I was having an interesting discussion with my brother-in-law the other day. He was telling me about one of his good friends who used to be self-employed and made millions of dollars doing so. Recently, because of an addiction, this friend of his lost all of his money (almost his life), and had to look at getting some work as an employee again. This guy is a good guy (like most right), and extremely talented in many different ways, so it makes sense that he would be a fantastic employee – yes……no?
Well this guy, who I will leave nameless for privacy reasons, went to work as a salesman at my brother-in-law’s company, and things seem to be coming along quite nicely for the first couple of months. Ironically, at the same time I was working for him too on a temporary basis. I had decided that I would lend my hand with some computer related stuff, and I we’ll get to that story soon enough here on a different post. I am 46 years old, and my guess is that this fella is close to 50 years of age. We both have one thing in common in that we were self-employed recently, and now were trying to work as employees again.
So the other morning I asked my brother-in-law how his friend was working out as an employee in his company. He said that his friend wasn’t working there anymore, and then went on to mention his theory on self-employment versus being an employee.
He said something to the effect of, “Once self-employed – Always self-employed”.
Well his language struck a chord in me for a couple of reasons. One, I had recently quit working for him on a part-time basis, and deep down inside I realized that I didn’t like working for somebody else (no matter who it was) and I felt like I had failed my brother-in-law and myself by slowly disengaging from his company. Of course, it never dawned on me that there are millions of people my age who have been self-employed, and try to work for somebody else again with damp results.
So this poses a question I have for myself, and for my readers; “Once we are self-employed, are we never to be employees again?”
I hope not. The reason I hope not, is because it is a frightening thought believing that you could never be happy working for an employer again. When you are self-employed there is always that nagging fear, which is subdued in the good times, and greatly heightened in the bad times (good times being high profits, and bad times meaning negative profits), and you are always thinking about what you would do if your business model completely collapsed. I am sure there are self-employed people who would disagree, and claim that they never have these fears, but I seriously doubt it they would never let some fear drift through their minds at some point in their carreer.
My brother-in-law said that he believed once somebody has been self-employed they are “ruined” and can’t be told what to do. They can’t be coerced, empowered, inspired, driven, or led anymore. He said once you have had a taste of “running your own show”, you never want to look back. I have to admit, that as much as I don’t want to believe this, I have a sneaking suspicion that he may be right.
Like I have said before, here at Zulit.com, if our current online business model(s) one day failed, we would sell our house, our motorhome, and completely leave our traveling days behind us for a few years while we built up our new business model. We would be in a position to sell our house, and buy a smaller house and be mortgage free, but we would be really tight on cash if our current business model ended. Luckily for me, my wife agrees with me that she would rather be free and self-employed, than have the so-called security of being an employee again. I would be much more anxious if she insisted on maintaining our current lifestyle no matter what happened in the future.
Up until this experience (working again on a part-time basis) I’ve imagined myself going back to work for somebody, or some company, earning some money to pay the bills. I naturally figured that it would be no problem for me to do that and get right back into the rhythm of going to work each morning. I’m not so sure about anymore. I think my wife and I (and our dogs) would rather live in single wide trailer, with no vehicles were expenses, and nothing but our laptops with a high-speed Internet connection. We know that the Internet is here for the rest of our days on this earth, and somebody’s website has to be on top. Somebody’s website has to be in second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th place in the search results. We know there is room for us in the sea of Internet websites and blogs. We have never been worried about being rich or living carefree lifestyles – we only wanted to be free, not rich. As it turns out, we have made a lot more money than we ever imagined we would, and we are extremely grateful for that every morning we wake up. It’s really easy to get used to getting up in the morning and working on whatever project you feel like at the time.
In the past when I’ve mentioned this scenario (“living in a trailer park with nothing but an Internet connection”), deep down inside I truly wondered how miserable I would be if this scenario ever came to pass. I guess I really don’t know the answer to that, and I may never know the answer to that. One thing is for sure though – we will stay self-employed regardless of whatever lifestyle we end up living. I really think that “we drank the Kool-Aid”, as my accountant put it when I first started working at home.
I have been concerned over the past five years about getting too used to the lifestyle we have. This last year I only worked 2 1/2 months where I scheduled posts in our different blogs just to keep things fresh and keep our traffic levels up throughout the year (Zulit – not so much because it’s not in a great niche, and it’s never been pushed that hard). Outside of those 2 1/2 months, we didn’t look at any different avenues of traffic, didn’t build many new blogs, and didn’t even pile on a whole bunch of new content. In short – he got lazy.
Now perhaps this is all it takes when you have an Internet business established. All it takes is to have some fresh content on each one of your web properties every few days, every week, or even as little as once a month. Perhaps this lifestyle will continue for many years, and who knows, maybe this lifestyle will continue the rest of our lives. More will be revealed.
