“It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating.” ~ Oscar Wilde
So you’re out of work; maybe you have been for a while?
For a lot of people, that means that they have two options, they can find another job before their money runs out, or they can find some cozy bridge to sleep under.
Let me introduce you to a new way of thinking about job security: your job is never going to be secure—not as long as you have a job. Working for someone else is always just that, and the only way to ensure your job security is to start working for yourself.
The good news is, you can start today. If you decide that, from now on, you’re going to be self-employed, then instead of looking for work, you go to work right now, and start looking for money (or business) instead.
If your goal is putting bread on the table, looking for money is a lot easier, both on your feet and on your ego, than looking for work.
By “looking for money,” I don’t mean just looking for money laying in the streets, I mean looking for cash now, as opposed to trying to find someone willing to commit to paying you every week of the foreseeable future.
Let me give you three examples of people who have gone out and done just that.
Recently, one of my wife’s friends, Laresa, lost her job as an accountant. Like a lot of people, she’d have happily taken another job at that moment. She had accounting skills of course, but she saw that her field was crowded with other applicants. Besides, the work was occasionally stressful, and she’d often yearned for more autonomy.
However, she was desperate for cash, so she started perusing the “Jobs” section on Craigslist, and she didn’t just read the ads for her specialties (besides working as an accountant here, she was trained in Russia as a geologist and had worked there as an economist). She looked at everything available including part-time jobs. One of the things she found was an ad placed there by a working woman who needed someone to clean her house.
Well, that certainly wasn’t anything she’d considered before, but it was money, which she needed right away, so she called the lady, made an appointment, and took the job.
She cleaned the woman’s house, taking care to do an especially good job and charged the lady $15 per hour. To make a long story somewhat shorter, Laresa realized that even given her special attention, she’d made more per hour than she would have made working at her old job.
Plus, her new client, who’d been hiring a maid-service before, was much more satisfied with her work. Laresa found it was not hard to do a better job working for herself than someone else’s employees had been doing..
So she started placing her own ads, looking for other women who wanted their homes cleaned while they were away at work. It wasn’t so long before she’d lined up quite a few more new clients through Craigslist ads, and through the word-of-mouth referrals she got as a result of doing good work.
Next, she introduced a whole new concept: to her nascent business, while she’s in the client’s home doing the weekly cleaning, she also balances their checkbooks and takes care of some bill-paying chores—for an additional fee, of course.
Her business is booming, she’s raised her standard fee to $25 per hour and she’s making more than she did as an accountant. Perhaps more important, she sets her own schedule, makes her own decisions, runs her own life, and even though she sometimes loses clients, she never loses them all at once, so she’s never without work.
If you have a skill or a service to sell, and it’s hard to imagine any adult who’s worked for any time at all who doesn’t, then you only need to find a way to market what you do or what you have.
Now, I know that a lot of people are uncomfortable trying to sell anything, even themselves, in a product or service. They feel that selling is hucksterish and undignified.
Well, the fact is, that in order to get another job, and maybe the one after that, you’re going to need to sell yourself to your future boss. Remember your last job interview? I do, even though it was almost forty years ago. Not so much fun. In fact, it can sometimes seem a little like begging. Not only that, but in a way, you need to keep selling yourself every day when you go to work.
By contrast, when you’re self-employed, you’re probably only going to be speaking to people who have answered your advertisements—in other words, people who sought you out, and you’re the one in charge of setting the price and the conditions. If they buy what you’ll selling, that’s great, but if they don’t, that’s no big deal either. You don’t need them.
Powerful stuff, huh?
Maybe you’re thinking that there aren’t a lot of well-heeled folks like Laresa’s customers in your neighborhood, and for that matter, perhaps you’re more concerned with just making a living on your homestead, not becoming nouveau riche.
If so, let me tell you about my old friend, Russell. I met Russell back about a million years ago when I was a (self-employed) real-estate broker. He’d just become one of my first clients, and he asked me, “Hey, how can a guy make some money around this place?”
