As someone who teaches internet marketing, I know I’m supposed to sell you on the “dream”. The dream that in just a few short months (and for just a few hundred dollars…), the affiliate marketing skills I teach you will enable you to flip your boss the bird and ride off into the land of care-free self employment.
But take it from someone who’s been there – one, it ain’t all that easy, and two, even if it was, self employment isn’t all sitting on the beach and sipping martinis.
The “it ain’t all that easy” thing is something I’ve talked about (and will continue to talk about over and over again) on this site. Affiliate marketing is a business (albeit one that can be very rewarding and enjoyable), and businesses require work to succeed. The only place where internet marketing will make you an overnight millionaire – no effort required! – is on sales pages, and believe me when I say that the only ones getting rich there are the owners of the sales pages themselves!
Today, I want to focus on the second part of the self-employment myth – that working for yourself is nothing but red sports cars and diving through piles of money like Scrooge McDuck. Let me be clear that I think working for yourself is a great goal – but it’s one that should be approached thoughtfully and with proper planning. Here’s my story…
About two years ago, my husband and I relocated across several states. We didn’t move for jobs or for any particular reason – we were just ready for a change, and figured the details would sort themselves out later. And since the income from my article writing business was enough to support us at the time, I decided to give the whole self-employment thing a try.
And boy, was it *not* what I was expecting!
When I first launched my business, I did so within the context of having a full-time job at the same time. For me, the challenge was always to find time outside of work (or during, with my boss’s permission) to get my internet work done. And because eight hours of each day were dedicated to my day job, there were some very real constraints on when I could work on my business. This forced me to be as efficient as possible – I was a lean, mean writing machine!
And then, all of a sudden, that structure was gone. Without the framework of a day job to build my days around, I was lost. As a self-employed writer, I’d find myself sitting on the couch at 8:00 pm after all-day Golden Girls marathons, wondering where the time had gone. Even tasks that could have been completed in a few minutes got pushed to the back burner, since I had all the time in the world to finish them.
But that wasn’t the only issue I faced as a self-employed writer. I was lonely. Working from home is a solitary profession, and temporarily relocating to coffee shops isn’t the same as the water cooler gossip you share with the co-workers you see day in and day out.
(Yes, I disagree with Tim Ferriss and the Four Hour Workweek here on the idea that you should minimize all contact with your co-workers. We humans are social creatures, and the relationships that I’ve built with co-workers past and present are some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. There’s more to life than productivity!)
There were also financial ramifications to consider. Self-employed workers in the US pay extra in taxes in order to make up for the tax burden on earnings that’s usually covered by traditional employers. Plus, working from home meant losing my employer-subsidized health insurance – or paying nearly $600/month for a similar policy on the private health insurance market.
So after a few months, I went back to work. I was lucky to find a great job, with a great company and fantastic co-workers. I currently work in marketing for a candy company, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to run the company website, develop fun marketing materials and travel frequently to candy industry trade shows. Oh yeah, and I run the sample room, where I have over 100 different kinds of candy ready to send out to prospective customers. It doesn’t get much better than all the free candy you want 🙂
Of course, working a day job while running my internet business comes with compromises. I’m not able to travel as much as I’d like to, and the time constraints of doing both mean turning down some interesting projects because I’m not able to fully commit to them. It’s also scary to think about starting a family with both my husband and I both working full-time (have you seen how much day care costs these days?!).
So while this arrangement is working for me for now, I can see a point in the future where I’ll want to try being self-employed again. But instead of throwing myself blindly into it like I did the first time, I’m working towards self-employment mindfully by preparing for the following things. I suggest you at least start to consider them yourself if you’re interested in becoming self-employed in the future.
1. Set Realistic Financial Expectations
I touched on this above, but know that it isn’t enough to simply replace the income you’re making at your day job before making the leap to self-employment – you’re actually going to need to make more to account for the extra taxes and possible loss of other benefits.
Right now, I’m keeping close track of our finances to get an idea of how much we spend each month, beyond our mortgage, utilities and other bills – I won’t want to make the leap to self-employment only to experience a significantly lower quality of life. My husband and I are also paying down debt so that we won’t have that hanging over our heads, and before all is said and done, I’ll probably meet with a tax planner and insurance agent to understand exactly how much those expenses will change when I’m working for myself.
It’s also important to take a good, hard look at your savings accounts and see how prepared you are to weather a financial emergency. As a day job worker, I know that every two weeks, I’ll receive a steady, reliable paycheck that will pay my bills. But when I’m self-employed, there won’t be any similar guarantees. If I have a bad month in terms of traffic or sales (which can and certainly will happen), I’m still going to have to pay those bills, so it will be important to have that extra cushion in the bank.
2. Develop Time Management Skills
This is going to be a big one for me, and will likely be a challenge for anyone who starts an affiliate marketing business while working a full-time day job. Will you be able to turn off the TV, or Facebook, or the Wii long enough to get your work done? If you don’t have a boss peering over your shoulder, enforcing your productivity, will you be motivated enough to move forward with your business?
I’m practicing this right now, in preparation for future self-employment. I’m experimenting with different planners and task management systems to figure out how to best stay on top of my to-do list on my own, and I’m practicing scheduling productive time on weekends and vacation days to get the hang of getting down to business outside of standard work hours.
Hopefully, having some of these routines in place ahead of time will help the transition to self-motivation go more smoothly the next time!
3. Have a Network in Place in Advance (or Get Really Good at Making New Friends Fast)
Admittedly, part of the reason I failed at self-employment was not having a social network in place to replace my day-to-day interactions with co-workers. Being new to the city, I had no friends or business acquaintances to catch up with – and believe me, as much as I love the Golden Girls, hanging out with Blanche and Sophia just isn’t the same as having actual, living people to connect with. (For the record, referencing something a TV character said earlier in the day in a conversation with your husband is a pretty great way to get him to think you’re on the fast train to Crazytown…)
Since I’ve stayed put for a few years now, I have a network of friends, former colleagues and acquaintances (some of whom are self-employed themselves) that will help to ease the transition to working on my own. But if most of your social interactions come from your current co-workers (or if you plan to live a location-independent lifestyle that has you picking up and moving to new places frequently), it’s worth figuring out how you’ll meet new people outside of a traditional job.
If being self-employed is your goal, what steps are you taking now to make the transition as smooth as possible? Or, if you have any questions for someone who has tried (and failed) at self-employment, feel free to ask them below!
(Edited to add – When I first started writing this post, I thought it was going to be all awesome and revolutionary about how self-employment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Then I found this comic from TheOatmeal called “Why Working at Home is Both Awesome and Horrible” that’s basically the same thing, but way more fun to read. Just don’t click on the link until you’ve got your productive work done, because that site will suck you in forever!)