The Realization of Freedom, and Where I Came From
I remember three years ago all of a sudden realizing that I could go buy some golf clubs and afford to pay 80 – 100 dollars for a green fee twice a week. I really felt like I was living in a dream when I was on the golf course with my friends on a beautiful summer’s day. The last time I had ever slept at night (I usually worked night shift when I was an employee) and was up during the daytime, and playing golf, was when I was 17 years old. As soon as I was no longer a junior member of the Gorge Vale Golf and Country Club in Victoria British Columbia, I couldn’t afford to play. I suppose that since I worked as a pizza delivery boy and a dishwasher when I left high school, that didn’t help much either.
I got pretty darn good at being a dishwasher, and a floor mopper, and eventually I graduated to higher aspirations and became a pizza cook. For the longest time I wished I could say that I gone to University somewhere (anywhere), or had worked in some IT department somewhere. I also wished that I had some kind of credentials in business so that I could say I came by my current lifestyle “honestly”. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I suppose I was ashamed to tell anybody that I was a very poor student in school, had no post-high school education, and was working jobs at the lowest levels of society.
Even when in later years I had a job as an aircraft engineer (really just an aircraft mechanic, but they use that “engineer language” to try and convince young, big egoed, men and women to work night shifts for garbage money) I felt that I was “less then” the other mechanics because most of them had gone to college or school to learn for three years, before they ever walked on to a hangar floor. I still felt like the “bad student and dishwasher” no matter where I went and no matter what I did – and no matter how hard I worked.
I suppose the one thing that my life experiences have taught me – is that if you have a passion for something, whether it be a dream, a job, a lifestyle, or whatever, you can overcome almost anything to succeed. The key word here is “almost anything” (I don’t believe in the tripe marketed in the book “The Secret” – sorry) But, I don’t believe we can reach great heights in any field or endeavor if we are not satisfied and grateful for the baby steps we take in the beginning. We have to be satisfied and grateful when we accomplish our first tasks, and see our first meager results. Satisfied – but not to the point of “resting on our laurels”, as they say.
Now I look back on my meager beginnings as a dishwasher and floor mopper with a strange kind of pride. The first five years of being out on my own (18 — 23) I lived far below the poverty line. I had a dream of being a musician so I never even worked these extremely low paying jobs for more than a few evenings a week. I had no vehicle, no spare change, and lived a reclusive existence except for the odd gift of a roommate here and there. Two of those years I lived alone with the same kind of income and I have to admit that was extremely difficult. I did become very depressed, and thought I was actually going out of my mind at some point.
Maybe I am so frightened by the prospect of ever living so poorly again that I work my butt off to avoid it, or I am NOT afraid to live on the cheap and I’m willing to take my chances with self-employment. Just swimming in the currents of the economy at large. But let’s face it, it’s probably fear that keeps me going. I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t work with a computer for a living. This is a factor as well – I LOVE doing this. I love watchin text go up in a screen, and I love the feeling of a quality keyboard tickling my fingers as I type. (using a SONY VAIO now which I highly recommend if you must us a PC and not a Mac)
So there I was three years ago realizing I was able to afford the purchase of a brand-new set of golf clubs, and afford the cost of playing golf again, pinching myself in disbelief at what my lifestyle has come to. It actually caused me some weird sense of anxiety because I must’ve feared losing this privilege. But no, the business has continued onward and upward. Next thing I know, we are buying a much nicer vehicle to get around in, and then purchasing a motorhome to travel in most of the summer months between places like Palm Springs, the California coast, and good old Coeur De Alene, Idaho. My wife and I have the freedom of a retired couple living comfortably off their pensions. Most of our neighbors are much older than us, and most of the people we meet and greet when we are traveling are much older than us. I suppose this would be called financial freedom at this point. I don’t talk too much about our lifestyle anymore when I talk with friends, family, and stangers (well I try not to anyway) because it sounds like obnoxious bragging, and I honestly think it makes people want to puke. I reserve these kinds of discussions on our business progress for this blog.
What this realization has taught me is that self-employment can be the ultimate way to live your life if all is going well. When the bad times come and your business model is in the dumps (or in a deep valley) it’s time to get back to work and in a big way, but there is a certain FUN in those times as well, because now you are challenged again. The challenge of maintaining a successful business is extremely exciting and this is why I’m always encouraging people to go out on their own, and eventually become self-employed.
There is something about that feeling of satisfaction when all of your hard work comes to fruition. It’s even sweeter when you begin making 2 to 3 times the amount of money you made when you were at the top of your pay scale as an employee. When you have a good accountant (preferably a CA) and a good bookkeeper, and you play by the tax rules, you soon realize that self-employment is the way to go. When you can write off so many different expenses legitimately you begin to wonder why you ever decided to be an employee in the first place. For me it was natural to become an employee because nowhere down the line of my family tree did I see a big push for self-employment. In so many ways we are born into our lifestyle, and it’s tough to leave the employee mindset. I had being raised with the example that security was found in a corporate carreer.
