorly-run businesses. Just be sure your own work is done to the best of your ability and as consistently as possible, and you can forget about the competition.
It could be that you strike out on your own with a plan completely new to you, neither a hobby, nor a former job, just a great idea. This is the stuff of which the American dream is made. If this is the way you choose to go, you’ll want to be sure that you do all your research and try to be realistic about your brain-child.
You may be ready to go into business full-tilt starting tomorrow, maybe your great uncle died and left you his doughnut factory, but more likely, you’ll do well to start out small and work up. This way, you don’t need to quit your job or make any major investments until you’re ready.
Starting small also allows you to get a feel for your market; to try a number of different approaches, then when you find one that works particularly well, do that again and again, while always experimenting with other methods as often as you can dream them up.
One last word of caution, beware of the human factor. If you choose a vocation that involves dealing with the public, and virtually all of them do to one extent or another, you are going to encounter some unpleasant moments. If you do business with 100 people, 99 of them will make you realize how glad you are to be in control of your own life. One of them, however, will make you wish you’d never been born. This isn’t your fault, it’s his, that one guy in a hundred, but he is your problem and when you encounter him, just remember, you don’t work for this guy (at least not anymore) and, “Tomorrow”, as the enterprising Scarlett O’Hara said, “is another day”.
I hope you choose to start working for yourself and if so, I wish you the best of luck. Like anything else, you’ll have good times and bad, but you’ll never be out of a job. I’ve seen plenty of times over the last 30 years when, if I’d been one of my own employees, I’d have considered letting myself go. Of course, that’s not an option.