With our economy and employment situation languishing in an apparent sea of unchange, you may have considered an alternative to traditional employment, such as starting your own business. There are many articles you can consult as to whether or not being your own boss is right for you, but here are my observations, based upon my personal experience as a solopreneur for the past ten years or so.
There seems to be a certain amount of "conventional wisdom" about working from home, mantras oft-repeated but seldom questioned. For example, the notion that you must dress for work as though you planned to spend your day in a typical corporate setting, in the belief that this will somehow raise your game and ready you for peak performance. Below are a few of these pithy little wisdom pellets, and my own opinion as to their value.
1: Anyone can do it. No, they can’t. When working in a corporate environment, you are usually being asked to specialize. In other words, you are hired to fill a specific need, working within the limitations imposed by a specific job description. When you go out on your own, you must be a master of many things. You must be a great marketer, promoter, communicator, organizer, planner and supervisor. Can you outsource many of these skills? Yes, but how much money do you anticipate you will need to spend in order to meet a minimum, and can you afford this sort of outlay? keep in mind that no one cares about your business as much as you do, and you might discover that other people’s standards are not at a level with your own. You must require a great deal of yourself in order to successfully run a business, whether as a solo act or with a staff.
2: You must dress up, even at home. Baloney. Unless you are meeting clients, there’s no sense in "putting on the dog," just for the sake of your dog. I can be more productive when I’m not required to spend an hour preparing a canvas onto which the face that launched a thousand ships must be painted,
strap myself into the various hydraulic devices intended to streamline and acceptably arrange my proportions, not to mention towering atop three and a half inch heels which elevate my 5 foot, eight inch sea-level self to an altimeter reading of nearly six feet. If you want to dress because it makes you feel something you need to feel, great, but if you need to wear a suit to perform at your best, there’s something in there about being a superhero, but I’m not sure where to go with that.
3: You’re certain you will be a better boss. If you think your lackluster performance at your workplace is solely due to the fact that your boss is a complete idiot, you’re likely to take your poor performance home with you. Remember, your boss is constrained by the limits of HR policies, and cannot roundly badmouth you to everyone you know. Your customers have no such constraints. They can be just as cranky, flaky, schizophrenic, rude, and demanding as any superior in a typical workplace. Just because you do not have an immediate supervisor, doesn’t mean you don’t have a boss. You do, it’s just not the one you think. It is your customer, your client. Fail to grasp that little detail, and you won’t last long.
4: Your corporate job description will directly translate into a consulting context. So, you are an administrative assistant at ACME Multinational, but you think that means you can be a "virtual assistant" from home? If you have a supervisor who acts as your editor, proofreader, fact-checker or error-catcher, keep in mind that you will not have that safety net once you are on your own. If you are not a better writer than the published author for whom you hope to provide your virtual assistant services, you have no business proofreading someone else’s work.
5: It’s easy to manage distractions. It takes an incredible amount of discipline to work from home, if you want to be effective for your clients. I have had the most infuriating experiences with individuals working from home whom I’ve hired to provide technical or administrative services, who seek to fit me in between their child’s play date, dinner prep, and their dog’s needs. If you plan to hire yourself out to provide business support services, and hope to provide this service on your own timetable, you won’t succeed. My deadline is your deadline, and if you don’t see it that way, that’s a problem. business support services are just that…you exist to support another business, not to dabble in being a junior executive while your clients tasks are stacking up.
6: Being an entrepreneur is always satisfying. No, it isn’t. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run and no way to spread the blame around when things go wrong. All it takes is one disgruntled customer to write a bad review about you, and your reputation is shot. If you have never had the experience of taking the fall for something that went horribly wrong at your traditional workplace, you are unlikely to enjoy the feeling when you are on your own.
7: At least when you’re working for yourself, you’re not enriching "The Man." Well, you’re probably not enriching yourself, either. Most entrepreneurial ventures do little more than to provide some sort of income for the business owner. Starting your own business is not tantamount to winning the lottery. Long gone are the days when you could throw up a web site and expect the dollars to roll in. There are now more web sites than there are humans on the globe. You are just as anonymous, if not more so,, on the Internet as you are in the brick-and-mortar world.
8: But by working from home, I’ll be saving so much money on transportation and child care. Perhaps so, but that savings will be offset by the unpaid insurance, unpaid flex time, unpaid holidays, unpaid sick leave and forfeiture of other benefits. most workers overlook the monetary value of the traditional workplace benefits. Once you realize that bridging that gap can be very costly, these benefits become hard to take for granted. Plus, you will have to pay your taxes in a completely different way than before, a much less convenient way than having them automatically deducted from your paycheck. Just filing business taxes is more expensive than filing personal income taxes, and you may need the assistance of an accountant and tax professional. The "hassle factor" of working from home and doing it all yourself can make the mindless efficacy of corporate benefits distribution very appealing. You may not have considered automatic tax withholdings to be a benefit until you have to prepare your own quarterly tax return.
These insights are not intended to discourage anyone from starting their own business, rather, it is an attempt to paint a more realistic picture as to what is required, as opposed to the romanticized notions that may be brought about by workplace dissatisfaction. Of course there are positive and gratifying aspects to being an entrepreneur, not the least of which is that in many ways, you can make your own rules, rather than live by those of others. Ask yourself, if you are the type of person who cannot "play well with others," are you really well suited for an endeavor that dictates "the customer is king?" Along with confidence and a drive to succeed, a good deal of humility is also recommended if you intend to work in the service of others, which is a different mind-set than that of working WITH others.
Please comment below and share your views. What attributes do you believe to be fundamentally necessary to be an entrepreneur? What advice would you give to someone thinking about quitting their day job and going solo?