Self Employment: Talent and Entrepreneurship at Odds

Recently, I was having lunch with a few girlfriends, one of which recently moved cross country to pursue her dream. She is a photographer, working to build her reputation and client base.  I have seen her work and she is quite good.  As we sat and talked, she regaled us with stories of several, intense, fairly high profile photo shoots she did in just the last few weeks; one of which was for a well-recognized hip hop star’s brother.

As we were listening to her, I did a quick scan of the table and could see a little bit of well-meaning envy on the faces of the other women. We all knew her when photography was a hobby for her, then became a realized talent, secondary to her primary role as an executive for a large company.  Now, here she is, building the self-sustaining life she wants doing something she loves to do.

My thoughts were interrupted when I saw the facial expressions begin to change from envious smiles to curiosity mitigated by a bit of disbelief.  After one of the ladies offered accolades to her for being able to make money and pursue her passion all at the same time; she quickly let us know that that she is not making any money from the work she is doing.  She has moved back in with her mother and almost depleted her savings.

“But you just told us you are working quite regularly” is what our dropped mouths silently screamed.  She explained that she has been doing all of the shoots she told us about for free in order to build her portfolio.

I speak with people every day who have shifted their thinking and decided to explore self-employment. They want the freedom, ability to build something of their own, to pursue a passion, or the ability to do things their own way.  The benefits that we often associate with consulting, freelancing, or business ownership are attractive however after listening to my friend; I was never clearer about what it means to have the entrepreneurial spirit.

Here are some tips and things to consider before diving in self-employment.

  1. Don’t leave your current position. Instead, try to explore the new work at the same time.  This option is going to require a lot more time because you cannot short change your current employer in favor of the work you really want to do however this option creates a bit of a safety net for you.

You also want to be honest with your employer and new clients about any conflict of interests that may arise by you working full time and consulting on the side.

  1. Start practicing the skills you need to be independently employed.  Working for yourself means that you get to set your own hours but you need to keep hours that are beneficial and profitable.  You may get to do things your way but you have to be able to find clients and close deals that will actually make money.

If telework is an option with your current company, try working from home a few days and see if you really are a self-starter. Also, dedicate some time to business networking. How comfortable are you with building your business from scratch?

  1. If you are like my friend, talented but not quite ready to run your own business, align yourself with a business manager.  Work with someone who will draft and negotiate contracts for you. This allows you the freedom to do what you love and turn a profit.
  1. If business ownership is appealing but you are not ready to quit your stable job or are not cut out to build a business around a special skill, consider franchising.  Many franchises provide clients or bring such a well-known brand it gives the franchise owner a head start.

Major cities are full of consultants and people who make their own hours. Working with and around these people can give a false impression of what it takes to build a business. Do a real assessment of what you are looking to gain by working for yourself and the steps that you will need to take in order to be successful.

What would you tell a friend who is considering self-employment?


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