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Is self-employment right for you? A guide for distance learners

Being your own boss—at some point, we all dream of it. But so few of us actually take the leap to self-employment. The exciting part is that independent work can be an excellent fit for distance learners.

Regardless of where you are in your education journey—middle school, freshman in high school, on the verge of graduation, or entering college—this blog post provides guidance on the question of whether self-employment is the right choice.

More of us are ‘living the dream’ of self-employment

Independent work has been growing rapidly in recent years across the U.S. Today, there are around 16 million self-employed workers. And there is a lot of diversity here—covering everything from independent contractors and freelancers to “gig” economy workers to business owners. The average income for full-time self-employed workers is around $65,000—for Millennials (those in their late 20s and 30s) the average wage was $43,800.

College completion doesn’t appear to factor into the decision to pursue self-employment, either. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that among those 25 years or older in 2015, self-employment rates were higher for those with a high-school education or less or for individuals with a professional degree. The lowest rates were for those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Millennials and Generation Z (loosely defined as people younger than 40 and older than 10) also show a propensity to lean toward self-employment as a preferred career pathway. So, is self-employment right for you? Read on to find out!

A look at self-employment five years in: My story

First, a quick intro. I’ve devoted my career to online marketing for small and medium-sized businesses and nonprofits. For eight years prior to making the jump to full-time solopreneur in 2015, I worked a traditional 8-to-5 job. While I enjoyed my duties and co-workers, I seldom felt truly stretched and challenged, and I craved more variety in my day-to-day activities. So that prompted me to try something new—voluntarily quitting my day job and launching my own business.

In the past half decade, I’ve nearly tripled my income compared to my old full-time job, had more time off, and enjoyed far more meaningful work. I’ve learned a lot and gained an entirely new perspective that continuing in a traditional employment path couldn’t have given me.

If I can do it, so can your homeschool student! In fact, there are so many ways that home education prepares a young person for the entrepreneurial life. And by entrepreneurial, I don’t mean kickstarting the newest Silicon Valley tech behemoth. It can be something as simple as hanging your shingle as a freelance photographer or programmer, launching a local lawn care business, or a host of other pursuits.

Six ways to know whether self-employment is right for you

#1: You’re a self-starter: When I first made the jump to self-employment, I thought my stress levels would plummet. They definitely declined overall, but I quickly discovered that one type of stress replaced another. True, I no longer had to commute, be at my desk from 8 to 5 each day, deal with office politics, and all the rest. But I did have to “make it all happen” each day. As entrepreneur Neil Patel writes, “To be self-employed is to trade one variety of stress for another.” The wonderful flexibility of self-employment meant that I had to be disciplined—not only to do well on my current projects for clients, but keep a steady stream of new projects in the pipeline for the future. If you’re a natural self-starter, self-employment is probably a good fit.

#2: You value flexibility: If you want to bring a high degree of flexibility into your work one day, self-employment is a wonderful path. Want to take an afternoon off? You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. You can do it! Just remember that with that flexibility and freedom comes the need for discipline. And although you don’t have a boss in the typical sense of the word, with self-employment you really have a bunch of small “bosses” in the form of your clients! You are still accountable to them.

#3: You have unbridled enthusiasm for a work or business idea: It goes without saying that passion is essential for self-employment. That passion will help you make it through the tough times. It also will help you get up each morning and face challenges with enough resolve to keep moving forward.

#4: You’re comfortable in multiple roles, and can switch between them throughout the day: Regardless of what their core offering is, the self-employed have to wear multiple hats throughout the day: Accountant. Salesman. Project manager. Secretary. Customer service representative. To name just a few. My own workday involves switching between these roles multiple times, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thrive on the variety. If you prefer a set routine and predictability, the self-employed lifestyle could be a challenge.

#5: You’re OK with risk: We’ve all heard the grim statistic that eight out of 10 entrepreneurs fail within 18 months of starting their businesses. Self-employment definitely carries more risk. That said, trying out self-employment early in a young person’s career gives them a chance to experiment without as much on the line. It’s much better to try and fail in your 20s without dependents, a mortgage, and other obligations. Right now is the optimal time to experiment.

#6: You’re comfortable with sales: A mentor of mine shared some priceless advice a few years back: “David, you’re a writer. But when you go into a job interview or pitch a client, you’re no longer a writer. You’re a salesman.” One of the most challenging aspects of self-employment is that you can’t just be good at your craft—whether that’s photography, programming, roof repair, or anything else. You also have to be an expert at sales. The good news is that sales is an acquired skill, like anything.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone

Of course, independent work isn’t all a bed of roses. Working for yourself means no employer-paid benefits (health insurance and retirement contributions are the big ones), no paid vacation (truly taking time off as a self-employed worker is super challenging), and the potential for a higher tax rate (depending on how a business is structured). But as we’ve explored in this blog post, there are so many upsides. And for distance learners who tend to be naturally self-motivated, the fit can be perfect.

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