Monday, August 25, 2008

The Joy of SE

I think self-employment is going to enjoy a renaissance. In a post-peak future, when more expensive energy means far fewer globally shipped goods, the global economy may well transform into a local economy. In a local economy, we will all have to start meeting each other's needs. This will be a prime opportunity for entrepreneurs and others who want to work for themselves, as well as those who can't find paid employment.

Why would someone want to work for themselves? Why give up a steady paycheck, health care benefits, and 2 weeks of paid vacation to take on the hassles of figuring out how to start a business? Dealing with your local bureaucracy, deciding how to market your product or service, and accounting for your revenues and expenses can all be a big headache.

It can be a PITA to pay your own payroll, SS and Medicare taxes, and it can be frightening to know that you alone are responsible for your paycheck... the size of which can vary from week to week, or season to season. Add to that the fact that new businesses may not provide a living wage or break even on their investment for one or two years... if ever.

Ah! But the rewards.....
1. You answer to yourself.

A primary reason to quit the job for many self-employed folk. It's not just about escaping bad bosses. When you work for yourself, you get to choose where you work, when you work, and what you do. You can choose the color of the walls, the location of the office, the style of your website. Everything!

You can make decisions in line with your values. You don't have to deal with clients you don't like. And no boss can tell you what to do.

2. You can choose to make a difference.
When you work for someone else, you are limited by your job description. Policies and procedures, rules, bureaucracy, and hierarchy all dictate your actions. You do what your job is, whether or not you agree with the meaning of your acts, the goals of your employer; whether or not you believe in what you are doing. That is, if you want to get paid.

When you work for yourself, you can choose to spend your time doing something meaningful. You can choose a healing profession. You can choose to start a business selling sustainability products. You can choose to set up a business manufacturing Sun Ovens. You can start a non-profit helping children, working to stop sprawl, community gardens, a food co-op. You can offer to start gardens for the elderly or disabled. Dream it, do it. Align your life with your values.

3. You have flexibility.

Flexibility in choosing your working hours is extremely important for some people, including stay at home mothers or those who have disabilities or illnesses. You decide when to work, how many clients to take on, and your schedule. If you suffer from insomnia, you can take naps during the day. If you have a small child, you can work part-time. You can go to the doctor when you need to. You can take off 12 weeks if you want to take a dream vacation, or for maternity leave, or for chemotherapy treatments. You can take all the time you want to prepare for peak oil. You can take off half a day to take your son and daughter to a baseball game.

Now, working for yourself is also very demanding, and can be seasonal. At those times you will not have flexibility. But still, you will be able to make the call.

4. You get the credit, and the profits.

When you are self-employed, you decide your rates and prices. You get to keep 100% of your profits after expenses and taxes. It's also nice having clients who have a relationship with you, are loyal to you, not your employer.

5. You can avoid traffic.

You can choose to work from home, or choose an office close enough to bike to, or go to work outside of rush-hour times. Bonus: save time, reduce carbon emissions, and possibly even get rid of your car. Personally, I have a home office (which is also a tax deduction at the end of the year).

6. You can control your environment.

You can set up your office environment to be as comfortable and as aesthetically pleasing as you'd like. You can choose what to wear - whether it's pajamas, scrubs, or business casual clothes. Many people these days have chemical or environmental sensitivities, and since you have control over your office, you can eliminate these potential hazards.

You can also make your office as environmentally friendly as you'd like. You can use CFL bulbs, insist on recycling and composting, buy green products, use only non-toxic cleaning products, and fill your space with houseplants. If you employ other people, you can be a trendsetter in environmental office space.

My experience with self-employment

When I first started my private practice, it was tough to take the massive pay cut. I also lost my benefits, so I now rely on my husband to provide health care insurance. Note: It's much easier to work for yourself if you have a partner who is providing traditional benefits like health care, and whose paycheck you can rely on to pay the bills every month.

In the beginning, there were plenty of start up costs, and lots of marketing to do. When you work for yourself, you need at least 3 skill sets: the skills of your profession, business skills, and marketing skills. For example, I had to figure out how to get licensed, what rate to charge, how to register my business name with the state, obtain liability insurance, design a website, and set up my accounting books. Then, I had to wait for clients to call, and encourage them to re-schedule. Nerve-wracking!

