To employee or not to employee?
February 7, 2009 11:21 PM   Subscribe

Business owners and consultants: At what point did you realize you were no longer willing or able to be an employee?

I suspect that I may be reaching a point in my career where having a traditional boss and being a worker bee just isn't going to keep me motivated anymore. Unless some miracle job situation happens then I feel like I'm slowly crossing a threshold into another professional life but I'm not quite sure what awaits. I've already placed a foot into entrepreneurship and it's going ok. I'm interested in getting the perspective of the hive mind for some context.
posted by quadog to Work & Money (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I went from a period of being self-employed as either a small business owner or a contractor for seven years to a full-time job with benefits. I plan to be self-employed again in two or three years (I have a plan, and my current occupation is perfect for achieving that plan).

Anyway, I *really* realized that I wanted to be self-employed again when I began to understand that the people leading my organization achieved their position in large part due to force of personality, and that these people either lacked vision, or, if they had a vision, were incompetent, and expected me to implement their vision based on incompetent methodologies. I also realized that there was no impartial methodology for measuring my performance. Furthermore, besides the incompetence, most of the people, not just in my organization, but also in the "community" of professionals I work with, lack basic professional values. Finally, I know that I do quality work, and I know that this is recognized by many people who will serve as my core clients in the future.

What I'm waiting for, though, is for my network of potential consulting contacts to be *firmly* cemented in place. We're also kind of experiencing a bit of a lull in terms of potential projects. I'm going to wait for things to start picking up in a couple of years. Until then, I'm going to sit tight.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:55 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


For me, basically, I'd just been laid off again, all my prospects were short-term contracts often on platforms I didn't like working with, most of the work in my field was getting shipped off to Ukraine or some other God-forsaken place, and I pretty much had gotten to the point where I hated working with computers for a living. The surest way to make your life miserable is to turn your hobby into your job. So it was more of a pragmatic decision to get off a dead-end path.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:58 PM on February 7, 2009


I used to be a part time/casual employee and then a subcontractor for 2-3 businesses. My plan was always to eventually be self employed, but over a period of a few months I got more and more fed up. My opinions and feedback from clients that I replayed to management were ignored. At the main place I subcontracted at, my working environment was changed to a point I hated working in the space I was in. The kicker, though, was that neither of the main business I was working for were generating enough work for me and one day I just decided that I needed to take control of my own career. The first time I looked to see what established businesses in my field were available for sale, I found one that seemed almost perfect. I'm now into my fourth year there, and while self employment has it's drawbacks (stress, long hours, no sick/holiday pay, no employer superannuation, etc) I wouldn't wish to go back to working for someone else for anything.
posted by goshling at 12:32 AM on February 8, 2009


For some of us, there is no choice: we are abysmal employees. We reject authority, rebel against rules, set our own hours, do projects idiosyncratically, dress as we please, and get nauseated when we imagine ourselves in cubicles surrounded by 'cow-orkers.' We must run our own business or perish.

Though I've successfully held two executive jobs in my lifetime, (it's tolerable to be a chief but not a brave), I've spent 20+ years running my own show. I work longer hours and harder than I ever did at someone else's corporation. But I'm prouder of my work and more excited about future possibilities.
posted by terranova at 1:15 AM on February 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I had a real staff job for 11 years, and subsequently have had my own one person business for the last 22 years.

A lot of the reason I left my old one was because I was dealing with a lot of unreasonable people on a daily basis.

I knew when I left there that I would always have to deal with some of these kinds of folks, but by being on my own, at least I'd get to pick them.

I've had the luxury of simply opting not to do business with too many morons, and I genuinely like at least 95% of my clients.

Zero regrets.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:20 AM on February 8, 2009


For some of us, there is no choice: we are abysmal employees. We reject authority, rebel against rules, set our own hours, do projects idiosyncratically, dress as we please, and get nauseated when we imagine ourselves in cubicles surrounded by 'cow-orkers.' We must run our own business or perish.

What he said.

I mainly have a problem with authority. Every time a boss told me to do something, even if it was something I enjoyed immensely, no matter how nicely that boss asked, no matter how decent a person they were, no matter how appreciated I felt, I wanted to punch them in the eye. Every damn time. I obviously didn't ever act on that urge, but it's just not conducive to "job satisfaction".

And don't, for a moment, let people spew that bullshit of "a client is just a boss with a different name". The difference is that I can drop a client on the slightest whim without any consequences but the obvious loss of that particular portion of my income. Depending on where I was in the project cycle, there may be some reputation hit. But, my world isn't turned upside down as I try to find a new job; I probably have another couple of clients.

