Who hasn’t thought of working for themselves? I know quite a few who have more than thought it: they, like me, have actually done it and do run their own ship. If you are one who hasn’t made that switch but still has the dream, I wish you luck and hope that you can join us soon.
Maybe you want to be a consultant, or sell something on the web , be a full time “pro-blogger” or maybe it’s something else entirely. It doesn’t matter: you have a dream and (I hope!) a plan and you know you can get there.
I’m a big fan of working for yourself. I think it’s the best choice for overall happiness, and I can be very enthusiastic when I write about it. But today I’d like to talk about something else: setbacks, difficulties, and disappointment
My first brush with self employment was in 1978. I was in a retail store partnership with several other people and most of us also worked at the store. Retail can be fun, but the store owns you, so it felt much more like having a job and as I was only a minority “owner”, in reality that’s what it was. After a few years I saw the business was heading for trouble, so I sold my interest and took a “real” job again. At that time I had the dream of working for myself, but didn’t know what I might do.
Over the next year I thought about just that, and realized that what I wanted was something to do with computers whether I worked for myself or someone else. So I took a job with Tandy Corporation in one of their now long gone Tandy Computer Centers as a Customer Support Rep.
I enjoyed that, but shortly Tandy started losing badly to IBM, and my income, which was mostly based on store profits, sank to a dismal level. I had gained some skills by then and knew a few people who needed them, so in 1983 I went out “on my own”. That first year wasn’t much better than working at minimum wage, but it improved quickly, and by 1985 I was doing pretty well. Well enough that I took on a partner and three other employees.
That was a complete disaster. Only one of the employees was productive, and one was actually stealing from us. That first partner was ineffectual and a money sink and by 1987 I was nearly six figures in debt. I fired all but one employee and took him on as a partner after getting rid of the first partner. I was angry, disappointed, full of recriminations and self doubt. Then the “good” employee moved cross country and I was once again alone. I had that debt, no savings, no 401K, no investments.. I was depressed, angry and near broke.
I struggled by for a couple of years, but these were dark times. The money was OK, but the crush of the incurred debt weighed on me. In 1991, one of my better clients offered me a job that would allow me to keep operating my consulting business as a profit center within their business. It seemed like a good idea, so I took it, and actually was pretty happy there. I had the benefits of a “real job”, but I also had many of the benefits of working for myself.. it wasn’t bad.
But then they got bought out by a larger corporation and I felt I had to leave. I can’t work in a large company: the politics, the difficulty of getting simple decisions made – it’s not for me. So I left, and went back to me, myself and I once again.
Less than a year later, another client offered me a job. This seemed like a real opportunity: manage the tech department of a growing sales organization. My lone-wolf business wasn’t doing badly, but this would give me the opportunity to grow, to learn some things I just couldn’t find time for on my own.. after almost a month of kicking it around, I took the job.
I realized it was a horrible mistake within a year. However, I had burned my bridges and my old customers had mostly not transitioned with me to this new outfit. Can’t blame them: this group charged very high prices and was sometimes hard to deal with, but the final line was that I was a little trapped – the money was good, and if I left, I’d have to start mostly from scratch. I swallowed hard and hung in, but things got worse and worse there and in 1997 I bit the bullet and left the job.
That was eleven years ago. I actually recovered business much more quickly than I thought I would and only had minor cash flow problems for a few months. After that, everything settled down and business was good and remains so today. The only debt I have is a small mortgage, I have substantial retirement funds – well, I did before the crash this year – and savings: the dark years are long gone. Not that life is always easy: working for yourself requires constant effort; tomorrows income needs help getting here. But I am where I want to be.
So, all is well that ends well, I guess. A lot of twists and turns getting here, but here I am just the same. I tell you all this because you may face disappointment and setbacks too: most self-employed people have experienced bitter failure at some point in their careers. Somehow they found a way to pick up the pieces and get back to the goal.
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