Self employment income – How high do you set the bar?

This is from an article I wrote long before I moved to Floyd Virginia. If you are still feeling your way in the world of self employment, this may help you sort things out. If you are employed, but can see cracks appearing in the floor this may be something you will want to remember.

Rule One: Keep a roof over your head and stay healthy

When you leave the corporate mothership, you have a chance to re-examine your priorities. If your departure was forced upon you, you are facing a difficult period of adjustment. If you prepared yourself beforehand, you might have an easier time of it.

You may have been complaining about your work/life balance for years, but now you are faced with choices that must be made and work/life balance will not be in the top twenty issues you have to handle. You will probably find that keeping up with the rent or the mortgage is the biggest issue you have to confront.

If you have a spouse and children, a 30-40 hour work week may not be an option. If you began post-corporate life involuntarily, you may be working long hours at more than one job to support your family and keep things together.

Desperation is a great motivation. I can testify to that from personal experience. 

If you don’t have the skills to support your family outside of corporate employment, it can make you plunge into a job worse than your last one, just to pay the bills. This is a choice you may have to make.

On the other hand, if you are used to hard work and are willing to mortgage your house or sell it in order to buy a franchise or start a business, you have a far better chance of making it as an independent businessman, especially if your family stands ready to support you by picking up additional responsibilities to free you up for your 10-16 hour workdays.

There are some hard choices to make with children in college. When family income is drastically cut, everyone has to bear the load of supporting the family. If a family pulls together, it becomes stronger. If the family indulges in shame, blame, and regret, nothing good comes of it. A sane family deals with adversity and emerges unscathed and wiser. The lessons learned will affect family planning for years to come.

If you are currently working for a corporate employer or even the government, being adequately prepared for eventual separation from the mothership is the best security you can provide for yourself and your family.

Rule Two: Don’t take life seriously or you will do yourself great harm

Be determined that you will do what it takes to keep you family fed and sheltered, but don’t look back with regret. No matter how bad things are right now, you made your choices based on the best information you had at the time. You may be saying, "What was I thinking?" but you need to discard that regret and figure out how to make better decisions in the future.

The road to salvation lies in increasing your self-determinism in the matter of work. If you are not prepared to make enough money to support your family as an independent business person, you need to pick up some employment until you gain the necessary skills and customers to make a go of it.

From personal experience, I know that launching a business always takes longer than expected, so you should be prepared to do part-time work somewhere until your business takes off.

If they drop you out of the mothership in your fifties, you may not find employment again for some years. On the other hand, you may no longer have a large family to support, so you may be able to down size and cut your expenses to the point where you can live on a much smaller income.

Whatever happens in your post-corporate years, you are totally responsible for the results. If you are realistic in your planning, you can make a go of it with very little seed money. A lot of micro-businesses are financed by credit cards. You have to make every dollar count and be prepared to work on a smaller scale than you ever expected in order to get started.

Roll up your sleeves, network like crazy, and solve problems for people and get paid for it. Be real and you will succeed.

Rule 3: Your past career is history – don’t dwell on it. Use that experience to create a new life.

Adopt your new identity and make yourself comfortable being whoever your business requires you to be. As long as you take pride in your work and are delivering a superior product or service, people will respect you and continue to do business with you. That is what satisfying work is all about. It’s not the job itself, it’s what you make of it that counts.

You are on your own. If you survive it, you will transform yourself in ways you cannot imagine. If you can keep your sense of humor alive, it will be a much easier journey.

How many of you post-corporate pioneers been surprised at your ability to find business opportunities?
Do any of you have advice for those who will enter post-corporate life in the near future?

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0 Responses to Self employment income – How high do you set the bar?

  1. mattbg says:

    One thing I have a hard discerning from your writing (I have your book, too) is whether or not you draw a line between friends and network contacts. Do you have any friends who aren’t your friends for networking purposes? Or am I looking at it the wrong way?

  2. Matt,

    That’s the biggest difference between working for yourself and corporate life. As a corporate employee at any level, your friends are in one group and your business contacts are generally in another very widespread group.

    When you are self-employed, you often develop close relationships with the people you do work for. This is true whether you are an artist or a contractor, or a custom picture framer. 🙂

    If you have provided them with an excellent customer experience, they refer people to you. If they are in business for themselves, you refer people to them.

    Networks in the self-employed world are composed of people who look out for each other and help each other. This is more than mixers where business cards get passed around, it is a real life support system.

    If you view your business as a means to help other people, you will have little trouble networking. If your business is only a means to make money, networking will probably be an effort and will be artificial and forced.

    Does this help?

  3. Mouse says:

    So, David, how about advice for those of us returning to the corporate world, and please don’t say don’t do it!

  4. mattbg says:

    That helps, David. Thanks. In the corporate world, networking always seems to me to be artificial and forced. People’s faces only light up when they’re with the right company, etc. And laughs are louder depending on who you’re with (behind closed doors with the inner circle is loudest). So, I was interested to know how it’s different in self-employment and I think you gave me a better idea.

    The thing I wonder is whether you would be friends with any of the people you’re friends with if there was no business relationship. Is the friendship just a means of survival? I suppose it’s difficult to separate the two… as in any co-dependent community where friendships form because you were brought together by the business need. When the business need is gone, does the friendship remain and is it comparably significant?

  5. Matt,
    You probably want to help your friends and I would hope that your friends would want to help you survive better in life.

    Friendship is a mutual growing together, not a forced choice.

    I have many friends who are not potential customers, but I may be a potential customer for what they make. It makes me happy when I can refer someone to them and the reverse is true also.

    If I hear of someone who needs a contractor or a plumber, I am happy to recommend the ones I know, even if I don’t have a close personal relationship with them. On the other hand, working with someone on a long project builds mutual respect and friendship which can persist long after the project is over.

    Your friendships are the result of what you put into them. True friendship is the result of a two-way exchange.

    It is possible to remain friends with someone for many years, but there has to be a continuing basis for communication and understanding.

    After you stop working with someone, there may be nothing else you have in common. In that case, you will have little reason to continue communicating.

    In most cases, however, your affinity with someone actually encourages you to find areas of common interest. Sometimes this leads to a business relationship as well as friendship.

    There are people who you do business with but you have nothing else in common. These are people you associate with for business purposes only and that is fine also. If you have good manners and a pleasant communication cycle, you will probably make that business relationship as pleasant as possible, even if you don’t share other parts of your lives.

    There are no lines to be drawn. If you have an affinity for someone, it can be developed further through open communication. The more things you have in common, the closer you become as long as you stay in communication.

    It’s as simple as that. Communicate freely with respect and affinity with others and you will have more friends than you can imagine.

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