A lot of people dream about leaving the 9-5 corporate environment and becoming their own boss. But there are a lot of big lifestyle changes that come as a result of entrepreneurship and working as a freelancer or small business owner. Although it can be an incredible exciting and fulfilling way to earn a living, it can also be lonely and exhausting.
The Challenges Of Being Your Own Boss
Being self employed definitely isn’t for everyone. Some people never learn how to master the skill of making and sticking to their own deadlines without the pressure of a boss across the room. Being self employed involves wearing a lot of different hats, and having enough determination and momentum to continually push yourself to keep going.
It can be stressful and scary not having a guaranteed paycheck twice a month, and not knowing what next month or even next week’s earnings are going to look like. There are a lot of luxuries that come with corporate employment that are easy to take advantage of when you’ve never had to survive without them. But there are also many cons of cubicle life that are hard to readjust to if you ever have to return to corporate culture after being self employed.
Making Tough Decisions
An Untemplater reader, Brooke, reached out to me for career advice recently and agreed to share her story here. She has worked in graphic design for a little over eight years now, and made a big decision to quit a corporate job to branch out on her own early last year. Things have been going pretty well for her with own business, but self employment has been a lot harder adjustment than she imagined. Although Brooke loves having full control of her work and the flexibility, she has really started to miss the day to day interaction and collaboration of her prior full time job.
So when one of her friend’s connections referred her to a growing company that was looking to hire a graphic designer for a short term project, she jumped on the opportunity. Although there have been a fair number of operational and efficiency problems on the job, overall she’s really enjoyed the extra work. But now she faces a tough decision because the company has unexpectedly offered her a permanent position. She is trying to decide if she should 1) accept the full time offer 2) negotiate a part-time job or 3) say no thanks and go back to working for herself.
Deciding Between Part-time, Full-time, or No-time
Here are some of Brooke’s thoughts about this big decision. Let’s help her choose!
It’s been a few months since I started my short term assignment and I’ve only got a few weeks left before I have to make my decision to accept their full time offer, decline and part ways, or perhaps negotiate a part time position instead.
I have learned a lot of new things on this assignment, and think I’ll be able to learn a ton more for the remaining time that I’m here. I didn’t anticipate being offered a full time job when I took this project on, so this is a really hard decision for me.
I’ve been working with a couple different teams and have enjoyed getting to know them and being involved in some of their strategy meetings. It’s been fun talking about how to add value, enhance their branding, and collaborate together. But it’s also been frustrating being treated like an outsider at times, having to jump through hoops to get things done, not having much autonomy, and being back in an environment where there are “too many cooks in the kitchen”.
You Don’t Appreciate Power Until You’ve Lost It
Before I became self employed, I had a couple people reporting to me at my old job which was nice. I was able to make decisions and delegate work on most things. But I had to deal with office politics and do work that didn’t interest me because of our client’s needs. The hours were okay, but I became more and more unmotivated there and fortunately left to work for myself and focus on what interests me.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve had the luxury to make every single decision on my own. It’s been a bit scary since the consequences are also all mine, but having the power to make my own decisions has been very thrilling. I don’t have to hold a meeting to propose an idea nor do I have to wait for someone’s approval. I just make up my mind to do something and do it.
I realize now that I never cared about power until I lost it. All I cared about was being trusted to do what I thought was best for the business. But trust must be earned, and in my current short term contract gig, I no longer have full power. I have to adjust to the way things are done at this company and not the other way around. Going from a solopreneur back to ANY corporate job can take a while to get used to.
Fortunately my new colleagues have all been very supportive of me. One of the managers actually suggested I be more aggressive in taking control of things. But I’m a pretty sensitive person who doesn’t like to step on other people’s toes, especially since I want my colleagues to get the credit they deserve, and who knows whether I will be at this company for the long term or not.
What I’ve realized from my experience so far is that it takes a lot of patience to start all over again and build respect and trust. And having more patience is tough. Earning someone’s respect and trust is particularly difficult if you’re on a short-term contract. Colleagues don’t want to invest too much time and emotion into someone who could be gone tomorrow so. I completely understand.
So on the one hand, I’ve spent a few months building their respect and trust, so it would seem like a waste to throw almost all of that away if I were to leave. I say “almost” because I might be able to do an ad-hoc project for them here and there even if I decline their job offer. On the other hand, it feels off to always feel like a grunt for hire despite my age and experience. There’s other freelance projects I can pursue where I can be in complete control too.
