The Reality of Chasing Success in Self-Employment

I have a thread going on the Apex Forum that was answering the following question from user ‘pected’:

How do you officially set up your writing business? What are the benefits to treating your writing business as a ‘real job’ by setting it up in a professional manner?

I took this question from the non-legal, non-financial structuring standpoint and tried to give a pretty significant breakdown in terms of professionalism, tools to use and things of that nature. My previous blog post about How I Stay Organized and Implement GTD was also somewhat inspired by some of the responses I got there. In that forum thread, I offered seven sections with quite a bit of elaboration, and I’ll list those points here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Necessary Writing Skills
  3. Necessary People Skills
  4. How to Present Your Work
  5. How to Present Your Invoices
  6. The Best Text Editor to Use
  7. Other Tools

So again, I’ll recommend that anyone reading this blog post go over and read the entire thread at Apex Forum. However, what I want to talk about here has to do with something that came up in terms of running a business and the topic of finding success.

Chasing Success

If you’re self-employed, you’ve got a number of disadvantages in the short term and several advantages in the long term. The key to success with self-employment of any kind is to be able to navigate those short-term disadvantages well enough and long enough that you make it to the long-term where you have the high ground and the natural advantages of being self-employed on your side.

On the topic of earning potential as a content writer, user ‘Anaconda’ wrote:

Is any of this realistic? There are some things you simply cannot do every hour of the day. This assumes you have a constant flow of articles to be written and that you know about everything that anyone would need an article for. The reality is that you would need to research at least some, if not the majority of times. That’s time consuming, you need to find info, read it, understand it and then write about it. Eventually you would have a broad knowledge of many things but that could take months or years to achieve. I estimate overall that you’d lose at least 20% of your time to research – if it was me I’d lose 50%.

To get the best money you need to do it yourself rather than working through and agency. So you need to market, deal with clients; find out exactly what they want, explain what you offer etc, send the article and bill them. More time.

Anaconda asked if any of this is realistic when talking about earning potential and whether someone could make $80-100k/year from writing content without becoming an absolutely miserable drone, and although he wasn’t directing it at me (he was directing it at something another member had said), it got me to thinking.

I laid out a cliff notes version of a response in post number 15 in the thread itself, but there’s an aspect of this that I want to visit here regarding the short-term and long-term aspects of self-employment and what I believe are some of the biggest roadblocks that people face.

Short-Term Realism

Entrepreneurship, especially when it’s service-based, is about brutal, cold realism. Here’s what’s realistic: If you aren’t able to get off of your ass and get work done, then you are going to be a miserable failure. People who work in a minimum wage retail job have a huge advantage over someone who is self-employed. Those retail workers know that they have to be in a certain place at a certain time on a certain schedule and do certain things, or they’re going to lose their job. That provides a lot of motivation to stick to a schedule, and that’s a level of motivation that you do not get when you’re self-employed. It’s an absolutely enormous short-term disadvantage.

I say short-term because eventually you will get outside pressure to perform certain things on certain days, and that disadvantage I’ve described will largely go away as you become held accountable by clients and other contacts. But until you get to the point that you have enough clients and people relying on you so that you have to stay on something resembling as schedule to risk losing it all, you’re going to have to fight that uphill battle.

The Reality of Excuses

Here’s something else that’s realistic: If you don’t find excuses to do what you need to do to chase down success, you’re never going to find it. Every possible excuse you can come up with about why you can’t or shouldn’t get something done is almost always something that could be reframed as a challenge or opportunity to prove yourself instead. From my response to Anaconda:

People can either put energy into looking for excuses, or they can put energy into getting it. Whatever they choose is up to them.

You can make a conscious decision to decide which type of excuses you’re going to come up with. You can come up with excuses to not do something, or you can come up with excuses to do it. It’s a very voluntary, conscious decision, although it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

As far as reality and what’s realistic goes, the reality of the situation is that you can’t say you’re chasing success if you’re not running.