Charle Hugh Smith is an author. He blogs at Of Two Minds.
The insecurity of self-employment can generate a far more resilient life and mindset. There are all sorts of “10 best companies to work for” lists, but I’ve assembled a slightly broader list: The Ten Best Employers To Work For. Without further ado, let’s go to number 1:
Surprised? Expecting Google or Zappos? The National Security Agency? Nope, not even close. It’s you–yes, you, Bucko. You’re the best employer to work for. OK, on to the rest of the list:
Aren’t you glad I didn’t make this a “100 best employers” list?
Before you start nitpicking the list: yes, there is only one of you, so the list is somewhat repetitive.
And yes, there are some downsides to working for yourself. For example:
1. There’s no point in leaving a snippy note on the fridge to the sneaky co-worker who stole your bagel: oops, you ate it during coffee break #3 without noticing. Dang, accepting responsibility sucks.
2. When you launch a full-blown rant against your psycho, control-freak, demanding boss, you’re doing so in front of a mirror. Sigh–it’s just no longer fun blaming the boss.
3. Excuses don’t fly too far with clients and customers.
4. Nobody cares when you show up or how productive you are except you.
5. Shouting “Take this job and shove it” isn’t quite as satisfying.
All those stupid regulations you chafed under: gone. All those impossible demands that stressed you out: gone. All those shiftless, incompetent co-workers: gone. Time cards: gone. Staff meetings: gone. People to blame for your troubles: gone. Paycheck: gone.
Do you really miss anything but the last item? But really, wasn’t that paycheck the chain that bound you to serfdom?
Here’s the dirty little secret of the U.S. economy: you’re already working for yourself now unless you’re in the Armed Forces or a civilian equivalent. The clock is ticking on all those promises of pensions and benefits for life you think separate you from the self-employed entrepreneur. Maybe the promises pay out for a few more years, maybe even a decade, but they are impermanent for the simple reason that the promises made (and the nation’s debts) far exceed the economy’s ability to pay those promises and debts in dollars retaining today’s purchasing power.
Either the promises will be broken/defaulted, or a $2,000/month pension will buy a loaf of bread and a gallon of gasoline. There is no other end-state other than default or inflate-away-the-debt/promises.
You already know how “valued” you are by your corporate/agency employer. All that rah-rah “team-building” stuff is nice for the younger employees who are still naive enough to believe the propaganda at face value, but once the layoffs start again (if they ever stopped), then all that rah-rah cheerleading loses its sparkle.
Many employees are waking up to find themselves in 1099 nation: no benefits, no tax withholding, no matching 401K, no status as an employee, just a contract and a 1099 statement at year end.
In a sense being self-employed simply means stripping away the artifice that somebody else is going to take care of you or give you “free money.” Once we understand the promised security is bogus, self-employment doesn’t feel so risky–it feels like embracing the risk that is hidden behind the flimsy facade of team-building, “guaranteed” pensions and all the rest of the unpayable promises.
The self-employed person generally trades “security” for job satisfaction. The compensation may be higher or lower, but it will likely be lower. The earnings will likely be more sporadic and uncertain.
But ironically, perhaps, the insecurity of self-employment can generate a far more resilient life and mindset. Instead of counting on Big Brother in one form or another to provide retirement, the self-employed person builds their own human, social and financial capital. Those who rely on Big Brother are terribly vulnerable should Big Brother fail to make good on on his extravagant promises to 310 million people.
Gaining power and control over your life doesn’t come cheap. Does anything really worthwhile come cheap? Knowledge, tradecraft, experience, networks of trusted suppliers, expertise: none of them come easy or cheap. All must be gained the hard way.
No wonder self-employment is down. It’s tough to scratch out a living as an entrepreneur. It can be wearisome, but never as wearisome as a job you loathe.
Fewer people choose to be self-employed (USA Today, 9/11)
In August, 14.5 million people were self-employed, down 2.1 million from the most recent peak in December 2006, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.The number of “incorporated” self-employed workers — those who incorporate to gain legal protection and other benefits — began its decline in 2008. Last month, 5.1 million people were in this category, down 726,000 from August 2008.
Unincorporated self-employed — at 9.4 million last month — has changed little since last spring. It’s hovering at its lowest level in 25 years, says BLS economist Steven Hipple.
Working for others is a good idea while you’re building skills and networks. By all means, work for someone else while you’re learning the ropes, and give them 150% value on the paycheck they hand you. Heck, if you find a decent employer, work part-time for them while you build your own income streams/career. You might even work part-time for several like-minded people and yourself on the side.
Interestingly, this survey found that the self-employed often see their work as helping society. How many employees feel that? I mention this as an example of the intangible benefits of working for yourself.
Take this Job and Love It (Pew Research)
According to research by Economic Modeling Specialists International, the number of people who primarily work on their own has swelled by 1.3 million since 2001 to 10.6 million, a 14% increase.This rise is partially reflective of hard times, and many of the self-employed earn only modest livings in fields such as childcare and construction. However the shift to self-employment is likely to accelerate in the future, and into higher-paying professions, for reasons including the ubiquity of the Internet, which makes it easier for some types of business to use independent contractors, as well as the reluctance of large firms to hire full-time employees with benefits.
How can self-employment be falling and rising? It depends on how you count the self-employed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) divides the self-employed into two categories, incorporated (about 5 million) and unincorporated (about 10 million). Incorporated self-employed people are often professionals such as doctors, accountants and attorneys who value the legal benefits of a corporation or LLC (limited liability company).
To further confuse things, the BLS counts the incorporated self-employed as “wage earners” because they draw paychecks from themselves. So right off the bat we find a confusion between 14.5 million (total BLS self-employed) and the 10 million (the unincorporated self-employed) reported by the BLS as self-employed.
The private research firm mentioned above clearly counted those getting 1099s as self-employed, even if they are contract workers laboring alongside employees, as is often the case in Corporate America. It appears there are about 7 million people in 1099 nation, hence the other total of self-employed you see in print, 22 million.
So the conventional self-employed may be declining while the involuntary self-employed (those getting a 1099 instead of a paycheck) is rising. Of course it’s rising: the ObamaCare neutron bomb is about to go off, making employee benefits unaffordable to businesses large and small.
ObamaCare: The Neutron Bomb That Will Decimate Employment (February 22, 2013)
Right now the self-employed–an enormously diverse mix of everything from micro-sized eBay businesses netting a few thousand dollars a year to professional corporations–comprise about 10% of the workforce (14.5 million self-employed, a total employed workforce of about 142 million). Add in those now getting 1099s instead of paychecks (7 million) and perhaps 14% of the workforce is self-employed (or at least responsible for paying their own quarterly taxes and healthcare insurance–slick move, Corporate America!).
For reasons I will discuss tomorrow, this number is very likely to rise.
But why, you ask, is working for yourself so great? I’ll tell you why. Where else will you find a boss who knows your foibles, flaws and strengths so well? Where will you find a more forgiving boss, one who really understands what makes you tick? What other employer will give you the day off to go fishing because you really need a break? What other employer is going to let you keep everything you earned for the enterprise? And best of all–where else can you be boss and not have to deal with employees?