Until this past January, I had been someone else's employee for my entire working life. I went to work when they told me to, I left work when I was excused, and while I was on the clock, I answered to the expectations of someone with more authority. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that life, it wasn't for me. I have known that it wasn't for me for a long time (my wife can verify that I've been whining -- er, talking -- about this business thing for quite a while). But since I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to risk, I stuck it out and continued looking for a "job" that would allow me to do my best work.
Spoiler alert: I never found it.
Not because my employers were terrible -- they weren't. Not because I kept getting fired -- I didn't. Not because I think I'm better than everyone -- I'm definitely not.
Through the last few years of having a traditional job, I thought constantly about the pros and cons for employment vs. entrepreneurship. The ups and downs to both sides. The challenges, the perks, the benefits, the annoyances, the risk, the reward. All the things. In fact, before I started my last job, I created a cool (cool to me, anyway) scoring tool that attempted to make a quantitative study of the matter.
So what are some of those big things that pushed me over the edge?
- I don't have to compromise my values or my pursuit of perfection. Working within a business, an employee can really only be as idealistic as the company is. If "the company" decides that a particular way of doing business is best, individual employees don't get a whole lot of wiggle room. I know that everyone reading this can relate. Think of a time when it felt like "doing the right thing" meant you had to go against the grain of the rest of your company. Or you had to fight much harder than you thought necessary to serve your client well. Those are the instances I'm talking about, and the ones I now get to avoid! I set my own benchmark for client relations and quality, and it's up to me to meet them.
- I'm a dabbler. As an employee, you get a job description (typically). If you're lucky, you get to learn things along the way, but usually, you are there to fill a specific need for the company. If you know me at all, you know that I'm a bit of a dabbler. While I love being an expert in one big thing (I guess digital marketing would be that thing), I go absolutely crazy when I can't learn/do other things. I want to learn accounting, and sales, and copyright law, and architecture, and front-end web design, and necktie merchandising. Fox Consulting Group exists for a singular purpose, but personally, I don't. I'm going to continue to dabble outside of my primary work with Fox, and being in charge of my own destiny means I get that luxury.
- Money. Similar to the previous point, this one is also about feeling restricted vs. feeling free. As an employee, someone else determined how much my time was worth. I was very lucky to work with people and companies that valued my time, but at the end of the day, I was powerless in the matter. I could try to prove my value, or make strong cases for my worth, but the final decision was in someone else's hands. I never felt good about handing that authority over to someone else. Now, I can frame my job and life around the amount of money I want to make. It could be a lot, it could be a little. The point is, there are no limits. I'm no longer restricted to a set salary, so if I want to make more (and can line up the business to support it), I can "choose" to earn more. It's worth noting that this argument goes the other way, too. With a salary, you are "guaranteed" to never make less than your paycheck. As an entrepreneur, there is the possibility (and good chance) that there will be times when I'll be making less than I would prefer. Risk vs. reward, I guess. But at the end of the day, this risk is well worth the control I have over my own income.
- I refuse to accept that as adult humans, we have to "suffer" through a work day. I never worked in a sweatshop, crawled through sewers, or put my life on the line during a workday, so the context of the word "suffering" is important here. I'm talking about shrugging off workplace politics, disrespect, unrealistic expectations, verbal/emotional abuse, harassment, unethical decisions, or even simply delivering subpar work as things we have to put up with because "no company is perfect." Real life example: At one of my previous office jobs (of course I won't say which one), it was COMMON for employees to hide in the bathroom on a regular work day -- often in tears. Not because the work was hard. But because they were mistreated by those around them. I agree that no company is perfect, but that doesn't mean that situations like that should become normalized. Remember, we are all adult humans, and we all deserve to act and be treated as such. Political authority means nothing when you consider that we're all just walking bags of DNA. Unfortunately, we've conditioned the majority of our workforce to simply trudge through these types of environments, and be thankful that they simply have a job. So, despite trying quite a few companies and jobs, I came to the realization that my best option for avoiding this is to create my own working environment and treat everyone the way I want to be treated. Novel concept, hey? Not only do I get to choose the work I want to do, I get to choose the culture I want to create -- without compromise. When I start hiring people, this won't change. Sure, it'll be harder to maintain a utopian company culture, but it will never be anything but a top priority.
- I honestly and strongly believe the world will benefit from what I have to offer. This is where I'll try my best to stay modest. Over the years, I've been able to develop a skillset that is potentially very beneficial to those around me. People and businesses need to understand how to use technology effectively to stay relevant in the current market, and I'm able to help with that. As an employee, I always felt like I was driving behind a pace car. I was able to what I'm good at, but never at full speed. I was a cog in an overall "service offering" of the company I worked for. Now, working independently, 100% of my effort can go directly to my clients without any dilution by company politics, inefficient processes, or other value-suckers. I feel like my work is important, and I don't want any unnecessary barriers getting in the way of my ability to giving it back to the world.
When people typically think of freelancing, or "going independent," or "doing your own thing", things like the flexibility of schedule, the ability to call your dogs 'coworkers', the ability to work from home, the ability to work in PJs, or the ability to deduct toilet-paper purchases as a write-off on your taxes are usually the hot topics of conversation. "I'm so jealous of your freedom!" they'll say. Sure, those things are nice, but in my opinion, they shouldn't be a driving force behind starting a business. If those are the things that are important to you, there are thousands of "remote" jobs you can find, and still have the perks and stability of being part of a company. But I feel like the reason I'm off to a good start and will continue to grow is that I'm passionate about the work I do, and and I've found that running my own business is simply the best way for me to provide the most value and work the way I want.