Self-employment is on the rise. Is it time for you to risk it?
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I’ve been self-employed since 2012, and sure, it’s had its ups and downs. In the end, though, I love it and I would not go back to being an employee unless I was truly in dire straits with no money, no prospects, and no credit left.
Before I go further, I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not think working a job or having a career is, in any way, inferior to being self-employed. It’s a deeply personal thing, so for one person, having a job may be amazing, and for another, being self-employed may be the only thing that will be truly fulfilling.
The important thing is that both the happily employed and the happily self-employed recognize that either choice is a legitimate one, and that neither should be discouraged or condemned. Obviously, businesses wouldn’t work without founders and employees, but there will always be more employees than founders, so the minority is less likely to find like-minded friends and family right out of the gate.
I’ve been extremely blessed in this regard, having my brother Mark and my wife, both of whom have supported, trusted, and partnered with me on my endeavors. It hurts me to see so many aspiring entrepreneurs going through the initial stages of the same process I went through with no support, so take this post as a word of encouragement to you if you’re having difficulty with this issue.
Maybe you’re like me, but no one in your social circle or family is like you in this way. That can cause permanent paralysis of your entrepreneurial ambitions.
When everyone tells you not to do it
I frequently see the same comment from entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs:
“I have an idea for a business, and I want to go for it. I hate my job, and I feel starting my own business is really what I should be doing with my life, but everyone tells me I shouldn’t do it because it won’t work, and because it’s too risky”
Or the even more painful:
“I’ve started my own business and it’s going great, but I still have a day-job. I want to quit my day-job and pursue my business full-time, but everyone is telling me not to.”
People will tell you that your business won’t work for a variety of reasons. The most common, I think, is just that most people are not mentally geared to be someone who would start their own business, so they can’t see how it would be possible for you to do so.
There are a variety of other reasons people might discourage you here, such as the fear from your spouse who wants the perceived security a job offers, or maybe the person you’re talking to simply doesn’t understand your idea. Whatever the reason, remember to listen for the message behind what they’re saying so you can determine whether their concerns are based on the actual viability of your idea or on something else entirely.
Entrepreneurs are an odd bunch, and that’s okay. It’s also okay to work a job for your whole life, if that’s your thing (it seems to be for most people). The conflict comes about when an entrepreneur/wantrepreneur asks the advice of someone (even a spouse) who doesn’t think like an entrepreneur, at all, and only gets discouragement in return.
Constructive or Non-constructive Criticism
It’s important to separate constructive critiques and non-constructive ones.
A constructive critique will most often come from a person who has entrepreneurial experience, and has been at least somewhat successful. The constructive critiquer may criticize your idea or your application of an idea, but will not shoot down your desire to start your own business.
The non-constructive critiquer often has no experience starting or running a business, and will shoot down your desire to start a business, period, no matter what your idea may be. This type of discouragement could come from another entrepreneur, but in my experience they are much more encouraging of the desire to start a business in general than non-entrepreneurs.
When (and what) to ask a non-entrepreneur
Though a critique from a successful entrepreneur typically has more value than a critique from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, even their advice can, and often is, wrong, and of course it’s possible that they may be as unreasonably discouraging as a non-entrepreneur. You can also receive great advice or information from a non-entrepreneurial person, especially if they have specific industry knowledge related to your business idea.
It’s crucially important to include non-entrepreneurs in your process on the customer/audience side of things as well. You cannot operate in a vacuum, which is why asking your family and friends about their reaction to customer/audience-level questions is vital.
For example, if you have family or friends who would be in your intended customer or audience group, they can (and should) become a great resource and focus group for how you get to, and serve, your customers.
Will Your Idea Work?
The fact is, when it comes to business ideas, no one knows what definitely will (and won’t) work.
Most business owners, even the brilliant billionaires, can rarely replicate their initial success. What does that say about being able to definitively predict success? It’s impossible (except maybe for Warren Buffet), and with new types of businesses springing up all the time, it can really be anyone’s guess what will and won’t work.
If there were a method for successfully predicting the success of a specific business, it could be taught like a science and applied with a 100% success-rate by anyone. Though many people advertise having “the secret” to a successful business, it doesn’t work like that. Were that the case, surely the secret would be out by now, right?
Just like success, it’s also not possible to predict failure, in most cases.
Maybe your idea is terrible, but you can’t always be sure of even that much. In some cases, though, disaster can be avoided through a little research.
Research your idea to try to get some kind of a feel for whether your idea has any chance of success. See if others have tried it and failed, and why.
For example, f you’re a local business, figure out whether your customer base exists locally, and who your competitors are. If you’re selling a product online, get a solid idea of what shipping will cost and what your net profit will be per item. If, after researching it looks like your idea and the application of your idea will definitely fail, alter it or think of something else.
These are just examples, and depending on your specific business idea, they could look completely different. The important point here is to do a little research before jumping in with both feet. Make sure you have a customer base you can access, and that your business will actually make money if you follow your plan.
Do not get stuck at this part of the process. You will never have 100% certainty of success, you just need to have a little knowledge to ensure it won’t be a 100% certain failure. It’s very important to not get paralyzed here. You should know fairly quickly whether you have a decent chance of avoiding total failure.
So, the bottom line is, it may not work, and you cannot fully control whether it does or not. Does that mean you shouldn’t go for it? For me, and many many others, the answer to that has been a resounding “no”.
So, should you go for it?
Yes, if taking your first step toward your business idea won’t ruin your life (financially or personally), take it.
If your second step won’t ruin your life, take that one, too. Keep taking steps until your next one will destroy you. This is the safe method, as many successful people go beyond that safety zone to the next step and put themselves in more jeapordy, but I’m trying to play it safe with my advice here.
I bet you’ll be surprised at how many steps you can take by applying this rule, and you very well may never need to stop.