10 Years in business and the problems of working for yourself

Tigerlilly disrupts work

On 12th September 2001 the world changed forever. Or at least my world changed. Because of a decision made that day I would never go to work again.

I decided to work for myself.

Having a boss. Commuting to work. Being late. Being early. Having to be somewhere at the same time each day. Looking forward to lunchbreaks. Getting stuck in traffic on the way home. Office politics. Feeling naughty or odd to be in town during the week. Having to make do with out-of-date equipment. Naff coffee. Poor seating and lighting. Head aches. Bad back. Having to cope with co-workings odd habits. Watching the clock and noticing time slowing down in the afternoon.

These are the things I certainly don’t miss.

But it’s not quite as simple as that. There may not be office politics but there’s plenty of relationships with clients and suppliers that need careful handling. I have plenty of meetings, conferences and seminars to get to on time and often that means coping with traffic.

I don’t have a boss, but by having hundreds of clients I have hundreds of bosses. ‘Working for yourself’ is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more accurate to say I’m actually working for everyone, or anyone.

The fact that anyone could be a prospect, lead, supplier or advisor is an interesting concept. It means that the self-employed/entrepreneur is always ‘networking’. There’s never really a time when I’m not ‘on’. I always carry my business card and notebook (you never know when ideas may come) and I’m always dressed appropriately as my personal brand has to be consistent, you never know who you’ll meet.

Working for yourself or setting up your own business gives you freedoms you couldn’t have imagined when being an employee. (I’m writing this is in my favourite coffee shop on my MacbookPro at 11.30am on a Thursday). But some are taken away. There is no scheduled lunch or coffee breaks. Sometimes I don’t bother with them at all. There is no scheduled start or finish time: the division between work and home life becomes blurred.

Some people say, ‘Oh, I could never work for myself. I’d stay in bed or watch TV all the time’. The opposite is often true: early mornings, late nights, sometimes are taken up by work projects. You have to learn your own time management and project management  methods fast. After all, up until you choose to work for yourself, timetables have always been provided, by parents, at school and colleges and then by companies.

There’s the knowledge that if I don’t perform well, there’s no money coming in. A salary is not guaranteed. This is the main difference in attitude that I’ve noticed over the years. Employees can usually afford to be complacent, ignorant or snobbish towards money, after-all it arrives in their bank every month. That pay cheque becomes a divine right and a pay-rise is thought to be compulsory. A lot of people feel that their pay is just for showing up and gracing the company with their presence. This leads to a disgruntlement if they feel they’re not being paid enough or appreciated enough to why not take a few pencils and envelopes from the stationary cupboard? After all, you deserve it.

There’s no such luxury when you own the business. It’s all your money. You’re suddenly responsible for every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out. You become aware very quickly that your job is to provide value. The more value you add, the more money you can charge. Doing a good job is not good enough, it has to be exemplary.

There have been ups and down over the past decade but one thing is certainly clear: I wouldn’t change it. I would never go back to employee status. In fact many people who do work for themselves feel that they become in many ways ‘unemployable’ due to the attitude changes that have to take place to be successful working for yourself.

I think they’ll come a time when almost everyone is working for themselves, or at least realise that that is actually what they’ve been doing all along.

When more people realise that they are responsible for their performance, training and education and that they can decide when their pay rise will be, we amy see a paradigm shift from victim and blame culture to empowerment and positivity that would not only benefit individuals but the economy and country as a whole.

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11 comments on “10 Years in business and the problems of working for yourself

  1. Ayd, you hit the nail on the head. Give all Union members and Bob Crowe specifically a year of running their own business 🙂
    Tempted to watch daytime TV? tempted to go without a TV and sleep 4 hours per day more like!


  2. So true Ayd

    Perhaps Compnies should try to introduce (or not!) the self employed work practices into their business. Set objectives and pay is dependent on acheiving them. How and when you do it is left to the employee

    I love being my own boss and have chosen not to have a company policy about when I can go online and what I can read and comment on!

    Thanks as always for creating these pictures in my head


  3. Spot on again Ayd.
    I wonder if, the ‘city’ chaps who reportedly think that a 70% increase in bonus is justified, their right, etc, were asked to operate as ‘self-employed’ chaps (OK, Governance might have an issue) whether their tune might change.
    While we are not all cut out to be entrepreneurs as some would have it, in the words of Seth Godin we can all “poke the box” in our own small or smaller way and those of us lucky (lunatic some might say:)) enough to work for ourselves can make it possible to allow others to poke the box, to initiate new things and find endless enjoyment in improving and innovating. Ask not what your company can do for you, but….. you know how it goes.


  4. A very rich review – balanced and practical. One added benefit I’ve found in 18 years Ayd is that, just occasionally, you have the right to decide not to work for arseholes. I’m fortunate in that I only need one hand to count these over my lifetime. I wish I had a device to identify them in advance tho ! :–)))

    Excellent review – The Chemistry Society did a write up of my synthesis of science, music and business a while back at http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2010/December/SchoolOfHardKnocks.asp


  5. Agree with every last word! You have clearly outlined ‘my’ reflective accounting each and every month…and its only been nearly 4 months since I left the ‘corporate’ world after nearly 20 years!
    These observations are my mojo, particularly those brief moments of doubt and fear.


  6. I had spent my whole life working for myself, due to living in rural area without many jobs available. After teaming up with a partner who had spent his life as a “wage slave” who had to learn to work for himself with me, I decided at forty to take a full time job working in the sandwich shop of a grocery store, just to see what it was like. What I experience really opened my eyes – from the other direction.
    As a wage slave working with others, his strategy was to define certain activities as “high skill” areas and claim them as his special work that only he could do “best.” Once he have secured his value, he can ignore other parts of the job that need to be done that he did not like to do – because in a team situation, other members of the team who are “lower status” will have to do them.
    As I said, working at a ‘regular’ job was a real eye-opener!
    I suddenly understood where the unworkable strategies of the guy I was partnered with had come from. The experience allow me to take measures to detour his “wage slave skills” before they got established as tacit agreements in our partnership. Owners need to know how to do everything that needs to be done – specialization isn’t profitable as it is in the world of wages.


      • I think what you have to say about self-employed people is important for their intimate partners to appreciate too. Your remark that you’re “always networking”… At that time for me, the most efficient way to get new jobs was to target a new store that was opening up. So I’d see one of these, & the partner had to put up with waiting in the car while I schmoozed when we were about to go out for lunch, etc. on his day off. He would say, “Why can’t you go out and get jobs when I’m not around…” Going out just to look for jobs was a whole lot less productive than running into a potential lead for a job “accidentally on purpose” – especially when a fifteen minute wait for him meant a job for us.


  7. A very wise reflection, Ayd. And very valuable for anyone thinking of going down the same road. I don;t think it’s for everybody (certainly not me), and I like the way you draw a balance between the greener grass of greater freedom and the (?) browner having constant responsibility.


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