I don't know what field you're in... but, I should tell you that at least in software engineering, there is no new work on the public boards. If you know somebody who knows somebody, there're still new projects going forward. But, craigslist went from hopping in September to dead as hell in November... apparently somebody on the news said the word "recession" and everybody's money, which seemed to exist in spades before, disappeared into the ether.

[I really don't understand the modern economy. The value's all imaginary anyway. Just stop acting like there's a recession, and there won't be one.]
posted by Netzapper at 3:07 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


For some of us, there is no choice: we are abysmal employees. We reject authority, rebel against rules, set our own hours, do projects idiosyncratically, dress as we please, and get nauseated when we imagine ourselves in cubicles surrounded by 'cow-orkers.' We must run our own business or perish.

What he said. (I don't reject authority as much as I prefer to be the authority, though. I'm just bossy that way.) I would undoubtedly be making scads more money were I running an agency in London but I am much happier here in my little Irish fiefdom.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:34 AM on February 8, 2009


I was on short-term leave for a number of months, at the end of which my job had become obsolete, so we agreed to part ways. I looked around a bit for another full-time job, but didn't really want to return to a cubicle, and few places were hiring anyway.

I found some work-from-home contract work through previous work contacts. I prefer it. I work when I feel like it, it allowed me to move across the country since it doesn't matter where I am as long as I have internet access, I pay for my own benefits plan so that's not an issue. I actually had a nightmare recently about having to get up and start work in a cube farm again.

Some downfalls are uncertainty about pay when a contract ends, it can get lonely not having co-workers, the temptation to slack-off is higher when working at home, taxes get more complicated, and when looking for an apartment or credit they like to see that you're employed full-time somewhere.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:57 AM on February 8, 2009


At what point did you realize you were no longer willing or able to be an employee?

About two years after I went solo.

I fell into consulting when an out-of-the-blue freelance job fell in my lap the same week the job I was working unexpectedly evaporated (the department head moved and the new guy clearly wasn't worth working for.) There was no moment when I decided "That's enough! It's the freelance world for me!" -- it was more than after doing it for a couple of years I realized there was no way on earth I could ever go back.

I wasn't a terrible employee when I was one -- I think I was pretty good, actually, though that's mostly down to having an awesome boss who let the more self-directed of his employees run with their ideas.

Now that I look back at it, maybe there was that one moment: it was during that first meeting with the new guy who replaced awesome guy, which I had to fight for weeks to get, and realizing that if I worked for new guy I would no longer be able to just build something because I knew it was the right thing to build; I'd have to instead fight for weeks to get a meeting with this guy again, who would just pretend to listen for five minutes exactly like he was doing right then and then wander off to ignore someone else instead.

Huh. I never realized that until just now. I guess I have him to thank for my freelance career. Thanks, asshole, wherever you are.
posted by ook at 8:01 AM on February 8, 2009


At what point did you realize you were no longer willing or able to be an employee?


In my field, ten percent are consultants, ten percent teach and eighty percent work for government. I joke that I'm a consultant because I have a short attention span and like to be the center of attention, but really it's for the intellectual and personal freedom and the opportunity to see how things are done all over the place. The consultants tend to be the savviest too; the academics and government folks are all very earnest, but they move really slowly and they tend to lack courage. My field is funny because a lot of the new thinking is done by consultants... with a good idea, data, status as an expert, and force of personality it's pretty easy to convince a brave client to try something new.

I gave up a partnership at one of the field's pre-eminent firms, where we enjoyed both kinds of freedom, because I had risen to the point where I was mostly managing others and not doing the work anymore. My time in the sweet spot--talented enough to do all the work and make all the presentations, but in expensive enough so the projects were profitable-- was over. The projects could not support my billing rate and so I could no longer be more involved than showing up and making speeches and supervising the young-uns' work. I was getting into trouble by either wrecking project budgets by being over-involved or ruining my life by working after hours to avoid billing against them. Having my own firm made the economics work again.

As a final comment, in my experience, being a consultant and especially having your own firm is like moving to a big bed. After sleeping happily with your partner in a full, when you finally get a queen (let alone a king), the full in your friend's guest room seems unbearably constricting. You can't go back.
posted by carmicha at 8:53 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


For some of us, there is no choice: we are abysmal employees. We reject authority, rebel against rules, set our own hours, do projects idiosyncratically, dress as we please, and get nauseated when we imagine ourselves in cubicles surrounded by 'cow-orkers.' We must run our own business or perish.