Let me stop myself right there and point out that I am not telling this story to showcase what a brilliant guy I am, but rather, merely to demonstrate how a simple idea can make anyone self-sufficient in money.
“Well gee, Russell,” I said, “I dunno, what can you do?”
He thought for only a brief moment, then said, “Well… I can paint.”
“That sounds interesting,” I lied, thinking it too bad that I hadn’t sold him an apartment in San Francisco rather than 20 acres in the woods, “What’s your style, impressionist, realist, cubist…”
“No,” he said, “no, I mean I can paint houses, fences, barns. Stuff like that.”
Okay, well it’s not that I don’t promote the arts, but this seemed like a much more likely source of income here in the rural Ozarks than fine art. I told him I’d been having pretty good luck with steady classified ads and I suggested a local “shopper”.
You know what “shoppers” are, those advertising-only newspapers they give away for free at grocery stores, convenience stores and the like. They often have names like The Penny Pincher, The Wooden Nickel, The Moonbeam County Moneygrubber, things like that. Locally, ours is called The Horse Trader.
Craigslist is sort of a free version of that, and you should always investigate ANY free advertising you come upon first, but if that proves inadequate, and you have something to offer that has broad appeal, shopper ads can show you a pretty attractive rate of return on a small investment.
Anyway, to get back to the story, Russell started with a single ad in The Horse Trader as “Anywhere Ozark Painting Company” which sort explains his scope. It’s not complicated, he has a truck, brushes, rollers, ladders, and a technique.
That was about 35 years ago and to my knowledge, he hasn’t worked for wages since. That’s almost four decades that he’s been able to maintain his homestead independently, keeping his own hours, and managing his own affairs. In fact, over the last three and a half decades, He’s painted MY house twice and it’s getting due for another coat pretty soon. There’s little question that I’ll hire Russell to do the job for me, because even if he weren’t my friend, I don’t know anyone else whom I can just call up and he’ll be here painting my house in a few days, and at a reasonable rate.
Okay, now I’ve got one more story, this one is about Joe. Joe isn’t like that plumber guy, mostly because Joe really is his name and he really does do what I’m about to tell you about.
Again, this goes back to when I was working in an office in town, so I haven’t seen Joe for many years, which is why I can’t even remember his last name, but I very distinctly remember how he took control of his own life.
I was working in my office one day when Joe walked in and asked if I’d like to have my windows washed.
Well, before that moment it had never occurred to me that I did, but, come to think of it, since I hadn’t done it myself in months, perhaps years, yes, I wanted them washed quite a bit.
Being self-employed, I had other things to do that would make me more money than washing the windows, so I liked the idea of doing those things while someone else washed them.
He looked the situation over and asked me if it was worth $15 to me.
Well, I had to admit that $15 was a bargain, and we had a deal.
So Joe filled up his bucket in the office restroom, added his soap, grabbed a squeegee out of his car and proceeded to wash all the windows in about 15 minutes. (A dollar a minute!) When he was done, he asked me to look over his work, and when I did, I had absolutely no complaints.
Then he asked me if I’d like him to come back in a month and wash the windows again.
“Why… sure,” I said, “I’d love it”.
My office was on one end of our small town, and Joe proceeded to make the same offer at every other business in town.
From what I saw in the subsequent months, I’d say that most of them took him up on his deal, probably because, like me, they’d been doing the windows themselves, and not nearly as often as they should have.
After he’d made a deal with all the agreeable businesses in town, he moved on to the next little town down the road, then to the one east, the one north, south and so on until he had all the work he wanted to do every day of the week. He never seemed to try to recruit homeowners, I suppose because he could wash the big plate-glass windows of storefronts quickly, collect his money, and move on down the street, and he kept his travel expenses down by only working in one town per day.
I had that relationship with Joe for years, until I moved my office into my home, and during the last years that I knew him, he drove a pretty nice car to his jobs, he’d gotten married, owned his own home, and he had two daughters.
I think it’s interesting to note that the only overhead costs he ever had, was soap, gasoline, and occasionally a new squeegee. He didn’t even advertise.
