Going it alone: tips on self-employment

ON EXCELLENCE

October 25, 1993|By TOM PETERS

By design or of necessity, more and more people are considering self-employment. Regardless of the motivation, there's no better first step than perusing "Running a One-Person Business," by Claude Whitmyer, Salli Rasberry and Michael Phillips (Ten Speed Press).

The uplifting and practical message is that self-employment, although hard labor, can be a labor of love. "For those who feel life is more than making money, the one-person business is an exciting business form," say the authors, who have advised hundreds of one-person enterprises. "It is business as lifestyle -- business as a statement about who you are and what you value."

The book explores the basic requirements, topped by what the authors label "tradeskill" -- literally skill at trading, which incorporates persistence, a willingness to face facts, a bent for minimizing risks and a passion for hands-on learning. To wit: "Most people we know with tradeskill like to do their own books, and they pay daily attention to financial material."

One chapter, "Financial Strategies," gives lucid guidance on pricing, providing job quotes, preparing proposals -- and billing.

Whitmyer, Rasberry and Phillips guide amateurs on such mundane but essential questions as "answering machine or answering service?"

And in the chapter "Setting Up Shop," they proffer well-considered advice on whether to make your office in your home. The answer: It depends.

"Running a One-Person Business" especially shines in a provocative chapter on "Emotional Support Systems." The solo practitioner, the authors begin, "can fail for a number of reasons. . . . The most common reason, though, and the least discussed, is emotional stress. . . . Pretending that emotions have no effect on business is naive, and it definitely won't work in a one-person business."

One of many practical solutions is finding "planning buddies" who offer each other "a special kind of friendship that is unconditional. You agree to meet weekly and to serve as a catalyst for one another, but not as therapists or counselors." The authors don't play down the pitfalls of self-employment, but in the end they are cheerleaders: "First, the work itself is most likely fun, so you can just linger over the parts you love most," they write. "Second, you control the pace. . . . You should be able to slow down and do the diverting things that catch your eye at the moment. Talk to the postmistress, watch a butterfly, play with a child you pass at the park, skip a rock across a stream . . . and spend an extra half-hour getting to know a new person you met over morning coffee at the local coffee shop."

"Few callings in life offer as great a chance to have fun as a one-person business," the authors conclude. That's good news. In this age of ceaseless corporate bloodletting, like it or not, the time of the one-person enterprise has come.

(Tom Peters' column is distributed by the Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; [407] 420-8200.)

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