Self-Employment for Survival


Here is a post from Joe on the subject of self-employment.


From time to time, I have been forced to work in an office. It’s not been a pleasant experience. The longest I’ve lasted was four years, each day scrimping and saving to get enough money to start another business and go back to work for myself.

One of the reasons why we moved to the country 40-some years ago was to avoid office work with its restrictions on personal freedom, low wages and unpleasant politics. I want to be free, to work with my hands, to be outside as much as possible. I especially like the idea of working in such a way that I am responsible for the outcome. If I choose the right type of business, have or develop the right skills, work hard and have a little luck, there is no ceiling on what I can earn.

Self-employment, if chosen correctly, can also bring a certain degree of independence and an ability to weather storms that might wreck those in more traditional fields. If a time ever came when the economy collapsed, for example, I’d feel like I had a lot more to offer as the grower of vegetables than I would as a computer programmer. A person who repaired machinery would be more likely to survive, I would think, than someone who wrote Amish romance novels.

There have been times when our decision to be self-employed has worked out very well, bringing us in a six-figure income. And there are times when we’ve scraped by on a four-figure income. But we have lived in a way where every day, instead of dreading to have to wake up and go to the office, we wake up looking forward to our lives and what the day will bring.

The Way It Is

Traditional jobs are nowhere near as secure as they were when my father worked for Westinghouse. He started his career there after World War II and stayed until he retired at the age of 70 (finally becoming a manager at 65). Then he settled down to a comfortable retirement. He was loyal to Westinghouse and Westinghouse was loyal to him. Even long after the company ceased to exist, the company health care plan took care of him, literally, until the day he died at the age of 90.

Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years. Jeanne Meister, writing in Forbes magazine, says the expected tenure of the workforce’s younger employees is about half that. “Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years,” she says, meaning that “these people have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives!”

So, if it’s job security you want, the traditional workplace offers very little of it. What it does offer is a convenient fall-back for those of us who prefer to work on our own. And, really, with statistics like the one above, starting your own business isn’t much more of a risk than working for someone else.

Starting Your Own Business

The U.S. Small Business Administration lists 10 steps to starting your own business. These are:

  1. Write a business plan
  2. Get business assistance and training
  3. Choose a business location, complying with local zoning laws
  4. Finance your business
  5. Determine the legal structure of your business
  6. Register a business name
  7. Get a tax identification number from the IRS
  8. Register with the government for state and local taxes
  9. Obtain business licenses and permits
  10. Understand the law about hiring employees

Notice that of these 10 steps, seven have to do with the government and what they expect from your business. Surprise! Every business has two uninvited and demanding partners and their names are Uncle Sam and his close friend, Sister State.

We once owned a bulk food store here in Lancaster County. A bulk food store sells primarily dry-type food: beans, pasta, and so forth in large sizes. Within the first week of opening, we were visited by representatives of no fewer than ten government agencies, each demanding fees and or compliance with a blizzard of rules and regulations. Aside from annual licenses, however, only one agency ever bothered us beyond their initial visit.

What actually should be number one on the list, however, is this: pick something that you love to do. There is nothing so invigorating or life-affirming than to get up each day and say, “I’m going to grow things!” (as an example) and have an absolute ball doing it. In my opinion, the old saying is definitely true: do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

That doesn’t mean you won’t have hard days. It doesn’t mean you won’t have times when everything possible will go wrong and just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There will be bad days.

Brad Warner has as great line in his book, Hardcore Zen. “…the best job in the world [is] still just a job. Even Johnny Ramone said that being a rock and roll guitar player was a pretty good job, but that, in the end, it also sucked just like any other job.”

Still, where would you rather spend your days? I’ve worked as a security guard where my surroundings consisted of an old shed in the middle of a run-down 250 acre factory complex with a roof that leaked whenever it rained. My co-workers included violent drunks, gung-ho gunners looking for any opportunity to pull a weapon and the severely depressed (that was me). I can tell you that the worst day working for myself was 100 times better than any day in a decaying guard shack earning $8.25 an hour. Take that, Johnny Ramone.

Having, or at least contemplating, a small family business is the dream of many. In a world where things are very different than they are today, it might be a necessity. Now might be a good idea to think about what yours might be.

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2 Responses to Self-Employment for Survival

  1. Gabor says:

    Of the 10 steps you didn’t even mention earning necessary licences and arranging for insurance, that I also count towards government related points…
    Another part of the equation is, however, what kind of community surrounds you and how much you are a part of it. Growing vegetables and doing a lot of other things can be done without a business and still earn money with it, as well as making a lot of people happy. Fixing bicycles, taking care of trees, selling needed vegetables or eggs, even education, all based on face-to-face agreement not only lowers the price of your service eliminating extra costs (advertising and gov’ment) but can strengthen community and serve as inspiration. Many communities have time-banks, where you provide and receive services based on time, which is not taxable legally. Self employment also entices your creativity a job wouldn’t.
    That being said, (aside for fixing bikes and growing food) I work for a local company as a programmer, and like the job and working environment too much to give it up. They have real good internet connection too which I don’t have at home…

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