The best boss I ever worked for is me.
I should know. I’ve been working for myself for one year, and I haven’t had a single disagreement with myself. Of course, my only employee is me. I work out of my Falls Church home — in a basement cubby. There are thousands of men and women in the Washington area just like me who found the fortitude to start one-person businesses.
You can, too. It’s not that hard.
I know — you don’t believe me. You think it’s too risky. You think it’s too complicated. You think it’s way too scary. It may be all of that. It was for me — particularly the first three months. There were more than a few days when my dog, Shadow, gave me that, “Shouldn’t you be at a real job?” glare. But after more than 12 months as a full-time freelance writer — who has figured out how to cobble together nearly two-thirds of my former annual salary as a USA Today reporter — I have my own way of describing my new life: wonderful.
You probably want to know: How can you get from where you are to where I am? How do regular folks leave the security — or insecurity — of their jobs and start profitably working for themselves? Well, one year doesn’t make me an expert. So I’ve reached out to others. I’ve spoken with local people who started their own businesses. I’ve spoken with experts from the Small Business Administration and from the small-business mentoring group, SCORE. I’ve even reached out to a couple of workplace gurus who have written books on the topic.
First, however, a reality check.
Most small businesses — particularly one-guy or one-gal operations — tank. The odds of you — or me — hanging out a shingle and still having that shingle in place five years from now are shaky. Roughly half of all new businesses survive five years, and about one-third survive 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the data get worse. One-person operations — which federal bureaucrats prefer to call sole proprietorships — have turnover rates three times as high as employer firms, mostly because it is so much easier for non-employer firms to start and stop, the Small Business Administration says.
With odds so lousy, why take the risk?
“Being an entrepreneur is a sober and sobering decision,” says Tom Peters, the management guru and co-author of “In Search of Excellence,” a best-selling business book. Peters left McKinsey years ago to run his one-man shop before more recently hiring an assistant. “But don’t get carried away by the thought of being an entrepreneur. The local plumber is an entrepreneur.”
Even then, it’s critical to be able to explain what makes your product or service special — in about the amount of time it takes to watch a Vine video.
“If you don’t have a clear understanding of your product or service, it’s not going to work,” says Karen Williams, head of the regional chapter of SCORE, which mentors small businesses.