Work for myself, or the man?
March 12, 2008 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Should I go back to work for the huge corporation, or stick it out and try and work for myself?

Back in December of 2007 I was laid off from a large corporation. I was given a pretty good severance, and left on good terms. At the time I was very excited to start a consulting business of one, and get to work. However, one of the terms of the severance was that I can not contract work for The Company for six months (which will be this May).

I've found that finding work in my field that's not for The Company has been difficult. I've been doing a lot of talking, but not a lot of billing. Lots of con-calls, and meetings that promise something will happen, but seem to stagnate.

Since the separation I have been called by a couple of contacts who still work for The Company letting me know that I have a few positions to choose from if I want to come back. I told them that I'd like to explore what it's like out here, and that I'd get back to them by summer. I've also been getting a few calls from other contacts asking if I could do contract work, but I've been forced to tell them I can't until May.

Some things about me: I'm very good at my job, and my skill-set is not very common. I am a Unix systems storage specialist with a focus on high-performance next-gen filesystems, and disaster recovery. This means I can bill a good amount of money per hour. I live in Philadelphia, which seems to be a good location near NYC, NJ, and Delaware. I'm bad with paperwork, if something doesn't interest me, it gets put on the back burner. I'm not a manager, and do not know much about, nor do I care much about running a business. I have excellent inter-personal communication skills, and can be very charming in person. I bought a house last year, and have a mortgage with my long-term girlfriend. I am 28. I do not have a college degree, which has never seemed to be an issue in this job market. I'm finding that I'm more anxious about work now that I'm on my own than I ever was at The Company. I get very nervous that I'll mess up, or not be able to deliver.

Now I'm at this crossroad, trying to figure out my life from here on out, with the economy moving down, and my house payments not going anywhere...


1) I can continue trying to get work on my own, and in May this might ramp back up when I'm allowed to do contract work for The Company. Deal with the minutiae of running a business, and sink or swim. Possibly make more money than I ever did working for The Man, and feel really good about being self-made.

2) Go back to The Company and be very comfortable; receive a nice regular paycheck, 401k matching, stock options, bonuses and paid vacation, but always wonder if I could have done better on my own.

3) Some unknown option where the business stuff is all taken care of for me, and all I have to do is concentrate on getting work, and completing jobs.

It would be extremely helpful if anyone who's been here could help me out with advice, or tips?
posted by splatta to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a manager, and do not know much about, nor do I care much about running a business.

If you don't want to do this, then you shouldn't be running your own company. Being on your own requires a lot of what you're already experiencing - gigs that go nowhere, lots of conversations, lots of tracking people down for money, etc etc. It's a lot of work beyond just being able to do the things you're good at. Go back to The Company - you'll have less stress and you'll be comfortable and you'll be getting well paid for the job you actually want to do.
posted by Stynxno at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2008

How much longer will the severance support you? If I were you, and I could afford to give it a few months past May, I would do that and try to do some contract work with The Company and parlay that into other things.

If you can have your choice of a few positions, it sounds like they value you, meaning you can probably find permanent work there later if you need to.

I think the potential rewards of being on your own are far too great to give up so quick. Try to hold out a while.
posted by PFL at 11:08 AM on March 12, 2008

If you've been actively seeking freelance work since December and haven't found any yet, you probably ought to go back to work for the Company. Even if you could get contract work from them after May, it's not a good bet to base your freelance career on a single client.

I'm finding that I'm more anxious about work now that I'm on my own... if something doesn't interest me, it gets put on the back burner.

Yeah. You are not freelance material. A lot of contract jobs aren't interesting, and there is a certain amount paperwork and junk to deal with in terms of invoicing, seeking contracts, etc. If you aren't self-motivated enough to bull your way through that stuff without a boss checking up on you, you're going to have trouble.

(Not that there is anything wrong with your working style; it just sounds like you're more suited to a steady paycheck. )
posted by ook at 11:33 AM on March 12, 2008

Incidentally, this strikes me as odd:

Lots of con-calls, and meetings that promise something will happen, but seem to stagnate.

In my experience if you've gotten to the point where you're talking to somebody about a specific contracting task, they're either going to ask you to do it ASAP because they have an immediate need, or they're not going to at all (for a myriad of possible reasons, most of which boil down to either you're the wrong guy for the job, or they don't have the budget, or both.) Generally when a client rejects me, they're pretty up front about the reasons; meetings which lead to vague promises of future work are relatively rare.

I'm just one data point, so maybe it's my experience that's atypical, but something sounds a little unusual there. Is it possible that these calls are people trying to feel you out for a fulltime job, or that there's something else going on?
posted by ook at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2008

Response by poster: Even if you could get contract work from them after May, it's not a good bet to base your freelance career on a single client.

The one client thing isn't exactly one client. It's freelance work for The Company's customers. The Company is a huge vendor in this space, and is easily one the best ways to get introduced, and connected to these customers. Just clearing that up.
posted by splatta at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2008

It sounds like you're not having trouble drumming up prospects, but are having trouble closing deals

- develop your spidey sense as to whether a customer is serious or not
- make it easy for them - propose a project at the end of the con-call
- if they balk, either they need approval from a higher up, or they're not serious
- alternately, you misread their needs and need to listen more to what they want

If you can get this far and still aren't closing deals, you need to work with someone who can close deals for you. It's a special skill and, if you find you don't have it, either develop it (harder than it sounds) or find someone you trust who's got it.
posted by zippy at 1:39 PM on March 12, 2008

Hm. It sounded like your severance agreement was not to contract to The Company for six months; was it actually a non-compete agreement? If so, then you shouldn't have been taking any of those meetings. If not, you should be free to work for those other companies right now, even if they happen to also be customers of The Company.

If by "freelance work for The Company's customers" you mean "that you can only find through The Company", that's still a single client, even if the other customers ultimately foot the bill.

It's not unheard of for freelancers (or even small businesses) to get by with a single client -- but it's fairly risky and not something I'd recommend. If you're dependent on a single source for all your work, you may as well get the vacation time and 401K while you're at it.
posted by ook at 2:01 PM on March 12, 2008

If you can afford the risks.... and you hate the idea of working for the man, then I wouldn't give up just yet.

You may have to step out of your comfort zone to close some deals that aren't closing. You may have to get more prospective deals. You may have to improve the quality of the prospective deals that you spend time on (so that more of them close or produce more revenue). You may have to go into debt and/or bartend or whatever on Fri and Sat evenings... But there might be a way to make it happen.

I don't know anything about your industry or your life, just saying that it may still be worth a shot if you can afford the risks (You'll probably be broke and/or overworked for a while if you go for it).
posted by powpow at 8:40 PM on March 12, 2008

« Older Good online ACT preperation?   |   Are unions still relevant? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.