Damn the man

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Today is my five-year anniversary of working for myself.  After getting fired (see the previous post), I took a 1-year-and-3-day sabbatical from the wage-earning world to go to massage therapy school and generally re-organize my life.  Well, unless you count a seasonal-turned-half-assed part-time position at Williams Sonoma.  (Which I don’t.  A 5-hour shift every three weeks is just enough to frustrate you; you feel like you’re perpetually green because every time you come back the powers-that-be have rearranged the store and you have to spend the entire shift re-learning where everything is.  Hardly productive.)

But, I digress.  I received my massage therapy license in the mail sometime in mid-August, but it’s not like there’s a ready-made mob of clients standing in line, pounding down your door to get appointments with you.  You kinda have to go out into the world and announce that you exist.  This can get fairly labor-intensive and/or expensive.  Fortunately for me, it was neither, but that came with its own cost: a couple weeks of lag time before I scheduled my first client.

So anyway, I considered my doors officially, legitimately open for business on the day of that first appointment, and I discovered something very quickly: working for yourself rocks.  Having grown up in the world of the quirky self-employed, I was sort of genetically hardwired for it anyway, but now it was official, and I had to admit to myself that it really was the best option for me.

Not that it’s the best option for everyone.  Not everyone has the patience or the motivation to talk business into the wee hours of the night, brainstorming new thoughts and rehashing old ones like self-relighting trick birthday candles.  Not everyone can live with the feast-or-famine nature of rollercoaster income.  Not everyone has business instinct or good luck with the professionals you just can’t skimp on, like business attorneys or tax accountants.  A lot of people simply don’t have the self-discipline to make it work; the idea of being able to set your own hours comes with a lot of caveats.

For me, though, it fit hand-and-glove.  I was well aware of the initial time, energy, and yes a little money, that I was going to have to invest in my practice to get it off the ground.  I knew that at first, I would have surplus time on my hands and little cash flow, and this would necessitate my having to work outside normal hours.  After all, if I wanted to be done by 5pm but my only client couldn’t make it before 7pm, guess who’s working late?  I had to be available when they were.  Only later, when you have a clientele built up and can afford to do so can you cut back on your hours a bit and streamline your schedule.  That’s an eventual luxury, and it’s a common one, but it’s not an automatic gimme right out the gate.

I understood all this already, which helped.  I had also worked feverishly, coming up with an assumed business name, dutifully filing it with the county, inventing a logo, doing Google image searches to make sure someone else hadn’t independently dreamed up the same one, devising basic policies, writing up a website, designing and printing my own forms, and networking with people.

In the meantime, I scored myself a very independent-nature contract job at another massage facility that was established enough to feel comfortable without requiring a non-compete clause, which let me make at least some money and keep my skill set warm while also allowing me to build my own business on the side.  The pay wasn’t much but it was fair and I had complete autonomous freedom in setting my own schedule, clientele, self-promotion, and massage style.

For a while, it was 7 days a week.  This is a reality in the beginning.  It was about a year before I could finally start taking a day off a week.  One turned into two, and I was happy with that.  Managing myself was harder than people think; sometimes I was too eager to please and found it hard to stick to my premeditated policies.  Luckily for me, I didn’t have to manage anyone else.  I will eventually, though, and I have to keep in mind that to be friendly is good, but that it is less important to become the employees’ friend than it is to retain respect and mild authority.

I had clients who tried to push my boundaries, get their way, and essentially run my practice.  I had some who tried to bend multiple policies in one visit.  They knew what they were doing, too. It was suavely forceful and had been specifically thought through.  At first, it’s easy to get steamrolled, but with a little strategy and a tactfully-planned-but-pointed come-to-Jesus meeting, they’ll either become trained or they’ll tend to fade away.

Not only is it easy to get steamrolled by domineering clients, it’s also easy to take things personally when they cancel an appointment without rescheduling and/or drop off the face of the earth for a while.  People will come and go.  Yes, I miss them.  Well, most of them.  But I also know that I can’t help everybody.  Not everyone CAN be helped.  Some find a practitioner who does a different technique, has a different personality, or is closer to their house.  Others drive comparatively insane distances to see me, and they pay more than they would somewhere else.  That’s great.  I’m glad I can help them and I’m glad they enjoy seeing me as much as I enjoy seeing them.  I’ve had to learn to check my ego at the door, however, and realize that I can never assume exactly why someone chooses to see me over someone else.  Maybe it’s not my skills or my smile; it might be something I have no control over, such as that I remind them of a friend.

I’ve worked for myself longer than I ever worked for anyone else.  You just can’t beat the freedom.  If I don’t want to take my first appointment before 10am, I don’t have to.  If I want to take a half-day on Friday without cowtowing to a boss to ask for it, I can do that.  If I want to work a weekend, I can, and if I don’t, I’m not required to.  I can give myself a raise by increasing my fees.  I can even nudge people to do what I want, such as offering cash discounts if I’m trying to ease people away from credit cards, or I can give early-bird specials if I want my evenings back.  To increase the prospect of steadier business, I can encourage ppl to reschedule immediately by offering a slight discount for doing so.  With that, comes a lot of responsibility.  You don’t want to price yourself out of the market, especially during a sagging economy, and you don’t want to scale back your hours just when all your clients are trying to work longer hours, take advantage of a rare overtime opportunity, or pick up a second job.  Working for yourself, you won’t get written up for breaking those unwritten rules.  But your business will suffer.

One of my pet peeves is listening to someone gripe and moan about how crappy their job is, and then never do anything about it.  If you’re in a crappy situation, look deeper: it’s (usually) not the employer’s fault.  I didn’t say there aren’t bad employers; there are.  I worked for my share of people who made decisions for me, that impacted me, who weren’t half as smart as I was.  When I was sick enough of it (at the ripe old age of 26), I “retired” from working for idiots, and I started my own business.  Working for myself, I’ve cut everyone else out of the equation, and I have no one else to blame should anything go south.  Rather than being the weight that it sounds, it’s actually very uplifting and freeing.  I was born into self-employment, and that’s probably how I’ll die.  I won’t retire.  But then again, “retirement” means that you’re done working.  And if you’re doing what you love to do, you’re not really “working”.  So, this means I’m the youngest retiree I know.  I just don’t get any Social Security benefits.  But then, who says that’s a bad thing?

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