When I first found myself on the job-hunt, I was inundated with a common question: Why not strike out on your own? Why not start your own business?

It still comes up – even in interviews! Seriously – prospective employers, people who would ostensibly have me work for them, wonder why on earth I’d want to do so.

And every time I say I don’t want to, the question-asker acts incredibly insulted. Like I’d just kicked their cat or something. Because apparently the very idea of wanting a boss is sacrilege in this city.

Working with small businesses, I’ve come to realize that what I long suspected about running a business is true – it’s damn hard work, and rarely done well. Many “entrepreneurs” in this city are actually contractors operating under an incorporated name. Yes, they do what they do well, and don’t report to anyone but themselves (or clients), but are certainly not building empires.

Casual observation suggests that a great majority of the self-employed strike out on their own because they’re great at what they do, and don’t want to be tied down to an employer. The problem is, they don’t have the skill necessary to actually RUN A BUSINESS.

Being good at what one does, does not immediately bestow that person with any degree of proficiency in business development, growth management, marketing, budgeting, accounting, human resources, management, or any of the other myriad things that are necessary for business efficiency or success.

Were I to go it alone, I’d be spending 80% of my work time doing my own business development and paperwork. And because the 20% of my work time remaining for billable work isn’t enough to pay the bills for the other 80%, I would end up working through much of my personal time as well. And that’s just not at all appealing to me.

I don’t want to build an empire. I just want to enjoy what I do, where I do it, and who I do it with. And at the end of the day, let someone else worry about the other “departments>’

And because I’m good at what I do, actually enjoy the buzz of the business district and play well with others, I’ll continue to take my chances looking for a boss, rather than being one of the numerous small businesses that fail every year.

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5 thoughts on “Entrepre-NOT

  1. gillian

    Dude, I totally hear you on this one. People have asked me the same thing, and again got weirded out when I said I didn’t want my own consulting business.

    I don’t know why people think there’s something wrong with having a boss and working in a structured company. I would hate to be without my health insurance, the company buying me computer equipment, furniture and whatever else I need, not having to “look” for work but having it handed to me. Free snacks and drinks…

    So don’t let these people bug you. Maybe in a job interview you just need to come up with a positive reason why you don’t want to be your own boss, that makes you sound like a team-player and shit. Which you probably already did; still, I agree with you, it’s an annoying thing to hear, especially in interviews and networking events.

  2. Karen

    It’s an interesting perspective. I’m not quite in the position of wanting to start my own business, but I know a couple who have or are interested in it. For me, I think the perception exists that it is easier to buy 1000% into the value proposition of all the operations of a business if you actually run the business itself. In some ways, maybe that just means the person or we have given up on being able to find employers that we actually feel are good people, doing things that we believe in. I’m often torn by the black and white thinking, that it’s either Massive Corporation or Brave Entrepeneur. I’m sure there are plenty of medium-sized businesses, but they may be going through growing pains that make them unattractive to job seekers or averse to hiring new people?

    Good post.

  3. Sue

    You know the other thing that people overlook when they say “why don’t you go into business for yourself”… well, unless you’re willing to sacrifice ALL of your waking hours to pursue your business growth, you’re going to make less money than you can working for someone else. That’s just the way it is these days. I’m self-employed and I’ve finally acknowledged that I’m willing to take the pay cuts inherent in not working for “the man” mostly because I would never get to do the work I do for a company. But the skills YOU (Jen) have are BEST used when working with a talented team of people who are doing product development, operations, HR etc… if you go it alone you sacrifice all that can be gained by being part of a group of like-minded individuals who are passionate about a single goal. OR you have to build that group from scratch, and it takes years and years and more sleepless nights than it’s really worth.

  4. Sue

    That last comment didn’t really make my point…

    … at a certain point, particular skill sets (e.g. new media, marketing etc) are best applied in a larger team. They lead to more gains in a mid- or large-sized businesses than they do in a small business. You are seeking to apply your skills in the setting where they will have the most chance of significant impact.

    Furthermore, you are particularly talented at a specific range of things. You’re a specialist. People in small businesses don’t GET to be specialists – we have to be generalists. So you’re making a choice between being one of the best specialists out there, or being a less happy, less satisfied generalist.

    Kind of seems like a no-brainer to me.

  5. Hannah

    I really agree with your post. I’ve often thought about opening my own business, and people keep asking me why I don’t just start it already. Well, you’ve just laid out my reasons: it takes a lot of work, it’s hard to pay the bills, and you spend most of your time keeping track of all the details that the other employees in the company keep track of. I’ve seen a lot of really incompetent managers, and I don’t think I’d like to join their ranks mismanaging my own company yet. I’d still love to open my own business, but I’ll wait until I’m in a better position to do so: with a bigger nest egg to squander, and a life partner who is willing to share their time and energy in the project or be the breadwinner while my business is getting off the ground.
    But really, the issue is this: people are snobs about business. So many people secretly think that “elite” people shouldn’t want to work for someone else. And then when I was in business school, the consensus was that nobody should want to run a small business, either. A small business was considered only a stepping stone to going public and making millions on mergers and acquisitions. Somehow, just doing a job you love isn’t respected anymore.
    Good luck in the job hunt!

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