The Path of Independence
For many job seekers a return to the 9 to 5 existence, even in a new profession, fails to excite the imagination or to create a firm desire to move in that direction. Many people may like their professions but simply no longer want a boss, or to work for others. The jobs in their field may have dried up even if the work has not. They may be ready to become “consultants” or “independent contractors” or work solo or with small groups of other individuals on projects.
Thousands of people earn a living in Minnesota as independent contractors. Some of them team up to create small agencies and businesses; others prefer to remain on their own. Several professions lend themselves to an independent approach, among them marketing, public relations, advertising, journalism (or freelance/contract writing), information technology, architecture, technical writing, home building and repair, plumbing, law and research. In whatever profession you’re in, there’s a good chance your company has used or is employing contractors who have their own business.
Independent contractors face many challenges. They have to market their own products and services, network constantly, cold call if necessary, and meet and exceed client expectations on a routine basis because of—usually—stiff competition from other contractors. Turn in bad work and you will get no more work. If an employee is struggling, managers generally provide them counseling, training and a second chance. They have no obligation to provide that to independent contractors and generally will not unless the parties have had a long established relationship. Great devotion to clients is often necessary.
There are other issues. Contractors and small-business owners have to pay for their own medical insurance, a huge cost. Other benefits common in full-time employment — disability insurance, pre-tax deductions, 401(k)s and other retirement vehicles — must be self-funded. You’re on your own. Services such as accounting and contracting must be done in-house or handled by another firm. The responsibilities are much greater than working for someone else.
So what are the advantages? Ask any small-business owner or contractor and they will probably speak to the issue of freedom, the upside in some professions of a significantly higher income than a paid position, fewer limitations on vacation or sick time, greater flexibility in raising a family (or indulging in other non-work interests) and a much wider variety of work. There is an indescribable sensation of achievement in earning every dollar of your income through your own effort, from finding clients to completing a project to maintaining good client relationships.
It has been called the American dream. And for millions of Americans, it is a dream come true. No longer are contractors “between opportunities” and dismissed as tiny players in a big economy. They are the largest job generation machine in the United States and will continue to be in the 21st century. Still, running any kind of business demands a high level of ambition, risk tolerance, attention to detail and professional skill.
This dream is not for everyone, nor should it be. Starting a small business, however, may become one of the few options left for job seekers, especially those in the later stages of their careers. And it remains a way for people to create their own careers and achieve a finer work-life balance instead of having their fate determined by the whims of employers.
Living with the Decision
You will have to live with your decision for some time, so make it wisely. Once you have committed to a new direction, stay the course for a while because success will not happen overnight, or even after a year. It’s likely to take a while to earn a degree, absorb training or sell your product or services. Then, it will take time to find the employment you seek.
If an opportunity arises in your former profession, it may leave you at a crossroads. Whether to take the offer presents a dilemma, especially if you miss your former work. Should you recall that work with a significant anxiousness and dread, you will want to take great consideration prior to making a decision. Can you live with going back, especially if you need the money? Or is it better to soldier on?
Most career changers will never have that option since they cease sending out resumes and looking in their fields. Others may entertain a few phone calls with offers. And then they’ll have to decide whether to continue the new plan or retrench and head back to the comfort of a job and a career they once knew.