I absolutely love working for myself as a contractor - writing, editing, and formatting splash pages, press releases, and other assorted webpages for small businesses. I am my own boss, I set my own hours, and I have the freedom to take care of personal business when I need to. But operating my own business has not been the brainless, hassle-free endeavor I thought it would be. From working long hours to doing my own advertising, here are some aspects of business ownership that I had not anticipated.
50-Hour Work Weeks
When I first contemplated being my own boss, I figured I'd work about 20 hours a week or less, if I could get away with it. I quickly realized that when I am not working, nothing is getting done, and I am not making any money. This is compounded by the fact that my business is less than a year old (I started it in March 2011). I may not be confined to a 9-to-5 workday, but the work is never-ending and I always work 50 hours or more each week - whether my day ends at 11 a.m. or midnight. As a contractor, I need to be available to take calls, view emails, and communicate at all times of day and night in order to land projects and meet deadlines.
The reality of the situation is that I work more now than I did when I was working a traditional job. Even though I had heard this would be a possibility when owning a business, I figured I'd be quicker, faster, and better; that I could get 40 hours worth of work done in just 20 hours, 50 hours of work finished in 25. That's not the reality. The reality is that I work more, because the more I work, the more I earn.
Family and Friends
The minute I started telling people that I owned my own business, my phone started ringing off the hook: "I have to work. Can you... go to the store for me?" "...pick up my kid from school?" "...run by my house and let the dog out?"
Family and friends suddenly thought I had all the time in the world. And the truth is even I had expected to be around more and available to help out with tasks like these. I soon realized that I might have a little more flexibility - I can find time for a phone call and some time for the gym - but anything that's going to take longer than an hour is going to be too much of an interruption and will affect my productivity.
I had to make it clear that while I can pick my own hours, I still work and am not free to run everyone's errands. Friends and family now understand that when I am not in front of my computer, I am not making any money.
When I was working for someone else, taxes were automatically taken out of my check. I didn't give it much thought. Now that I own my own business, I have to think about taxes. Since I am working for myself, no taxes are automatically taken out of my income. Earning $10 doesn't mean I get to keep that $10. Uncle Sam still wants his share, and if I don't want to be shocked by a $5,000 tax bill next April 15, I have to make some hard choices. Either I save 30 percent from all the money I make and set it aside for that tax bill or I sign up to make quarterly payments. If I decide to make quarterly payments, I have to make them and if I don't make them on time I will incur a fine. That's an added stress that I didn't think about before I started working as a contractor.
Since I am self-employed, no employer is covering - or even helping to cover - my medical insurance. I have to pay the full cost for any medical insurance I purchase. And it needs to be insurance that I can afford; it doesn't do me any good to scrape together $300 a month for medical insurance if I can't afford the copay.
It's another aspect of working for myself that I didn't fully think about before I made the switch. It's also an issue I have yet to resolve. Right now, if I were to get sick, need hospitalization, or get into an accident, I'd be 100-percent responsible for that bill. I know it's the type of risk that could lead to bankruptcy. I hope to find a solution within my budget as soon as it is financially feasible.
Right now I am the only person working for me, but if I choose to hire an employee, I have to pay an hourly wage plus any applicable taxes that are not taken out of paychecks. Either way, it's an expense I'm not willing to incur right now. I didn't anticipate the need to hire another employee, but I'm realizing I could actually use two. I need someone to scour the Internet for new jobs while I write, and another to work as a house cleaner. It would greatly improve my productivity, but it's not feasible right now. I barely make enough money for me, so I can't afford to hire the people who would make my business and myself more productive.
I have to attract my own clients. This means I have to instigate word-of-mouth and advertising on the Internet. Social networking has made online marketing extremely easy. I post a link, all my friends and family see it, and all of their friends see it. It works even better when they repost what I posted, but I have to start it. If I'm not screaming my own name, neither is anyone else.
When I worked for someone else, they paid for all the advertising. It amounted to millions of dollars a year. I didn't think about it. They pulled in the clients and I worked. Now I have to do my own advertising on a budget of about $100 a month. I can't afford a TV commercial. I can't afford a billboard. I can afford a tiny ad in a newspaper. I can afford business cards, flyers, and brochures. That's it. My advertising has to be mostly free and very effective, and I have to do it.
In fact, I have to do everything. This was a huge change in thinking. I am no longer just the employee or just the manager. I am the employee, the manager, the owner, the accountant, the advertising department... I am everything in my business, and if I don't do it, it doesn't get done and I don't get paid.
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