my thoughts on self employment
I’ve run my own business since 2001 and have been self employed full time since 2007. I love being self employed. Plus, I have achieved a great deal of success with my business. I have a great life, and my business is at least partly responsible for that.
Because of that, several people have asked me if they too should try the self employment route.
My answer is usually “NO!”
the self employment mindset: fun will be had, but sacrifices will be made
Let me say it again: I love running my own business. But, self employment is not the right career choice for most people. Running your own business requires a certain mindset and it requires sacrifice. From my experience, most people just aren’t willing to make that sacrifice.
At minimum, being in charge means you need to make some sacrifices. That includes:
- Occasionally give up evenings, weekends, and vacations. Not all the time, but some of the time. And almost always without notice.
- Change your lifestyle to accommodate a variable income. Plan for the drought; hope for the rain.
- Always think about work, even when you take a day “off.” In other words, give up the idea you’ll ever have a true day off.
- Prioritize and manage your schedule. I’ve seen many businesses struggle because the owner couldn’t figure out what was the company’s top priority.
Also, from personal experience, I have to tell you that self employment is much better if you have an understanding and supportive significant other. Those sacrifices are easier to make knowing I have somebody in my life who supports me in my devotion to my business.
Do I love working every weekend during busy months? No. But, I do enjoy knowing that as a result of my efforts, I have found lots of work to keep me busy.
lessons i’ve learned
If you are willing to make those sacrifices, then self employment might be a good idea. Of course, you need to have a service or product people want but that is a whole other conversation. For those willing to make the sacrifice, here are my top five suggestions from what I’ve learned along the way:
- Keep learning new stuff. Just because you are good at one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t be good at something else too. I was too afraid at first to start offering my clients new services. So, I overcame this worry by learning everything I could about the new service before I provided it to my clients. I wanted to be an expert in it before I offered the service. Clients appreciated this and quickly hired me for those new services as well.
- Patience is a key ingredient. It takes a long time to find new clients, especially for a smaller consulting company like mine. You have to work hard to make connections, develop a reputation for success, develop a loyal community around your business, and you have to find a way to explain to people why they need whatever it is you are selling (because they don’t know unless you tell them). But all that hard work will only turn into new clients days, weeks, months, or years later.
- Firing fast is a good idea. In the last 12 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of wonderful clients and dozens of great business partners. But, I have had to fire 5 clients and business partners. I hated doing it every time. It was unpleasant but I knew it was the right thing to do. You cannot keep people in your life that suck your time and energy. It doesn’t matter how much money they have. It doesn’t matter how many connections they have. At some point, the benefits just aren’t worth the pain. In fact, the quicker you can identify these people and get them out of your life, the better.
- It is okay to charge for your services. But don’t charge too much. And certainly don’t charge too little. The trick is to find the amount that makes your client appreciate your skill level and respect the service you provide but keep the rate low enough where a client can still afford to hire you. Also, the rate should be at a level where your client doesn’t think you are a greedy bastard.
- Better really is the enemy of done. I am a perfectionist and at first I wanted every project I touched to be flawless. How dare I let a client see a mistake? How dare I let a project go that doesn't have every extra bell and whistle? Then I realized that projects were taking too long and clients were getting annoyed at the delay. Of course, I still work hard to make things as good as I can but at a certain point, projects just have to be done. Truth is, everything can be improved upon and there never really is such a thing as "perfect."
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