Discover more from gears of resistance
Myths of Running a Small Business
Thoughts about Bosses, Work/Life Balance, and the AI Revolution
In an idyllic world, running a successful small business is the pinnacle achievement for those of us not born as trust fund babies. The romantic vision of running a small business conjures dreams of amazing wealth and unrestrained freedom. No boss to tell us what to do or what not to do. Wealth accumulated beyond the dreams of avarice. And while there are kernels of truth, reality is far less glamorous. Here are some realities I have discovered running creative-oriented businesses over the last decade:
All the Bosses! Yes, you are your own boss. But so is every client. And depending how big your profit margins are, you may have way more bosses than you ever had in a corporate gig. And you can be fired far more easily as 1099er versus a W2er. And it seems every client has different expectations. And if the clients are larger businesses, you will likely have more business processes and ways of doing work than you did as an in-house creative. Just the amount of meeting apps you have to juggle is crazy. Teams, Slack, Discord, Meet, Zoom. I cannot count how many times I have been late to a meeting trying to remember which app this particular company uses. Lesson: Working for yourself means every client is your boss.
40 Hours is a Slow Week. If you expect working for yourself means 24/7 video games and beers at noon every day of the week, well be prepared for mild disappointment. Perhaps one day when you are big enough to hire a few staff. But I am not there yet. If you are like me you are probably starting your business as a side hustle while keeping down a 9 to 5 still. Maybe you have a family. If you wish to keep your side hustle just that. Then perhaps you can disregard this. But if your goal is to make your side hustle your primary income source, be prepared for working another 20 hours a week, minimum. And if you have taken the plunge completely, then 40 hour work weeks will become a distant memory. 60 to 80 work weeks will become normal. Working seven days a week will be normal. Now it’s not to scare you off, like everything there are pros and cons.
Here are the pros: When I started off, I took any job I could. Sometimes that resulted in doing work or working with clients that were less than ideal. But press on because eventually you will get to the point where you can be selective in the work and the clients you take on. That is a huge win for your professional and personal spirit. But it takes time to get there. And though you put in ungodly hours, you do tend to have freedom of when and where to put those hours in. Meaning van life might be a possibility. For those of us who abhor the 9 to 5 mentality, working for yourself means maybe working 7a to 9a, then 1p to 5p, and then 7p to 11p. For some that is great, for others that is a nightmare. Be honest with yourself, not just only in your desires but also what your life will actually permit. Raising kids or taking care of elderly parents, depending on your particular happenstance, can make working for yourself a great opportunity or an impossible nightmare. For me, it’s a pro.
Here are the cons: As I mentioned before, working for yourself is going to eat up a lot of time. Also, working for yourself, especially in the beginning, means doing all the things it takes to run a business, not just the creative work. Taxes, contracts, marketing, ordering, all the stuff it takes to run a business now falls on to you. Don’t forget about healthcare. And if you have professional licenses or insurances that money is coming out of your bottom line. Meaning you cannot take advantage of economies of scale, so your prices might be higher than your competition. Will you price yourself out of the market? Or do show the unique value you offer thus negating the price concerns? Even if you have discovered a novel way of doing something, scaling a business to more than a hustle is hard and resource intensive. Or perhaps you have a partner who will be the breadwinner and thus you can service more niche markets. Is your niche market the playground of the wealthy? Or does it have small yet wide appeal? Will you be selling a few things at exorbitant prices or lots of small value items? A lot of small businesses form around cottage industries. But they tend to be more susceptible to upstarts upending those type of markets. Will the horse you hitch your wagon to still be in business in 2-5 years?
The Death of Digital Only Business. The emergence and proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here and it’s real. I am personally pro-AI. But that does not mean I am ignorant of the job and livelihood slaughter it will bring. It would be naïve to look at the history of the industrial revolution and digital revolutions, and not see that great changes brings both good and bad. But in the long-term, history shows, things get better for the majority. I personally cannot imagine living in an era when I would have spent all my time foraging for food just to survive. Even if government regulations do come into effect, they are no different than gun laws or drug laws. Laws and regulations keep honest people honest. But regardless, AI will no doubt thrive. It will do so because it is ultimately a democratizing force for ideas. You might not like the fact that it allows talentless hacks to create works of art or software, but that is the reality. If I had only access to hand tools, I would not be able to create the wonderful things that I can create with my CNC machines. Should I not be able to create woodworking projects simply because I choose to you modern tools? Sounds kinda draconian to me. So here is my bottom line, if your livelihood depends creating things that solely exist as bits, 1s and 0s on computers and smartphones. Then be scared. But if you are someone who uses bits to create things made of atoms, then we are entering a golden age. The ability to manifest ideas into reality is becoming easier and easier. And that is a good thing. Because it is, ironically enough, the idea that matters most. The manifestation of the idea into tangible reality is however what is financially valuable. I don’t think anyone would honestly argue that giving people the ability to turn their dreams into reality is a bad thing. Embrace AI as a new tool in the toolbox, not an entirely new toolbox.
Your turn. Agree? Disagree? What would you like to offer about running a creative small business in an era of significant change? Feel free to share!