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The Case Against Self-Employment

By Marty Nemko

My wife, Barbara, can’t understand why I’d want to be self-employed. She argues:

n Employers take care of a million details: they lease the workplace, maintain it, buy insurance, provide health benefits, retirement plan, etc.

n An employer is more likely to provide needed infrastructure: a computer support person, printing services, etc., all at no cost to the employees.

n Employers often provide free training, often on company time.

n Many people’s favorite part of the job is the social aspect: break room chats, little celebrations, etc. Most self-employed people are one- or two-person operations. It’s hard to do much celebrating by yourself.

n To be self-employed, you must be extraordinarily self-motivated. There’s no boss to make you get your work done.

n To be self-employed, you must be able to conceptualize strategy, implement, troubleshoot, and solve problems, usually quickly and by yourself. Most people need a team to make all that happen.

n You have to be willing and able to market your business vigorously. You must be easily likeable, not afraid to ask people for business, and above all, not procrastinate.

Sure, self-employment has pluses: I get to be the boss: I set my hours, the way I work, which clients I’ll work with, who I’ll go out to lunch with. If I want to buy something for my office, I don’t need three signatures. I don’t have to work on teams—that drives me nuts. But many of those advantages are more romance than real, for example, the bit about setting your own hours. Fact is, most self-employed people work very long hours and outside of work, worry about their work.

Advice I’d Give My Child

Sure, if you’re smart, driven, business savvy, and dying to be self-employed, develop a business plan and see if you’re still excited. But I believe that most people would be wise to forego the ostensible romance of self-employment and go get a job.

If you want to land a job, here are my latest thoughts:

n Only answer ads for which you are truly qualified. And write a passionate cover letter that makes clear you’ve picked that ad carefully. Yes, I know, some employers won’t even read a cover letter. But many do, and it can make all the difference.

n Today, few fields are growing. Your best chances of landing a job today may be in sales, business services, social programs for the disadvantaged, health care, insurance, accounting, finance, commercial security, the US Dept. of Homeland Security, state and local government security, or, most importantly, in any organization where you have an inside connection. In a tough job market, the vast majority of jobs go to someone who knows someone. Companies such as Yahoo! fill nearly all its positions via internal recommendations.

n Please don’t make the mistake of only contacting your few closest connections. Make a list of 100 people you know or knew and ask if they might know someone in a position to need (insert the one, two, or three things that are non-negotiable in your job search: for example, a job within 30 minutes of Oakland that requires good writing skills.)

n Ultimately, the most important factor in landing a job is how many hours a week you spend talking to your personal network or prospective employers. Unless you’re a star, most successful jobseekers spend 20-30 hours a week answering ads, and importantly, calling or writing people in their extended personal network and/or prospective employers, even if there’s no advertised opening.

If you do want to consider self-employment, I’d recommend you read Paul and Sarah Edwards’ new book, Why Aren’t You Your Own Boss? This thin volume helps you come up with an idea for your business and, if you’re feeling stuck, offers many approaches to getting unstuck.

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