I plan to explore the topic of self-employment in a variety of ways, but to get started I wanted to prod a bit about what is thought of self-employment as a status of employment today and maybe more importantly in the future. What values are associated with self-employment and how might they be changing and why?
I can recall years ago if I spotted the term self-employed on a resume I was immediately (and trained to be) suspicious. Based on the economy of that time (late 80s - early 90s) self-employment was mostly associated with those that had become un-employed and had now thought of labeling themselves self-employed to fill gaps on a resume. Honestly, I'm not sure this was statistically supported, but it was certainly the sentiment shared my many in Corporate America, more specifically with HR and hiring professionals.
It was thought that un-employed individuals grappling with stints of joblessness would "create" a business - often "consulting" and just hang a shingle. The question in the minds of HR and hiring professionals was: "Is this legit or a rationale for someone who couldn't get hired?" - And if it was the latter, was there a good reason they couldn't get hired...hence the suspicion. There wasn't a set of values that placed autonomy, creativity, choice, financial freedom and entrepreneurship in a positive light.
Today - and I can attest to this anecdotally and personally, self-employment is not only happening (legitimately), but based on the recession, it has become not just a viable choice for many, but a necessity for some. I would be one of the "some".
In late 2008 I was part of a downsizing - I had contemplated starting a consulting firm in 2003, during a prior unemployment time, but didn't feel it was good timing. Facing a very different market in 2008, I pulled the trigger. I purchased an LLC, designed a brand/logo, printed business cards and launched a website. I began with a couple very small clients, but the market was very slow so I continued my full-fledged job search. While I still dabble with a consulting gig here and there, it became economically necessary for me to secure traditional employment.
Many others in our community were not only able to follow this path of self-employment but make it a meaningful stand-alone business or as a compliment to eventual traditional employment. About a year ago, a good friend of mine suggested she would "never go back" to working for someone else. She referenced the book "Free Agent Nation" by Daniel Pink - among other concepts, Pink suggests that in the past employers provided security while in exchange employees provided loyalty. Pink believes that this exchange is no longer at play today and is the catalyst for a shift to freelance workers, contractors, consultants or other various ways one might define the self-employed of today.
As an aside - this friend did eventually return to a more traditional employment situation, but out of complete necessity. She is very unhappy and plans to return to self-employment when she is financially able. (Most of her decision was based on assess and costs associated with health benefits – a reality of this status of employment.)
Self-employment is the only "employment" status I haven't discussed so far. Whether you start a business of your own or work as a consultant or contractor (1099 worker) for a company, you may or may not have some of the same benefits, risks and rewards that other "employment" status individuals do. This is more a matter of relevant value - what's important to you, what is worth a trade-off and what is your tolerance for risk.
Self-employed individuals work hard and put in long hours - we turn on the lights and we turn off the lights, but they're our lights. We choose the work we do...except when we have to accept work we need to pay that light bill. We can be more flexible with the fees we command...when the market will tolerate it. We can be loyal to ourselves and to our dreams. We may give up some security for those dreams, but it may be worth it. If we have a passion for something, we can give it our all. If we have the self-discipline to focus (when no one is watching) we might be successful. We could enjoy more freedom - spend more time with family...as long as we haven't committed to a deadline - one where we are the only person who can deliver.
If you are considering self-employment or are currently self-employed and thinking of abandoning your efforts, consider making a simple relevant values list. Make a list of what you value most - time, money, space, solitude, collaboration, flexibility, variety, autonomy, risk, transparency, etc. Prioritize your list. Then, overlay the reality of making a living as a self-employed individual and see what matches up. Is this for you? Is this for you today?
People want to help you, but you have to tell them how! Like the Yellow Brick Road, job search is scary, uncertain and long, but there are people along the way who can help!
You can do this!