So one lesson learned – It’s hard to start over. It takes a lot more patience and overcoming some of my ego that I didn’t anticipate would affect me when I took on this assignment.
Money VS Freedom
The most important benefit of working at this company for me is experience and new knowledge. The camaraderie is fantastic and it feels wonderful to get out of my apartment two or three times a week more than I would normally.
If I can negotiate a part-time offer, that will definitely help with my retirement savings since I’ve managed to save and invest each full paycheck I’ve earned from this extra work. But I also feel like now I’m trading my freedom for money, which doesn’t feel quite right, even though I like what I’m doing.
As I mentioned above, the freedom to decide how to do things is very valuable. You don’t appreciate such freedom until it’s gone. I can’t sleep in, run errands, watch my niece, receive packages, or go to yoga classes anymore during the days I’m working for them now. I didn’t mind so much in the beginning, but I started to become more aware about my lack of freedom after my aunt passed away few weeks ago.
When that happened, all I wanted to do was drop everything to spend time with my family. But because I had a duty to fulfill my contract, I went to work three times that week. It didn’t work out so well because I was sad, which people could tell, but they didn’t know what was wrong.
Second lesson learned - Freedom is priceless, so earning any amount of money for less freedom doesn’t feel right. It’s definitely nice to have more money come in every month, but it’s just not as rewarding or exciting as the money I’ve earned from my own business
I’ve always prided myself on being a very efficient producer so it’s frustrating being back in a corporate environment that has a much slower work speed. There are countless meetings, waiting for others to give the go ahead, figuring out new systems, etc. I respect their processes, but admit it’s been frustrating having to go at their pace. I’m also working almost double the amount of hours I expected because so many things keep coming up. I spend about 30-40 hours a week on my own business, so my hours in total have been creeping up to 65-75 hours a week.
Third lesson learned - I need to take a step back and adjust my work speed to match the corporation’s work speed. If I’m going to continue working here, I need to expect regular delays because of their protocols and operations. And I also need to pace myself too so I don’t burn out with all these extra hours long term.
The Decision To Stay Or Walk Away
The pros are I really like all the new things I’ve been able to learn with this project, having interactions with cool people, getting out of my apartment more, and contributing to a great company. If I can continue my freelancing work while also earning a part-time income doing something I like, that could be an quite an ideal option.
My concerns though are losing freedom, working more hours, dealing with inefficiencies, having to rely on others for decision making, and a less than ideal benefits package for vacation and fair but not amazing compensation. I’ve already been working more hours than were in the terms of my contract, so I anticipate working full or part-time is going to be a lot of hours. I don’t really need the extra money, but it will definitely take pressure off my shoulder on the slow months of my own design work, and I’ll be able to grow my savings. I just can’t decide what to do. I realize I could always quit if I take a full or part-time job with them and things don’t go well, but I don’t want to go through that. If I take an offer, I want to stick to it for at least 1-3 years, but it’s a tough decision. I’d appreciate any advice you have on what I should do and if there’s anything else I should consider or ask for. I didn’t anticipate I could be going back to work full time this quickly after starting my own business.
Big career decisions are hard to make! Brooke certainly has a lot to think about. The good news is I don’t think any of her choices are bad! She’s already in a good position with her self employment work, and she’s lucky to have a job offer on top of that. My advice is for her to negotiate a part-time position that will still give her a decent amount of freedom and flexibility, plus more opportunities to learn new skills and build relationships. But it will mean a lot of time management and being able to handle added pressure and stress.
If the terms of a part-time offer are below what she feel she’s worth, then declining employment and offering to do ad-hoc projects as they come up would be my next suggestion. Since there have been positives from her experience so far, I think she should keep the relationship going in one way or another. It’s always beneficial to build relationships and stay on good terms when opportunities present themselves.
Although a full-time offer would give her the highest compensation and more authority on the job than a part-time position, it sounds like a significant amount of work to take on top of her existing commitments. Having a full time job and a side hustle is definitely possible, but it sounds like her gut is telling her that isn’t going to make her happier than she is already. Something will have to give and it will probably be her business when push comes to shove having a boss again. Earning more income is great, but the price will likely be increased stress, less freedom, a hit on her own business, and will potentially make her resent taking on that much more work. Career choices are never simple!
Untemplaters, what do you think Brooke should do? Have you ever had to decide between keeping a job part-time in order to maintain flexibility vs. making a commitment to work full-time? Would you take the opportunity to maximize your compensation potential by taking a full-time job in her situation? What’s the maximum number of hours you’d be willing to work per week if taking on more hours meant more income?