Past Issues

July 05, 2010

Taking the Leap to Freelancing or Self-Employment

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Taking the Leap to Self-Employment

By Phyllis Korkki, The New York Times

SITTING in their cubicles, rolling their eyes over the latest bureaucratic slowdown or marveling at the near incompetence of higher-ups, some employees are thinking:

If only I were my own boss, I wouldn't have these problems.

No, they wouldn't. They'd have a host of different problems. Still, some people make the leap to self-employment and find it was worth the risk when prepared for properly.

How can a salaried employee with some savings tell if the idea of becoming self-employed is a viable option and not just an escape fantasy? And how can a recently laid-off employee with some severance pay determine whether this is the right time to pursue her dream of being an entrepreneur?

Is self-employment a viable option? Things to consider:

First, you must be motivated to sell a specific product or service that you have found to be marketable. And your business idea should be based on expertise that you already have, said Susan Urquhart-Brown, author of "The Accidental Entrepreneur" and a career coach. Learning how to run a business is challenging enough without also learning a new skill from scratch, she said.

Some soon-to-be entrepreneurs come up with a solution to a business problem and find their current company is unwilling to pursue it, said William A. Sahlman, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School with a focus on entrepreneurship.

"There's a mismatch between what they're passionate about and feel ought to be done and what the current company is prepared to support," he said.

Motivation, drive, passion ...

These words are often used in connection with entrepreneurs. "They need to be passionate about what they do because that will carry them through the tough times," Ms. Urquhart-Brown said.

As an entrepreneur you also need to be an excellent multi-tasker, because you're in charge of your own marketing, payroll, administrative work, taxes and health insurance.

At first, the actual business may be secondary because you will need to devote most of your time to setting up and marketing. If you cringe at the idea of selling yourself, vow to hire someone for that task.

At the beginning, expect to devote long hours to your enterprise. And those hours, though more flexible, can be unpredictable. People who prefer a fixed structure may be better off as salaried employees. Entrepreneurs prefer a more fluid work environment. They actually thrive on the stress of uncertainty and the adrenaline rush it gives them.

Make sure to be networking and connecting regularly

In addition to structure and predictability, a workplace offers a built-in sense of community, which can be hugely important to happiness. One of the biggest problems faced by the self-employed is loneliness. So always make sure to connect regularly -- either online or in person -- with business people, clients and others in your industry.

These days fewer businesses are offering comprehensive benefits, which can tip the scale toward self-employment, said Sara Horowitz, executive director of the Freelancers Union. Her group, which has 140,000 members, offers five levels of health insurance to self-employed people in a range of industries.

Even in the face of failure, most entrepreneurs are not willing to give up. "Once an entrepreneur has a taste having more control over their lives and careers, they almost never go back to the daily grind.

If you're looking for a change and would like to break free from the rat race, it may be time re-evaluate your career and consider self-employment, freelancing and/or entrepreneurship!

Best of luck to you!

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