Running (or Ruining) Your Own Business

Yes, I know, there are many good things about owning my own business (will someone please remind me what they are?) – but right now I’m feeling a bit out of stock on positive reasons.

I knew I was suffering from a severe case of self-employment affirmation deficit syndrome when people in the Netherlands kept asking me “So, where did you go on holiday this summer?” – assuming that I had gone away like most everyone else for two or three weeks.

“Oh…,” I said rather innocently, “was I supposed to go on holiday?”

“You see,” I explained time and again to various people with rather perplexed looks on their faces, “I’m self-employed. No one told me it was time to take a vacation. No one asked me to fill in my holidays on the company agenda. No one said, ‘You have 37 paid days off plus another umpteen national paid holidays.’ …I work for myself, and there are no such holidays. In fact, I also work almost every weekend. I write and edit books, and publishing deadlines wait for no one. In fact, there’s always an urgent one pending. ”

“Holiday?” I quipped. “What’s that?”

Oh yes, the joys of self-employment: no set holidays or even a reminder to take them, the maddeningly gruesome administration and constant invoicing to clients (no automatic monthly deposit into my bank account from an employer), the interminable fee negotiations that always seem either ‘too high’ or ‘too low’, and the overriding disadvantage: the lack of a stabile income (it’s always feast or famine, with a huge emphasis on the latter).

I can just hear readers wanting to interrupt me now. “But… but… but…,” you say. Yes, I know full well the advantages of self-employment, but sometimes I wonder whether they outweigh the disadvantages. Hmmm, let’s see….

Advantages: Well, I can sleep in as long as I like. The fly in that ointment, however, is that, if you’re self-employed, you can’t sleep in. Period. Time is literally money. So, I am up every day, including most weekends, no later than 7 A.M., and very often at 6 A.M., to start working. Discipline is key to self-employment, and if you don’t have it, you’re simply dead in the water. You see, there’s that one powerful little word – ‘just’ – that kills many people who think they can run their own business. Here’s what I mean:

“I’ll just put a load of laundry in before I start working,” or “I’ll just go for a jog first,” or “I’ll just read The International Herald Tribune before I start,” and on and on. …I actually do read the IHT in the morning while I’m having my cappuccino, but I get up an hour earlier to do so. Discipline. Or madness?

Another advantage? Well, to be quite honest, there are some really good ones – like working in my nightgown all morning (my secret is out now) and not having to get dressed until I feel like it, which is often after lunch. As a creative soul, my most creative hours are before noon, so I discipline myself to use them to the fullest. If I had to take a shower and get ready (female-style) before noon, I’d lose an entire hour of quality work time. (Yes, it takes me a full hour to get ready – shower, makeup, and hair.)

What I also like is being able to take a break and eat lunch whenever I darn well please. In fact, I often eat lunch quite early – at 10:30 or 11 in the morning – since I’m often up at 6 A.M. and having only a light breakfast then. Strange, but true.

Plus, I totally enjoy being able to take a break and sit in the sun in my garden – once, twice or even three times a day (provided there’s actually sun, that is). I do appreciate that for sure. I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission or, worse yet, miss the sun because I’m stuck in some office.

It’s the same with going out and about. If I’ve finished what I need to do for the day and the deadlines are either behind me or, as is more often the case, avoidable for a while (don’t tell my publishers), I can leave it all behind and go out to wherever I feel like – to a museum, to shoot photos, to sit in a café with another cappuccino and a good book, or whatever strikes my mood. That part of the self-employment dynamic – being able to make my own schedule – is undeniably good. I love the freedom of it.

Granted, the fact that there’s nobody hovering over me and telling me what to do – or when to do it – is a decided plus. Sure, I have to answer to my clients and publishers but, in the end, I control my own space and my own days, and I prefer that. In fact, I know I could never work for an employer again, with strict hours and the inherent constraints, though I did many times in my ‘previous life’. I manage my own life now and, from that standpoint, self-employment is great.

But, a brief word of advice to those of you who are thinking about starting your own business. The ‘Catch-22’ is that if you don’t have the discipline to be a good boss to yourself – to create a strong framework for self-discipline – you’re doomed. You may as well pack it up and head to the beach.

…Which is exactly where I’m planning to go soon. I’m looking, seriously, for a very remote, deserted island for a much-needed holiday/sabbatical. Anyone out there know one?

But first, duty calls. And then off to that island…

Shirley Agudo
2011 Autumn

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