The brave world of the self employed

This is a topic I can speak on with some authority; having been self employed for eighteen of the past thirty eight years. Not all in one stretch mind you. Every now and then I get a rush of blood to the head or my bank manager points to the overdraft and I fall back into the safety net of employment – it usually lasts for only a very short period of time. Once the blood recedes back into my bodily parts I am left with this overwhelming and chilly feeling. Yet I am often approached by others for advice on whether they should jump the corporate ship and launch upon their own seafaring journey.

Whenever I am asked this I feel the onset of another rush of blood. It starts somewhere near my feet, scrambles up my legs, rushes past some unmentionable areas, surges along my spine, tumbles over the top of my cranium and then spurts out onto the dashboard or the desk in a single sentence, ‘don’t be so bloody stupid’. Often to followed by stunned silence.

Why would anyone want to give up corporate life? Afterall it provides you with comfortable working conditions, occupational health and safety nets, regular income, increases in income, predictability, annual holidays, sick leave, stress leave, mental health days, professional development, collegiality, a social network and maybe even a perk or two. It provides an environment where the useless can remain undetected while still being paid and those that are useful can be at their best. In the corporate world managers can have staff without having to worry about how to pay them.

Notice hear we are talking about the people that work in these organisations rather than the people that own them.

On the other side of the coin, there are those that eschew the corporate world, that set their own destination and plot their own journey. 98% of them will be worse off financially than their colleagues in the coporate world. Well it might not be as high as 98% but it might be close.

When you own the business, you pay yourself to worry. Yes even when you employ people you are the one that has to worry about where the money will come from to pay them.

Starting a new business venture is not only risky, it is time consuming. It eats up your spare time for the next decade. Don’t be fooled by the Facebooks or Microsofts or Virgin Airlines of this world. 80% of new business ventures fail to last five years and off those that remain only a small number grow to provide their owners with any ongoing certainty. For many self employment means empty bank accounts, broken marriages, children that hate everything you believe in and friends that cannot understand why you are working weekends.

When I talk about being self employed I refer to those small, sole trader businesses, the majority, rather than the heady few that break through, employ people and become large businesses.

There is the good side. When you are self employed you get to make your own decisions and you only have yourself to blame when you stuff it up. Take it from me there is something kinda satisfying about stuffing up your own decisions as opposed to having to put up with the impact of a decision that was stuffed up by someone else – like an incompetent manager!

When you work for yourself you can have as much time off as you like – so long as you remember you may have to forego some income or revenue as a result. Of course, no one will keep on top of things while you are swanning away in the sun on Hamilton Island. When you return you will be overdosing on stress and abusing your body with cell damaging and addictive substances. It might be worth it though.

And of course when self employed you get to choose who you work with. Now this is a real bonus, believe me. This can make your day. This bit really excites me. I can say NO to anyone I want, except perhaps my bank manager or a client waving a big fat contract or my wife. But hey, you can’t say no to any of them either, can you? Noone tells me what time to start work, what to wear, where to sit, who to tolerate, who I must be subservient to or who I cannot be rude to. So long as I remember everything I do or say has a dollar sign attached to it.

Would I give up self employment for full time employment? Never say never, but I would have to be desperate or the opportunity would have to be unique (as it has been on one past occasion), but thats me. I am unique in myself; just as you are also unique and that means the only person able to decide is you. Only you know when you feel comfortable or uncomfortable. There is no right or wrong here; there is only what works for you.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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