Jack-of-all-trades and master of some

successfully self-employedWhat does it take to be successfully self-employed?

What does it take to be successfully self-employed, something I’ve managed to achieve for the last thirty years? Obviously, you need to be able to competently provide something of value that clients will pay you for. So let’s take that as a given.

Unfortunately, that’s not all you need.

Google the term “successfully self-employed” and you’ll get over twelve million hits. No, I haven’t read them all. But what I’m going to share with you doesn’t appear anywhere in the first few hundred highest-ranked links. In my experience, there’s a make or break factor that separates competent, self-employed practitioners who are successful from those who, sooner or later, go out of business.

The make or break factor

I snuck the make or break factor into the title of this post.

Besides being competent in what you do, you need to be able to do everything else that’s required to run your business, or successfully outsource it. To be successfully self-employed, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades, or have access to folks who can fill in for the ones you’re lacking or want to avoid doing yourself.

Sounds pretty obvious, right?

Maybe it’s obvious, but over the years I’ve seen more people fail to stay successfully self-employed due to gaps in the support for their revenue producing skills than I have seen return to regular employment for reasons outside their control.

I’ve seen smart, capable people return to a job because they couldn’t get their bills out on time. Because they couldn’t keep their work files organized in their office. They couldn’t stay interested long enough in an industry niche they were developing before they decided to do something completely different. Because they were incapable of realistic budgeting. Because they were lousy at getting back to their clients in a timely fashion.

None of these skills are rocket-science. And, if you can’t or don’t want to do them it’s possible to find someone who will do them for you, for a price which may be a bargain by allowing you to concentrate on what you’re good at. I, for example, hate cleaning my home office regularly. (Once in a while is OK, but not every week.) So, for the last twenty years I’ve paid someone to do it. Every time she comes in I feel good about it. I never have to worry about what clients who drop in unexpectedly might otherwise think. Similarly, you can hire a bookkeeper if you can’t stand paying bills, an office declutterer if you’re habitually messy, a business coach to help you focus on what you really want to do in your professional life, an accountant who will help you stay on the financial straight and narrow, or a phone answering service to improve your responsiveness to clients.

Don’t sabotage yourself

There are many good reasons why not everyone is suited to the self-employed life, but a surprisingly high ~10% of U.S. workers have chosen this way to earn a living. I love the freedom (and even the responsibility, most of the time) of being self-employed. If you do too, and have salable skills, don’t sabotage the opportunity to work the way you want by neglecting any the routine skills your work needs to be successful. Take a hard look at the tasks you’re neglecting, and either buckle down and do them or find someone who will. Then you can concentrate on what you’ve chosen to do to make a living in this world. Hopefully something that you love.

Photo attribution: Flickr user Mc-Q

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