Self-employment can be wonderful or a pain in the you know what. Here are four lessons to help you achieve success.
Self-employment is quickly becoming an ever-increasing trend present within the modern work environment. In the past, we had to depend on companies and organizations to provide us a means to living. In decades long-gone by, a man was judged by the job he held, who he worked for, and the amount of time he invested into his career. Where self-ownership was possible, it likely came from starting your own business. Our current generation and world are much more hyper-paced. Careers transition in the matter of minutes, companies have difficulties retaining employees, and more people than before are leaving businesses with the hope of self-managing. It is not even that we are starting new businesses; it is that we are finding more and more people who want to be self-reliant.
It makes sense when you look at it considering how much leeway and reach technology allows us. It made sense for me and it certainly made sense to thousand of others. Why work for an organization where you are unhappy, fit into boxes defined by others, and doing work with no immediate bearing on your future when instead, you can be self-employed. Like prospectors striking out for the next vein of gold, the realm of self-employment is the next businessman’s Wild West. Some are better at navigating this harsh climate than others and some quickly forgo this life style for the structures of comfort. Yet being self-employed is an adventure for any no matter what the outcome.
Being self-employed, living with that career sense of adventure can be fulfilling while meeting personal and professional needs. It can also be incredibly lonely, frustrating, confusing and at times very scary. As a 24-year-old young professional, naturally the sense of adventure inside of me was drawn to the allure we were sold as boys growing up. I wanted to be a man who forged my own fate.
I was inspired by the stories I was sold. Our culture loves to lift up heroes in our narratives. Now more than ever, the heroes our boys are being taught to worship are the giants of Silicon Valley. Throughout high school and college I was inundated with stories of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates; my generation is the generation of the Zuckerberg. We have been sold on the idea of the entrepreneurial spirit. “Head West” takes a different meaning for us because this meaning is less find adventure and more start your own path. The narrative is in place urging us to become our own employers.
Many have and will answer this call. It is also a very underplayed one. It took me about two weeks into self employment to learn it was less forging my own destiny from the toils of my labor and more toiling and labor with no forge ahead of me.
A dream and a story do little to provide you a path when you take the jumping off point to self-employment. Narratives of past life hero provides few answers. Real world examples help. In my own experience, I have only been self-employed for roughly nine months but across this time I have learned quite a bit. More importantly, I am lucky to be a part of a community of self-starters who provide me some great lessons. Below are a few lessons I picked up on the way that have helped me navigate my own proverbial journey west. It is important we start sharing these lessons to be sure we are setting each other up for success while still selling the self-employment tales.
The first problem that struck me on my journey is that I lost the routine of my old 9 to 5 and began to self regulate. Even more difficult, I worked on a project basis meaning that if I finished one project with a break between the next, the income was enough to live off but work was void. This was frustrating for the first three months. When I had a project, I could work my ass off to get everything accomplished. The second I was done I went back to a weird, lacking schedule. What was missing in my life was any sense of normalcy.
Everyone has different thoughts on routines, but it has been shown that many successful individuals are effective because they create routines. Everyone from famous writers to social media gurus to tech founders have documented routines. Whether working from home or out of a coffee shop, a routine allows you the power to time and pace yourself. Without a routine it is easy to get caught up in task that are separate from work but need doing like laundry or chores. Having a routine forces you to focus on your work even if your job for the day is working on the smallest part of a project. When considering self-employment, focus on establishing something that works for you and stick to it. After the first few weeks, you will find yourself a natural pro and work will become a flow like any scheduled job.
Find a community
This was big for me and I know for countless others. I am fortunate to rent space out of a shared co-working environment in my city. Before I found Green Spaces, I was part of a crew of regulars at a local coffee shop. In both situations, the intention was the same. Finding a community of people I could be a part of.
Depending on your level of self-employment can vary your company anywhere from having partners or maybe you just have your golden retriever. No matter the circumstances, when we remove ourselves from traditional offices, we also remove a work body of peers that was a regular part of our lives. This sense of community lacks in self-employment. Finding this community again can be powerful in providing you individuals whom you can interact and socialize with. The beauty of communities is that these people do not even need to be in the same industry. No one I am friends with at my co-working space has the same career as me, but my lawyer and tech friends would care if I didn’t show up consistently, they are always willing to grab lunch, and we hang out outside of work. At best, a community is a place to share ideas and advance your business. At worst, people at least notice if you haven’t shown up and can provide some accountability. Communities matter.
Don’t talk about your projects until you make progress
I was excited. I had quit my job and was headed to Denver. This cowboy was running from work and ready to chase dreams I had previously shelved. I had ideas, I had plans, and I had projects. I had so many ideas, plans, and projects in fact that for the first few weeks, all I did was talk to anyone who would listen. I was enthusiastic and a few weeks into work, I looked around and realized something; I had accomplished almost nothing.
Habitually, whenever we create goals, we want to tell others. Especially when we are passionate about them. Be careful that in this process, your major projects don’t just linger as pie in the sky ideas. Do the actual work on them, and then share these accomplishments with others. Before you shot out about your work, expecting praise, accomplish at least some work on your projects. You might find it takes you longer than expected and that the work is not as easy. Be excited, but be diligent least you get caught up in the gab over the progress.
Learn from everyone
People know a lot. Everyone knows something different from me. I can talk to you all day about creativity and leadership theory. My barista can tell me about the art of coffee and chemistry. My co-op owner can talk about starting a community. Her husband can tell me about construction. The point is we live in a world where everyone has different experiences. Learn from them.
I took very few business classes in college. I can’t tell you much about taxes, but my friend Kevin can. In the beginning, my natural inclination as a reader was to find all the information, until I realized people around me have that information. Instead of incorporating myself, it was much easier to talk with the people around me. Instead of doing business taxes, I have a friend for that. When you become self-employed, there is a lot to learn and never enough time. Trust your communities, build relationships, and ask questions. You will never be the expert on every aspect of your own company and there is a reason large businesses have multiple departments of specialist. Don’t try to force yourself to become the expert on all when other people already are the expert. Trust your peers and friends. If you need help, hire someone with those skills. It makes life much easier in the long run.
Following your dreams professionally, and in turn somewhat personally, can be the most rewarding experience you will ever have. It is an experience and you will always be learning. I am a better employee of my self today than I was yesterday and hope to be a better employee tomorrow. Becoming self-employed is a process. As someone only a few months in, having seen the good and the bad, I know it is well worth the effort.
Photo: Flickr/ ianus