Business

In the Workplace: Can you be your own boss?

The U.S. Census Bureau in May reported steady growth in what it calls “nonemployer businesses” — another way to describe work that has no one else on the payroll except yourself.

Thanks partly to corporate job-cutting and partly to work/life choices, more people are self-employed, freelance, contract or independent consulting workers. Also, although costs may be unaffordable for some, Obamacare has made it possible to leave company jobs and still be able to buy health insurance.

But as anyone who’s done it can tell you, working for yourself demands skills not required of employees who get regular paychecks and employer-provided benefits. To thrive independently you need to have a skill that the market needs at this time, market your services, and collect payment for them.

The ubiquity of technology means that you don’t have to open a tailor shop; you can attract customers online. The rise of the “knowledge economy” and its need for deep specialists means that you don’t have to be a partner in a large law or accounting firm; you can be a “super temp” and move from client to client on contract.

For some, it’s exhilarating to be free from corporate hierarchies. But being your own boss isn’t freeing if you’re not good at motivating yourself, finding new business, using social media to market yourself, or managing cash flow. Lots of skilled workers hang out their own shingles and then go bust because their occupational skill isn’t enough; they fail at business management.

According to Census data, some leading nonemployer sectors include real estate services (sales, leasing and property management); ground passenger transportation (think taxi-style services); truck transportation; and personal services (such as barbers, beauticians, laundry services, pet care).

The bureau also mentioned service niches including construction; equipment and machinery repair; technology consulting; advocacy (such as lobbying or grant writing); photofinishing; parking; religious activities; and other personal care, including health care, elder care and death services.

Many industry subsectors now have freelance support groups to help people network and run their independent businesses. Some have chapter meetings. Some provide education online. Some chambers of commerce, independent business associations and community colleges offer self-employment seminars and other business education courses.

It’s always possible that a market simply doesn’t exist for what it is you’d like to do. But if your self employment is well researched, you must have or develop the above-mentioned skills. You won’t make a sufficient living if you don’t know how to sell yourself, price your services competitively, and get paid.

And, on the personal side, know whether you crave the collegial contact of co-workers or can be happy going it alone.

Diane Stafford is the Workplace columnist for The Kansas City Star. stafford@kcstar.com, www.kansascity.com/workplace, @kcstafford

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