Yeah. A few things happened for me

- I worked in a library for two years doing the pretty normal boss-worker thing (as the worker) and I found that it chafed me in unbelievable ways. This was one observation. The other observation was that no one seemed to mind this arrangement, for themselves, except me. So, clearly this wasn't about fixing the system, this was about fixing my relationship to the system. Many people seem to be okay being at jobs where they sort of like and sort of hate their boss and sort of like and sort of hate their job. This sort of uncertainty gives me the fidgets, so it wasn't right for me.
- I read The Hacker Ethic, realized it suited me to a T, that there were other people like me, and that it was okay for me to want what I wanted. It's not usually a term used for information professionals but it could be and I decided thats what I wanted.

I don't knock people with regular jobs if they're doing what they want and I make a BIG deal about the fact that they have skills and abilities that I do not (abilities to be flexible, to deal with uncertainty in a different way than I do now, to be able to wake up early, to deal with office politicking). So now I have a few different jobs that play to my strengths but none of them involve waking up early, creepy passive aggressive coworkers, dressing up much or a bunch of arbitrary rules that may be necessary in a big work environment but are not necessary in a small one.

Side note to no one in particular: the people I work with here at MeFi are all the best people to work with, bar none and I'm the luckest person in the world to get to work with people I adore so much.
posted by jessamyn at 10:46 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Part-owner of a small business in the technology sector here.

I knew for years being a business owner was my ultimate goal. I worked in sales and hated not being in control of the external factors that could effect my ability to sell, such as having limited say in how the company marketed itself, which products the company chose to and not to sell and having my sales limited to a strict geographic territory determined by the company. I also was the type who didn't respond well to having a boss. I hated the idea of theoretically being a grown-up yet having what felt to me like an infantile relationship with someone (and my boss was actually a good friend of mine) who I had to ask permission like a child if I needed to leave early or take a day off (on a side note, I think this is why so many people don't like their bosses. Not that their bosses themselves are necessarily bad people, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes the employee feel iinfantilised). I also wasn't a fan of and worried about my personality type being able to survive in the cut-throat world of a competitive sales environment where your coworkers have a vested interest in seeing you fail.

In my case, fate lent a hand when my boss and his entire team of salespeople were all unceremoniously fired on the same morning. My old boss, my former officemate and myself talked it over decided it didn't make sense to any of us to go and work for some other company for another batch of years and then potentially just find ourselves in the same situation yet again. We started our own company about 3 months following our firing. The ultimate revenge - the company that fired us went bankrupt and was out of business within a year and a half of our termination while we are still going strong 7 years later.
posted by The Gooch at 1:25 PM on February 8, 2009


What pushed me over the edge:

1. I noticed that my standards were consistently higher than my employers' standards.
2. I saw that there was no relation between the quality of my work and my pay.
3. I decided that I should be treated like an adult.

When I was employed and would ask for a raise, I kept hearing, "We have to keep your pay in line with everyone else's." Now my income is directly influenced by the quality of my ideas, my ability to judge the market, my willingness to take risks, etc. And it's way higher than any employer was ever willing to pay me.

Also, my clients and contractors *want* to work with me because they like my ideas, not because I've been arbitrarily put on their team. This makes it more likely that we'll actually do something that we're all proud of.
posted by PatoPata at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm still making the transition myself, but I had the fortune to land a great site management contract gig--working remotely--with an awesome company mostly comprised of freelancers and webworkers. That's the bread and butter that I'm building off of. It came while I was looking for another unsatisfying fulltime job to replace the current one. I realized how changing traditional offices was not going to really solve my unhappiness, so I decided I might as well take the plunge.

Even with the added risks and stress--I'm still fighting to secure permenent health insurance--it's been totally worth it. :)
posted by ninjakins at 6:32 PM on February 8, 2009


For some of us, there is no choice: we are abysmal employees. We reject authority, rebel against rules, set our own hours, do projects idiosyncratically, dress as we please, and get nauseated when we imagine ourselves in cubicles surrounded by 'cow-orkers.' We must run our own business or perish.

What he said.

I'm in a profession where part of the training necessary for certification was actually, according to the person in charge "...designed to to make it impossible for you to be an employee ever again".

The uncertainty of cashflow is difficult sometimes, but compared to the soul-deadening experience of employment in general, worth struggling with.

I had a boss I liked and respected, and I saw the crap he had to deal with in terms of OTHER employees. He let me do my job pretty much as though I was running my own show already. I would have stayed with that boss. But I didn't want to end up the way he was - stressed and trying to put out bushfires created by fools within his own firm.

Also, my boss's partners didn't feel the same way about letting me do my own thing. Those rules I DID rebel against (or just pretty much ignore), and it wasn't worth the hassle of trying to deal with them.

And finally, the thing that really fixed the timing for me was that I wanted to get established independently before Madmage Jr came on the scene (he's one now).

Best move I ever made.
posted by MadMage at 1:56 AM on February 9, 2009


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