Perspective: the realities of self-employment

Posted December 13, 2013 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

December 13, 2007 marked the official launch of The Executive Roundtable.  Happy anniversary to us.  Although we’d been incorporated a few months prior, this date is the milestone marker I use to celebrate the birth of an idea that had been seven years in the making.  As we celebrate our sixth anniversary, I thought I’d share my observations with all of our readers who may be either a) gainfully employed but wishing they were entrepreneurs; and b) unemployed and thinking they don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

It took me a few years before I felt like I could actually call myself an “entrepreneur”.  For some reason, I felt more like a person who just didn’t have a job… rather than a bonefide business owner.  It might be because my business wasn’t making any money, but I think it was also because I had some strange notion of what I thought being an entrepreneur meant.

Every year, I watch members of our community go through stints of unemployment and I talk to other members who work full time but dream of being self-employed.  Invariably, both groups give me the same reasons as to “why they could never be an entrepreneur.”  They go something like this:

  1. I need to work with people… I could never work alone.  (Ditto…feel the same way).
  2. I couldn’t handle the insecurity of not having a steady paycheque.  (Yup.  Check my box on that one too.  I ran away from home at 17 and have always had a high need for financial security as a result.)
  3. I couldn’t take the rejection.  (It’s hard.  But then so is not getting that job you’ve been after or that promotion you wanted.  Rejection isn’t just the domain of entrepreneurs.)
  4. Our expenses are too high.  I can’t afford to not have a paycheque.  (When I quit my job my husband was home with our daughter.  I walked away from a six figure salary with a mortgage that required six figures – which was beyond the realm of the social services paycheque my husband was pulling.)
  5. I’m not disciplined enough to work on my own.  (Trust me.  I can spend hours playing Spider Solitaire.) 

Here’s the thing.  All of those “reasons” aren’t really “reasons”, they’re choices that you’re making to stay where you are vs. go after what you really want (if being an entrepreneur is, in fact, what you REALLY want).   Believe me.  I made the same excuses for seven years before I took the plunge.  Here’s how I flipped each one:

  1. I could never work alone….I set up an advisory committee of friends, former clients and colleagues I respected that I brought together quarterly during my first year in the businesses.  Each month I would share updates with them on the progress I was making (which also helped me hold myself accountable to getting stuff done).  I started a peer group with other entrepreneurs to share ideas, leads and generally support each other.  There are tons of other ways that you can build community to help you get through no longer having a team.  You don’t need to work alone.
  2. I couldn’t handle not having a steady paycheque… no question, this part is tough.  But, if you plan for it, you can make it work.  Figure out exactly how much you need to bring home and focus on that to start.  Don’t worry about trying to replicate your corporate salary. You only need to earn 80% of what you were earning for someone else to maintain the same lifestyle.  If you trim back for a couple of years while you’re building your business, you might need surprisingly less than you think.
  3. I couldn’t take the rejection… this is never fun, but this is also where surrounding yourself with a network of support helps.  There are people out there that will love what you do and, when you’re having a bad day, call them for a boost.  Keep a book of positive emails and testimonials and reread them when you need to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Plus, the more you get rejected, the more you learn about what’s working with your business idea and what’s not.  Adjust, tweak, take the feedback and try again.  Eventually, you’ll find the sweet spot and rejection will become less of a regular occurrence.
  4. Our expenses are too high… this is where you need to get your partner on board.  For us to make my dream of self-employment work we had to sell our house and move to a less “desirable” neighbourhood.  (Ironically, we like the neighbours more in this area than our old area).  We blew through our savings and had to eliminate all our the extras for a couple of years. It sucked  but we got through it and I honestly have no regrets.
  5. I’m not disciplined to work at home… It’s funny how the requirement to pay your mortgage trumps watching Dr. Phil in the afternoons when you’re self-employed.  The good news is there are tons of entrepreneur groups that can help you stay on track.  Plus making money when you have no choice can be an amazing motivator…it’s much harder if you don’t really “need” the income.

Now, after all this, I’m not saying entrepreneurship is for everyone.  It’s not and it’s definitely not easy.  I’ve never worked this hard in my entire career (and I was a pretty hard worker as an employee, believe me).   However, the rewards are huge and for individuals who crave autonomy, flexibility and the freedom to truly put their strengths to work every day… it’s a tough life to beat.

Thanks to everyone reading this post that has been part of our journey to-date.  We absolutely would not be here without your support.  We’re looking forward to the next six years as we continue to inspire great leadership in our teams, companies and communities.

Happy leading!

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