Is Self-Employment For You?

Being a self-employed means you work 12 hours a day for yourself so you don't have to work 8 hours a day for someone else. - Oliver Markus Malloy

After twenty years at law firms, I left with my book of business and opened up my own practice. Words really can’t express the sheer happiness I have experienced since then. I bill fewer hours but take home significantly higher compensation. I actually enjoy practicing law again. I am finally able to combine my international practice with my love of travel, resulting in more trips abroad to meet with clients and expand my network. As my mentors and colleagues had assured me just prior to venturing out on my own, I wish I had done this ten years earlier.

Many wonder, as I did, if starting their own practice, firm or business is a viable option. Self-employment is a terrific fit for some and a nightmare for others. Here are some things to consider about self-employment when trying to decide if it will work for you:

1. Are You Experienced? Like I said, I became my own boss after twenty years of practice – and thirty years of full-time employment. It was so helpful over those thirty years to learn, experience and observe a variety of approaches to determine what business methods resonated with me and worked for my clients.

I’m not saying someone can’t just start a business having never worked for someone else, but nothing matches experience in other organizations for learning the practicalities of business on a day-to-day basis. Even family-owned businesses usually require family members to work in the “real world” prior to joining the business. If you have just started your career but ultimately want to be self-employed, working for others is a great place to start.

2. How Structured Are You? Some people impose structure on themselves well and are able to complete their work without outside nudging. Self-structured people have often thought about how they would run things differently in their current organizations and they have practical plans of exactly how to do it. They feel an itching to just do things their own way, knowing their way will work better. Self-structured people can thrive well as their own bosses.

On the other hand, some people are most comfortable when working within an organization’s parameters. When the structure of an organization is imposed upon them, they feel calmer and safer working within it. These people probably need to stay within an organization that someone else is running – or go into business with a partner who is willing to be responsible for imposing structure.

3. How Social Are You? It’s important to figure out if you need to be around people all day or if you are perfectly comfortable working solo. Your employment environment needs to match up with the level of your need for social interaction. For some introverts, for instance, working solo from home sounds like a peaceful and inviting atmosphere.

If, at the other extreme, you need constant interaction with others, you may want to either stay employed by others or, pursue your own path with at least several other people. If you will be running your practice solo, than your workday should include regular face-to-face meetings, networking and social events.

4. Do You Enjoy Marketing? I happen to enjoy the creativity that good marketing requires. You don’t need to love it, but you do need to be able to put up with it, because it is really important. As a business owner, a good portion of your time and business resources are going to be used for marketing, advertising and sales. You will need to attend networking events and conferences, stay in constant contact with your industry members, develop advertising and social media campaigns and handle public relations.

Information technology is going to become a much bigger part of your life, especially if you had someone else handle this at your former organization. Finding a good IT person can be difficult due to the lack of any clear education or certification requirements in this industry. The consequences – security, privacy and financials - are crucial.

5. Do You Have An Existing Customer or Client Base? Finances are a vital part of any decision to become self-employed. If you are in the type of business like professional services, you may be able to take your existing clients and start your own firm without so much as a blip in continuity of service to clients – or your income. However, many consultants and other professionals need to wait for some time before they can contact anyone in their professional network. A severance package, savings - or an understanding family member - will have to carry you through this period. This time is a good time to hone your business plan, marketing plan and the unveiling of your new venture.

Even a lack of existing customers or clients is mitigated if you have been in your industry for long enough to have a solid network of contacts. Plan on your business taking at least a year or two of marketing efforts before you are at full financial capacity. Get a good objective financial opinion on your plan from a trusted accountant or advisor before launching.

Ultimately, what’s the worst that can happen if you try out self-employment? You could try doing your own thing for a few months and if it doesn’t work, you’ll have to go out and find another job. That’s not so bad, considering taking such a risk might result in you realizing your vision of being your own boss.