That was 2 years ago, and it did take a full two years to build up my business to provide a living wage. It seemed like an uphill battle. I had to have faith in myself and keep marketing, marketing, marketing, even when it seemed as if marketing was not working. I had major doubts in my mind throughout that first year, including the viability of my business in this location, my self-esteem, and how long my husband would put up with my sad income.

Now, I have a steady clientele, and I'm glad I choose self-employment since I do have so much flexibility and control. It really comes in handy with a baby/toddler.

Are there any other self-employed folks out there? How do you like it?


Tara said...

Hubby and I are not self-employed, but we'd like him to be. I'll keep my day job as long as possible for the steady pay and benefits, and it actually does give me far more flexibility than the average day job!

We're also learning that it helps to have multiple income streams, especially if you're self-employed. This doesn't necessarily mean taking on a second "conventional" job, but rather not putting all your eggs in one basket, especially if your work is seasonal. You could, say, cut firewood or mow hay part of the year, do small engine repair all year, and sell your excess meat, eggs or vegetables, just as an example. Seems like a lot of rural folks do this. Makes sense, since this way you'd be likely to have some money coming in from somewhere nearly all the time, even if it's not much.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretending to be anonymous, as I have a job that requires me to surf the internet 90% of the time. I'm supposed to be looking for one thing, but end up wandering through sustainability and peak oil blogs while I'm out and about.

The point being: I am SOOOOOO not a self-employed kinda gal. I don't want the risk. I like doing my job very well and getting paid at the end of the week. It's not MY fault that I can complete my job about a zillion times faster than the person who was here before me, and thus have some extra time to visit people.

Tara said...

Hee hee! Anon - me too. That's why I'm keeping mine, at least for now.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly why I'm keeping mine too. Boss is a very bad man and rude to the "little people" . He's condescending, greedy, etc etc. THAT SAID, he is totally a great boss and treats me well and with dignity and respect. Don't know why but since it pays better than anything else around this burg, I keep it.

These blogs are what allow me to not get fed up and quit, just because he is such a bad person.

Please note, he does do anything ILLEGAL (I would quit in a heartbeat), he's just small-minded, arrogant and a complete capitalist (don't get him started on social services... sheeesh)

eatclosetohome said...

Folks need to keep in mind that self-employment means you are running a business. If you don't like accounting, marketing, billing, and the rest of the logistical stuff that goes with running a business, think twice about self-employment. Personally, I loved it...when I had enough work to do. But it was really, really hard keeping enough work coming in the door. I also found I missed people, and the creativity that happens when smart folks get together. There are days I'm ready to go back to it, and days I'm just happy that even when I'm bored, I still get a pay check. :)

Hausfrau said...

Good points eatclosetohome... I miss being around people too. When I worked at a clinic there was a lot of cameraderie. But I made half as much money, and had to sit around at the office when I wasn't booked.

green with a gun said...

Let me tell about the worst boss I ever had.

He wanted me to work 12 hour days, even a few times 16 hours. He didn't care about my family commitments, the business came first. I often had to work 10 hours without any break, or 8 hours without a food break. He had me take on jobs I wasn't really skilled at because he was too stingy to pay for someone who could do them well. He frequently abused me, was unforgiving of my failures and gave little praise for my successes. That was especially galling since many of my failures were at those things I wasn't skilled at and I'd told him he should have got someone else to do. He didn't give me the leave I asked for, and caused me to miss a lot of family commitments. He paid me very badly, since he wanted to invest the money back into the business.

That boss, that arsehole, is me. And that's the problem with being your own boss - you have an arsehole for a boss. Even the worse boss is more considerate of your feelings and needs than you are of yourself.

Hausfrau said...

green with a gun - funny! ;)

I'd have to say that, surprisingly from the perspective of my perfectionist and anxiety-laden tendencies at my other jobs, I take it super-easy on myself as a boss. I have a job where I can "leave work at work" - no thinking about it when I'm not doing it - and that's one of my favorite things about it. I also don't work more hours than I want to or that are good for me. What kind of boss you are really depends on who you are and what your goals are for your business/profession.