Should You Accept That Job Offer?
Kudos. You’ve been offered a job.
The question, of course, is whether or not you should take it. And the answer isn’t so easy. There’s something to be said for a sane, steady, 9-to-5 life—the kind that real people who aren’t entrepreneurs tend to live. But the hectic, commanding, rewarding life of being a consultant has its own allure, and knowing which to choose, the job or your business, can be hard.
Problem is, it’s one of life’s signal decisions, so you’ll need to do it with care.
First, the Pros
Let’s talk about the pros of having a job.
First, there’s the paycheck. It comes twice a month like clockwork, and it’s highly useful for things like food. (Rent would fall under this category, too.) Unless you’re a profligate spender, there’s no more scratching around for nickels and dimes to pay the bills. And there’s no uncertainty, either: no polite dunning notes to lackadaisical clients, no receivables to tend like sheep and, best of all, no collections on nasty non-payers.
If you take a job, you’ll also have shorter hours. There’s nothing in the world so hungry for time as owning your own business. When you’re a one-man shop, you have to do everything, from building the product to sweeping the floors, and it chews up hours like gangbusters. When you have a job, you have to do one thing and do it well.
And don’t forget the intangibles. When you take a job you agree to end your isolation or near-isolation as an entrepreneur. You’ll be working with equals—with colleagues—every day, and they have much to teach. Take my own example for proof: I owned my own business for years, then gave it up for a job in a firm that grew from zero to three-quarters of a billion dollars in less than three years. I learned an enormous amount about business, and I was exposed to advanced techniques (like project management, financial modeling and others) that I never would have learned if I’d continued to work for myself.
Last but not least is the pleasure of practicing your craft. In a 9-to-5 job you can be a network engineer, a Web designer or a C-coder all day, every day, as long as you’d like to (or until they fire you). No more accounting. No more marketing. No more of anything but what first drew you, ironically, to open your own business: doing the work you love.
Next, the Cons
But there are cons as well, and they’re large.
For one, you’ll have a boss, and he—or she—could be hellish. You’ll no longer have the freedom to get to work when you like and leave as you please. You’ll have to take orders, and worse, you’ll have to take them while smiling. Your freedom—the very asset that’s prized by entrepreneurs—now belongs to someone else, lock, stock and barrel, and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it unless your boss is forgiving.
There’s also the little issue of office politics. Who gets what, who does what and who’s doing it to whom are problems that no office has ever avoided, and if you’re an important player in a company (which you should be if you give up your own business to join it), you’ll be right in the middle of the plots, schemes and general meanness that people can sink to whenever they’re forced to work together.
Then, of course, there’s the possibility of monotony. As an entrepreneur you’re lashed to your business and each and every one of its functions. It’s tough, but it’s fun. As an employee, you no longer have to keep the books, you no longer have to console the client, and while it can leave you free to concentrate on your work, it can also, after a time, grow boring.
Remember that you’re an entrepreneur by choice. No one forced you to do it. And by their very nature, entrepreneurs like to bite off more than they can chew. Dell, IBM, HP and others were all founded on nothing more than elbow grease and a dream.
Vet, Vet, Vet
So what’s a body to do? Answer: Vet the job carefully. Evaluate its every aspect before you sign on the dotted line.
First, talk with current employees. Bear in mind that what you’ll get is almost always a distorted version of the truth. (After all, who’s willing to trash his job to the new guy before he’s even hired?) But it can be an invaluable view of life as it really is inside the office, and that’s important to know before you give up your business.
If the firm you’re thinking of joining is a public company, make sure it’s in good health. Read its latest financials (by law you can find them on the Web), and make sure you’re not joining an Enron-in-the-making. Do a Google search and see what pops up. And last, scour your county’s court docket to see what trouble the firm’s gotten into. This may seem like overkill, but it’s not. Maybe your newfound employer was sued in a class action suit by two or three dozen (or two or three hundred) of its former employees. You might like to hear their gripes before you close up shop to work for The Man.
Last, listen to your feelings. Call it the Star Wars approach: Sit back, close your eyes and let the Force guide you. If it feels like a good thing in your gut, it probably is. If, on the other hand, your stomach turns over again and again, some hidden part of your mind—the part that sees the invisible and hears the unspoken—is telling you to steer clear. If I were you, I’d listen to it.
Safe, Not Sorry
Now, let’s say you decide to do it: You’ll take the job. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you’ve covered all the legal bases. You might need them one day.
First and foremost, ask your employer to write an “out clause” into your contract. This is a paragraph or two that stipulates how you’ll terminate your job if things go sour. Is notice required? If so, how many weeks? Does it have to be in writing? Just as important, will they give you a severance package? If they will, how much? It should be enough to cover the time it takes to become a consultant again, or find a new job, providing you want to.
You also have to close down your company properly. First, you’ll need to notify your clients. Be sure you give them enough time to find a replacement for whatever service you provide. (Depending on your relationship, you might want to help them with that. True, you’re giving your business away, but you won’t need it anymore. And it’s best to direct your clients into good hands—that way they won’t resent you for leaving.)
If you’ve formed a corporation or simply received an EIN (Employer Identification Number) for the IRS, you’ll need to have an accountant prepare your final tax returns. Failure to do so could result in major fines and penalties. You may also have to file certain forms with the state. Remember, it’s always wise to talk with an attorney where the law is concerned. In the long run, it’s cheaper—and safer—than doing it yourself.
Have It Both Ways
Of course, there’s no reason you can’t do it all—so long as you don’t like to sleep. Some people work a 9-to-5 job and consult on the side, moonlighting from time to time. It’s tough—in fact, it can be draining—but it can be highly rewarding as well.
If you’re the type who can balance your time, if you can plan, schedule and work with discipline (in other words, if you’re nothing like me), you can double your income by keeping your business and keeping your job.
Is it worth it? Truth is, only you can tell. So good luck. If you’re smart, you won’t need it.
David Garrett is the former director of Information Technology for GMP Companies Inc., a biotech company with global operations, and the director of new media for Run With It, a site design firm. You can e-mail David at firstname.lastname@example.org.