Finding & Keeping Work Part 4

Doing your own thing

If you read the previous section on job interviews with mounting dismay, you are not alone. Even the best companies have a certain level of organizational insanity, while the worst of them make Dilbert and his pointy-haired boss look rational.

There is a solution to the endless round of finding an employer, learning the ropes, working long hours, and being declared surplus because of factors beyond your control. You can choose the most interesting work of all, going into business for yourself and working to satisfy customers instead of an employer.

Working for yourself gives you more satisfaction, more real job security, and more scope for your creativity than working for most employers. You have total responsibility for your success or failure…and for protecting yourself against accidents, sickness and mistakes in judgement.

There is tremendous satisfaction in bringing in income from something you have personally produced and sold. There is just no “free” safety net of a benefits package with insurance and sick days. In order to manage your destiny and do your own thing, you have to confront and handle the realities of a small business. These include market research, product development, financing, equipment purchases, sales calls, hiring employees, permits, taxes, insurance, and so forth.

In spite of this daunting list of new responsibilities, people go into business for themselves every day. You can do it too. I will not address the middle path, where people become “independent” contractors working for companies that place contractors in large corporations. These contractors have fewer benefits than employees, less job security, and less job satisfaction. If you want to strike off in a new direction, I can share some experiences, good and bad, that may help you decide what to do.

How to get started

Many people who are now doing their own thing got their start with a pink slip from an employer. If you haven’t got your notice yet, you may have a little time to assess your opportunities and resources.

Either way, you should do the following steps:
1. Write down all of your skills that people are willing to pay for.
2. Write down the ways in which these skills might be employed to make money.
3. Pick your most salable skill and write down the potential customers for this skill. Make sure this is something you enjoy doing.
4. Develop a one page business plan for using this skill to generate income. Look for situations where you start with a clear competitive advantage or at least a level playing field. If you are interested, I can send you a business plan questionnaire as an aid to get started.
5. Run the business plan by those who will be most affected and by those who may be able to help you. Refine the plan until you feel it is workable
6. Work out your finances. Where is the startup money going to come from? How long before this business will pay for itself? How little can you get by with for food, clothes, housing, etc. Do you need to keep working while getting this new venture off the ground?

You may have to do steps 3 and 4 for several skill areas before you come up with a viable solution that provides enough income to support your family and provides you with job satisfaction. You may find you will go through several evolutions before you get it right.

Some examples from life

In our immediate vicinity, there are a number of companies being run out of homes. They produce both products and services: Packaging material sales, homemade candy production, creation of fine paintings, fine cabinetry, musical instruments, and construction services of all kinds. There is a farm down the road with several million dollars worth of CNC equipment whirring away in an outbuilding. There is another small farm that produces wonderful flavored goat cheese and incredible frozen fruit sorbets.

These are all people who decided to take their future in hand and are doing what it takes to make a living through their own efforts. Most will tell you they are really tired at the end of the day, but they seem happy with their work.

Sometimes, it takes several tries to get it right. During the Eighties, I was terminated by a small software firm for irreconcilable differences with the president. I took a detour into non-profit activities and eventually developed a business and marketing consulting practice with my wife, Gretchen, for companies in the LA area. After several years, this led to a stint at a small Silicon Valley firm and then to full-time employment at Sun Microsystems.

After fattening our bank accounts during the internet bubble, we realized that our time as independent consultants was the most emotionally satisfying part of our recent careers. I was planning for a new foray into working for myself when Sun assisted me by laying me off with 4400 other people. This time we were better prepared for the long haul.

We moved to Virginia where living expenses are much lower than Silicon Valley and developed a business plan for a custom wood products company. At the same time, we started networking and found that there was a need for business and marketing consultation for small businesses in the area. It has taken a year to develop both businesses to the point where we are seeing positive cash flow.

It has been the most challenging and satisfying time of our lives.

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