Random Observations on Self-Employment

It’s been a couple months since my layoff, and I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned, am learning and have tried to avoid.

First off, let me say that being home with my daughters for the summer has been interesting. It’s great to be able to sneak out for a late afternoon bike ride, or haul them off to Grandma’s pool at lunch. It’s also nice to be able to work early and late, and still know I’ve gotten the most out of my work day. I now realize how much I was missing due to the 3 hours of commute time it required to get to Atex every day.

The stuff I don’t miss:

  • Driving until my eyes bleed…
  • Endless meetings in which no one is listening to what I, or anyone else for that matter, has to say.
  • The general insanity of being corporate webmaster at *any* large corporation – no more having to explain why we shouldn’t send that mass email, no more trips down the marketing rat hole.
  • No more wondering if today is the day the office head case will go postal.

The stuff I do miss:

  • The people – I miss my coworkers, but I stay in touch, so it’s a good thing.
  • Dental insurance – although I’ve got great teeth, I’ve got young daughters with metal in their mouths.
  • Office support – Some of the functions of a good corporate support team are seamless. You don’t notice them until they’re not behind you.
  • Meetings at “the other office” with Gary.

The lessons of self-employment:

  • No matter how hard you work, some people will equate self-employment and working at home with being on permanent vacation. They’ll think you’re available to help with whatever they need. Set boundaries and live within those boundaries. Mary Higgins Clark once told me that the key to writing was simple: set aside your time to write and make it happen. Take that 8 hours and write, accept no interruptions, and whether you produce 1 good page or 20, you’ll be headed towards your goal. Self-employment is just like that.
  • Just because you’re self-employed doesn’t mean that your boss isn’t an a$$hole. Business is business – which means you can’t be giving away freebies. If it helps, pretend you’ve got to justify your actions to a mean old boss. In my case, it keeps me from spending every night fixing malware-laden computers for a couple free beers, and doing all manner of freebies for freeloading friends. I don’t invite friends to my house expecting them to fix the brakes on my truck, they should provide me the same courtesy.
  • Tracking and forecasting are important – they let you know if you’ve got a cash flow problem coming well in advance. I’ve never been big on reporting, but now it has become important, because it ensures I stay on top of upcoming work, jobs I’ve quoted, and forces me to look down the road so I know I’m going to have work, and the ability to pay the mortgage, health insurance, dental bills, etc.
  • Although I never considered myself a salesman, and I’ve had some downright awful experiences in positions like that in the dim past, I can sell one product better than anyone: myself and my work.
  • Networking isn’t a sales activity, it’s life for the self-employed.

6 Replies to “Random Observations on Self-Employment”

  1. Great post Mark! You really hit the nail on the head with things that go on in the world of the ‘self employed.’ I too run into issues with people thinking that being self employed = permanent vacation. Truth is, I’ve never worked harder. It’s because the only person I have to focus the attention on is me… so if something goes wrong… whose fault is it!!

    And the co-workers thing, you get used to it. Why do you think I have two pugs?!?!

  2. I’m stealing this one: “Networking isn’t a sales activity, it’s life for the self-employed.”

    I’ve found that women in particular have a terrible time understanding how to power network. And, many people of both sexes somehow separate networking events from “marketing.” (Tip to small biz. Can the billboard ads you can’t afford anyway and spend it on dinners, lunches, coffee dates, etc.) It’s somehow “not nice” to many women to talk about your business. Or, there’s the other extreme, where since I’m a fellow woman, she expects me to give her business (sorry, I just don’t buy that much make-up, real estate, or vitamins…besides we’re standing in a room with about fifty others wanting me to do the same thing.)

    Doesn’t mean you have to be obnoxious, but you do need to always be aware (and prepared) so when someone ask you, “So what do you do?” You can make it interesting. You never know where business comes from. One of my best clients came through a very casual conversation at a friend’s son’s 1-yr b’day party!

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