10 Million Reasons to Go Solo
Surely you’ve felt it. The pull can be irresistible. The empowerment, the challenge, the money, the month-long vacations—they all swirl together into the American dream: a beckoning image of freedom and wealth that drives hordes of talented professionals toward the lucrative world of career independence.
An independent career is one that puts you and your hard-earned skills in the forefront. It lets talented individuals establish a level of control over their work life that traditional workers simply can’t claim. It positions its practitioners for the satisfaction that only comes with doing important work on your own terms. And of course, like many of the best things in life, it takes a leap of faith.
Welcome to Consultant’s Corner, a new series of articles dedicated to celebrating the joys, perils, nuances, challenges and excitement of working for yourself. Hopefully, all readers—independents and soon-to-be-independents alike—will find helpful and informative nuggets that will help you figure out if independence is right for you and, if so, how to make the most of your consulting career.
Independent? You’re in Good Company
If you’re already working on your own, you’re in very good company. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in a recent report detailing the growth of contingent and alternative work arrangements, reported that there are now more than 10.3 million independent contractors plying their trades in the United States. That’s 7.4 percent of the employed workforce, a marked rise from the BLS’ previous contingent workforce report four years ago. And millions more work in similar “non-traditional” arrangements.
Why the increase in popularity? Certainly there’s no catch-all reason. The very nature of career independence lends itself to an individual expression of each worker’s unique skills, needs and expectations. In fact, if you ask 10 independents why they’re working on their own, don’t be surprised when you get 10 strikingly different answers.
Of course, some reasons are more common—and more influential—than others. And it’s hard to start anywhere else but sheer wealth potential. As many of you have already learned, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching those certificates on your wall translate into real money. I’m not talking about an occasional decent raise here and there. I mean the kind of income that can have a huge and lasting impact on you and your family.
Another big factor is increased career security. This may come as a surprise for some of you traditional workers who probably think that a full-time job equals security. Not anymore. The average job tenure has dropped from 22 years to less than four years since 1960. The progress of a professional career, once defined primarily by the companies listed on a résumé, is now much more a function of the skills amassed. Loyalty, if not completely gone, is dwindling. Job security, therefore, is now best achieved by staying on top of new technologies and practices while casting the widest net for potential places to work.
And don’t forget the joy of freedom itself. For some, money and security take a back seat to the simple gratification of not letting anyone else dictate the means by which they earn their living.
Regardless of the reasons, there’s little question that career independence is the right choice for most of those who’ve made the leap. According to the BLS report, less than 10 percent of independent contractors would prefer to be tethered to a “traditional” work arrangement.
The Fear Factor
Of course, there are many factors that scare even smart, talented folks away from ever attempting a consulting career. Simply not knowing how to get started is a big one, as is the apprehension that your skills and experience simply aren’t up to snuff for a consulting gig. Also quite common is the perceived inability to market one’s services effectively amid growing competition. There also are the great unknowns that encircle the logistics and administration of career independence: How do I pay taxes? What can I write off? What do I do about insurance for my family? What if my clients don’t pay? All of these are completely reasonable concerns, and I’ll address them in upcoming articles about the best ways to get your independent career off the ground.
Most experienced consultants will tell you, though, that the rewards at the end of the consulting rainbow are well worth the courage, discipline and coordination it takes to make that first leap.
Gene Zaino is president and CEO of MyBizOffice Inc., and is the primary force behind a consultant engagement process that provides independent professionals with a “portable” employment and benefits infrastructure, while helping their clients reduce the costs, risks and administration associated with using them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.