Raised With The Employee Mindset
I know that my parents were deeply concerned with my choices throughout my life, and when I quit working for the airlines I think they were worried that my vision of working from home was nothing more than a pipe dream. I suppose if they had been self-employed their whole lives and their parents and their parents were business owners, they would have been happier to see that I was taking the chance of leaving the so-called security of a job for self-employment. I know that when I spoke to other people who were self-employed during my early years of trying to get this business going, they were very encouraging and supported me in my efforts. Don’t get me wrong on my parents – they have always supported me in any endeavour I’ve taken on.
I remember my father dabbling with self-employment when I was a kid, and I think that this little bit of dabbling he did must have affected me to some degree. I remember him speaking of friends he had who were working out of their basements to make an extra income (besides their employee income), and he would speak of these people with great respect and passion. The look in his eyes when he would talk about the smart and enterprising ideas these people had must have left that impression on me.
My father looked at different ideas, and he actually did act upon them sometimes, but because of the very early age he took on the responsibility of a wife and two children (my brother and I) he decided that he didn’t want to take any big chances. I have often wondered what my father would’ve done if he hadn’t been married and had children at the age of 21. He is extremely passionate and very smart – let alone a perfectionist and capable of working insane hours on a project. He has built his own airplanes, built his own classic style kayaks, maintained aircraft and machinery, was an electronic technician for his carreer, and on top of that was one of the best managers that B.C. Tel (before Telus) ever had (think some family pride is eeking it’s way in here now – sorry if this making your gag reflex go off).
When he used to be involved with minor hockey (and like usual as all men in our family, became very serious about it) he saw an opening for a self-employment idea that would create more income for the family. He discovered, at the time, that there was only a couple of decent places in Terrace, British Columbia where you could get your skates sharpened. Being the perfectionist that he was, he was often not satisfied with how well these businesses sharpened our skates. He decided to buy his own grinder and system for sharpening skates in our basement. We, as a family, were charging people around $1.50 for every pair of skates that we sharpened. I think that we charged two dollars to sharpen figure skates (it’s to foggy now). I remember him teaching me how to sharpen skates and I tried to make sure I did as good a job as he did. Of course, I never got as good at it as he did. My father is the craftiest and smartest man I know, and have ever known. This doesn’t just come from the love of the son, but from what other people have told me over the years growing up in my parents house.
The reason I bring up the self-employment idea is because as a child I really didn’t think that getting paid a buck-fifty (this was the mid-1970s which I can’t believe is so long ago now) for every sharpened pair of skates would add up to any substantial amount of money. Years later, I remember talking to my Mom about our little family enterprise and she told me that it did wonders for our family income. She said that the profit margin was really fantastic and it made a huge difference to the family. I honestly think my father created this small business to pay for all of the hockey expenses that my brother and I had.
Not only did he create an extra income for the family through this business model, but he was very good at what he did. I suppose he could have kept on doing the same thing, but for reasons I don’t know, he let it go. I think now that this must’ve left a lasting impression on me, and finding out years later from my Mother that it turned out to be a financially fruitful venture, left an even greater impression.
I have often seen these small businesses operating throughout my life and I have always wondered how they could possibly make a profit when they don’t seem to have many people in their stores and shops. What I have learned from my small business is that it comes down to the pennies every day that trickle in, and as that volume increases and decreases all those pennies add up. As long as your expenses are under control and you don’t go completely insane with spending on personal luxuries, you can be your own boss. This is how I look at any business now. You don’t have to be the best of the best, but if you consistently provide a reasonable service at a reasonable price, the world can be your oyster.
I don’t know what kind of small business I would start again if I couldn’t use the Internet for my income, but I have slowly grown a small list of ideas that I would consider “just in case”. They would all involve the Internet but some of them involve teaching people how to blog, and how to create their own trickle of income. I think it’s very important for people starting off in an Internet income business to appreciate the trickles. In the end these trickles really do add up, and they are what our complete profit model is based on. When you have a website that’s making a small trickle of pennies everyday, it must be looked upon with great respect and gratitude. It is a residual stream of income that has to be appreciated fully, and then sprinkled with a little bit of attention once in a while to keep it going. I better stop talking about websites or I will be going right off track again. Besides, you don’t need to hear yet “another dude’s theory” on how to manage Internet income streams (we can continue that on another post, and you know I will).
So Is It True
So is it true that once we are self-employed we will always be self-employed? I ask you to think about this if you are self-employed right now, or have a strong desire to become self-employed. As I said above, I really don’t know what I would do in the future if I couldn’t be working at home on my computer and living the lifestyle I am right now. I speculate on the “single wide trailer” scenario and I speculate on the “going back to work as an employee” scenario, but unless that day comes when I have to make a change, I won’t know.
I know that I could become an employee again, and that is not a problem, but what kind of employee would I be? Would I be nothing but a miserable pain in the backside? Would I challenge all authority as did as a young employee? Would I quit soon after I started? Would I be productive? Would you – could you.