Is being your own boss overrated?

September 22, 2011
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I’d be willing to bet that most of us have thought about it—likely right after a morning of meetings that inexplicably precedes an afternoon of deadlines. Wouldn’t it be great to be your own boss?

Then I think about the e-mails I get from small-business owners at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. I remember the stories about entrepreneurs forgoing a paycheck and the bite-your-tongue importance of keeping customers happy. And I get back to work.

“Many times people have an unrealistic notion that running your own business gives you more freedom and flexibility than working for someone else,” agreed Victoria Hall, regional director of the Central Indiana Small Business Development Center. While that is possible eventually, “for the most part and most definitely during the early years, owning your own business is a 24-hour-a-day job.”

SBDC counselors work with would-be and existing entrepreneurs on a range of business issues—including managing expectations. Among the agency’s successes: clients who figure out they really are better off as an employee.

The National Federation of Independent Business advocacy group has identified four “major myths” of work-life balance for entrepreneurs—all of which revolve around the freedom and flexibility fallacy. The fact is, “work-life balance is often about as real as the tooth fairy,” NFIB concludes.

But let’s hear from those of you on the front lines: Is it possible to have a business and a life? What are the secrets to your success?

  • change in outlook
    Self employment a different layer of stress. Just as an employee and unrealistic deadlines, you have the fear of recievables. Clients who pay late, or dont pay at all and employees that want more money and more time off.
    It changed my outlook on many issues, especially taxes. I used to be idealistic and encouraged govt intervention and regulation. Once i owned my business i spent most of my time jumping through, paperwork that did not make the company any money, or collecting sales tax for the state.
    SO hey i sold the business and enjoy my life as an employee again. Bad thing is now my bank account is steady - whereas as an owner i feared my accounts but always had at least $100 in cash. Now i have enough in my bank account but only a dollar or two in my pocket.
  • Not Overrated, But Also Not Easy
    Running my own business does provide more freedom and flexibility - but not necessarily in terms of hours, effort or scheduling. It's the freedom and flexibility in decision making and business direction most of us crave; the work is a byproduct of doing what you truly believe in.

    It is possible to have both a business and a life-like anything else, it's more a case of how badly does an individual want to have both.
  • Not for the light hearted
    Running your own business does not mean you do not have a boss. I always joke that I work for my government and my insurance company. I wish I could produce half of the income from my own work as the government does. This year my unemployment tax is more than my mortgage. As stated in the article, when you own your own business, you are literally with it all of the time, whether in the office, or simply thinking about it after hours. As Chris mentioned, we spend much of our time producing paperwork and money for the government, which does not produce an income for me, or the business.
  • Wouldn't trade for a minute
    Some people are cut out for self-employment, and others aren't. In my five years as an independent business owner, I've had countless people ask how I do it.... working from home and with my spouse, no less! It just works for us. We have strong work ethics and enjoy the time flexibility. It's not unusual, though, to work at night and on weekends, but I wouldn't trade that for a minute for the flexibility to take time during the day to visit our children's school, volunteer or take a bike ride.

    We don't think of it as being our own boss, either. We have multiple clients, who are all our bosses. If we keep them happy by meeting their objectives, then we're all happy. Every month we send an invoice with an accounting of the work we've done and results we've generated for them. If we don't have great work to show, then we won't renew those contracts. It's pretty simple, really.
  • I have never looked back...
    I've been on my own for 7 years now, and I have loved every minute of it. I no longer have a boss who dictates my daily schedule. My customers are my bosses, but we generally agree when things need to be done and how. There are always unforseen issues that come up, but I've never been happier. I also have a CPA who has lowered my tax burden from when I was an employee. I thank the Lord every day for allowing me to do this. I highly recommend it, but it's not for the faint of heart!
  • Direction, Discipline and Motivation
    Work challenges exist whether an employee or a business owner. Each of us is cut out for one or the other or perhaps both. To make either role work requires Direction, Discipline and Motivation. Each however is applied in different ways. You have read prior comments that owning a business often means taking that with you 24 hours a day. As a business owner, for which I am, I have the added responsibilty of seeing to it that decisions are made carefully in order to allow the business to survive. I have that added responsibility of caring for the health of the business because bad decisions will negatively impact all those who work for or in the business. Deciding on a direction for the company, maintaining discipline in day to day activities of managing the company and remaining motivated to see to it that the company reaches its short and long term objectives means I am actively engaged in tasks for which I enjoy. As long as I enjoy them then it is not work to me even if it means working longer into the day or on weekends. But I do not often sacrifice family because I am a business owner. Family-work life balance represents a significant component in direction, discipline and motivation.

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  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.