Now let’s talk about YOU. I’ve often heard people say, “Well, I’m not too worried about being unemployed, after all, I was out of work when I found this job.” That perspective might have been good for shoring up your confidence when things were booming, but if you spend months on end looking for work now, you’re not likely to feel so blasé next time, meaning you may even be more chained to your next job than you were in your last one.
That’s good for your employer, but it’s not good for you—not for your confidence, not for your independence and not for your future.
Look, it’s not hard to make money from your own efforts—every boss you’ve ever had was doing it, the ones that stayed in business anyway. Employers buy you low (your wages) and then they sell you high (their return). If you don’t make any money for them, then you don’t work there for very long.
If you’re like a lot of people, losing your job may have come as quite a surprise. That’s because employers aren’t likely to broadcast the fact that they may be having troubles that could impact your employment. They often don’t want anyone, neither their employees nor their customers, to know how shaky things may be—it’s just not good for business. Notice how even large companies in the news start to lose sales when it becomes public knowledge that they’re faltering, as happened with General Motors before their bankruptcy. This will be true, not just for the company you used to work for, it may even be true of the next one you’re applying to.
On the other hand, if you work for yourself, you can’t lose your job.
Please understand, I’m not trying to make employers look bad. You may be an employer yourself one day, because it’s a logical extension of building your own business, BUT nobody is going to be looking out for your dreams and your family the way you are. When you lose your job, you’re completely out of work and you have to reassess your goals, perhaps even start over. When you’re self-employed, sometimes business may be good and sometimes it may be bad, but you’ll never be completely out of work again.
Depending on how you choose to make your living, you’ll develop repeat business that will come to you almost automatically. You’ll also become a walking advertisement for yourself, and people who’ve seen you at work will approach you with new business. Times may get bad, but it’s a rare situation when all business dries up all at once, even if you were in doing something like selling typewriters when word processing-computers came along, all your business wouldn’t have drained away overnight, as it does when you lose your employment.
Please understand though, that obtaining self-employment isn’t for everyone, and that there will always be plenty of employees in the world. I’ve been self-employed since 1973, and while it’s not at all uncommon to find me wasting time amusing myself with some nonsense or other in the middle of a working day, still I know very well that I’ve spent a lot more than forty hours per week working over the years. You’ll probably enjoy your work a lot more when you’re working for yourself, but you’ll almost certainly work more. If that strikes you as a major drawback, you may want to reconsider.
You’re also going to have some responsibilities that you didn’t have before. You’ll probably pay fewer taxes than as an employee, but you’ll be more responsible for reporting and filing them, and you’ll be less likely to overpay, so you’ll be less likely to get refunds at the end of the year. You’ll also have to arrange for your own health care, although that seems to be a likely outcome even if you’re employed.
The examples I’ve given here were chosen because they are simple jobs that anyone can do, but if you have a particular talent, I urge you to follow it. If, for example, you write well and enjoy writing, I think you’re more likely to do well freelancing than washing windows. I’ve spent nearly all my life working in real estate because I’ve always found it interesting, and I wouldn’t be as happy painting houses. I have, however, always been interesting in the publishing business, so when I was offered the opportunity to buy Homestead.org, a place where I had been advertising, I saw the chance to expand into another field of interest and let my existing business pay the way. Working for yourself can bring such opportunities.
If you are out of work right now, I hope you’ll take the initiative to move to self-employment. To reiterate, the first step is to check out the want ads and Craigslist, and find some ways you can make money right now, but without committing all your time long term. If you’ve already got a plan, those are good places to start with your advertising. Whenever an advertising source pays off, keep advertising there, and make certain that you don’t give up on a source prematurely—give a new source six months. Take the things that work for you and do them again, and again and again.
Get all the advice you can, but get it from people who are doing what you want to do, and who are where you want to be. DO NOT ask the opinions of your employed friends. There are always people who’ll be able to tell you a hundred reasons why your ideas won’t work, you have to ignore them, and talk to the people who can show you how to succeed.
Get up every morning (early) with the same goal in mind, and before long you’ll look back and see that you’ve accomplished quite a lot.