Self-employment can be a dream or a nightmare

WORKING LIFE

April 30, 1995|By DEBORAH JACOBS | DEBORAH JACOBS,Chronicle Features

Have you heard about the new American Dream? Being your own boss. You can come and go as you please, balance work with family, and not have to worry about getting laid off.

I've been living this dream for many years now, and it's not as glamorous as it sounds. In the early stages, running your own business is a lot like being the lonely Maytag repairman who's always waiting for the phone to ring. Or how about this: Key clients have owed you money for months. You have bills coming due, but you don't dare chase the customers, for fear they won't give you more work. The schedule can very well extend from dawn to dusk, and eat up a lot of weekends.

This is not a job for people who are shy about blowing their own horns. And if you squirm at performance reviews now, better start thickening your skin: Just wait until each criticism might mean you're on the verge of losing a client.

Still think "You & Co." sounds like a good idea? Put aside a safety net of funds to cover at least six months of expenses (a year is even better), and follow these steps before you take the plunge.

Free-lance first. Making the transition will be easiest if you already know what it's like to develop new business, set fees and collect the money you're owed. This is the time to locate a place to work and prepare business cards and letterhead. Buy any equipment or tools you will need, and learn to use them. Remember to research health and disability insurance.

Don't rush to quit your main gig if you still have one. You'll be ready to jump ship when you have so much work that you can't do both jobs anymore.

When you reach that point, exit gracefully. Pass out plenty of business cards to former co-workers, and indicate your willingness to free-lance. Then look in the mirror and meet your new boss.

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