So you want to be an entrepreneur… Really?

There’s a school of thought that starting your own business is the passport to independence from the rat race or the servitude of employment.


A lot of blogs, books and writers encourage this idea and there’s no shortage of multi-level marketers telling you self-employment is the pathway to wealth and status.


On his Planning Business Stories blog, Tim Berry looked at one of the other sides of self-employment – that you’ll become unemployable.


Tim’s observations are right, but there are a few other downsides to consider before trashing your cubicle, cashing out your savings and establishing that radical start-up or buying a doughnut franchise.


I don’t want to work for a boss anymore

If you think your boss is an unreasonable swine wait until you deal with customers, particularly those who don’t pay their bills. Then there are the shareholders, business partners, suppliers and the taxman.


You’re leaving the rat race

No you’re not. As a business owner you’ll find there’s a lot more rats than you thought when you worked for The Man, as the man employs lawyers, debt collectors and HR staff to deal with the rats.


The sad thing is you’ll probably end up being even more in the rat race, it’s just that you may not realise you’re racing the other rats as you aren’t stuck in traffic with them anymore.


I want to be the boss

That’s a noble and fair aspiration. Just be aware that in your own business, you take the risks and responsibilities too.


The boss at BigCorp can often mess up and move onto bigger and better things as the organisation is usually big enough to hide the mistakes and it’s often in senior management’s interest to hide their subordinates’ mistakes from the shareholders or taxpayers. In your own enterprise, it’s your own assets at stake.


I’ll get a better share of my rate

A common gripe with skilled workers, like plumbers and lawyers, is they get ripped off by their employer who pockets 3/4 of their hourly rate.


When you start your own operation, you’ll learn the existence of overheads and soon realise why you were only paid a quarter of what you were charged out for.


The only way to get rich is to work for yourself

Sort of true, except there’s a big survivor bias in that saying. The people who do really well out of building a business receive accolades and boasting rights, those who don’t go quietly on with their lives if they are lucky.


In a capitalist society we reward risk, and the biggest risk you can take is setting up your own business. If you’re successful you’ll be rewarded, but the risk of comparative failure is high, which is why successful entrepreneurs get more money and accolades than successful managers or politicians.


You’ll work fewer hours

This is probably the greatest myth of all, usually perpetuated by someone selling a multi-level marketing scheme. In truth, you’ll work longer hours and many of those will be unpaid as you chase up debts and fill in government paperwork.


On the rare occasions you do get to sit down and catch up on the news, you’ll learn to dread reports that the government is going to “simplify” or “reform” something. This will almost certainly mean more paperwork for you.


Keep in mind that no politician – be they Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, New Labor or Labor – is “business friendly”. At best they are sympathetic in the way a non-lethal host parasite is to a warm mammal.


You’ll never work in this town again

Tim’s article makes this point well, that if you spend any considerable time working in your own business – be it a start-up, consultancy or small business – you’ll find it difficult to get a job in the corporate sector.


I personally found this after 12 years of running a moderately successful business, basically I was told all of that experience was irrelevant to a corporate management position. In big business terms, I’d have made a better career move if I had been driving a bus for those dozen years.


All of this isn’t to say you shouldn’t strike out and build your own business, for many of us it’s the course in life that suits us and what we work best at. But it isn’t the lifestyle for everyone.


We certainly shouldn’t be saying those who aren’t suited to this lifestyle are bad or inferior people; most folk simply don’t want to take the risks and demands on family, finances and nerves that running your own business entails and this is a fair, sane attitude to take, particularly in a time of uncertainty.


Successful entrepreneurs have certain skill sets and a focus which can be tough on families, friends and children. For many there’s an element of timing and luck as well.


For the success of a capitalist society, we need to celebrate and reward the entrepreneurs and risk takers, but before anyone dives into a start-up or small business it’s best to understand the risks and costs involved.


Good luck!


Paul Wallbank is a speaker and writer charting how technology is changing society and business. Since 1995, Paul has setup and run four businesses, including PC Rescue which he grew to be a national IT support business. Paul currently works with government and businesses to help them navigate the challenges and opportunities of the new digital economy.


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