Corporate life and being the Captain of your own ship

26 Feb 12 upload 054

Mine when I want it and not when I'm told (Photo credit: Jon Stow)

What I miss about my old corporate life:

  • Having huge resources in terms of reference books.
  • Having camaraderie of quite a few colleagues in sharing a lunchtime meal and drink.
  • Not having to think about paying the business bills.
  • Having a known and reliable amount credited to my bank account each month.
  • Having all my CPD training paid for.
  • Enjoying a lavish Christmas party.
  • The buzz of the big city

Here is what I don’t miss:

  • The office politics.
  • The inflexible management structure.
  • The lack of communication from management (and it is easy if someone thinks about it).
  • Being judged by my (small firm) origins,and being under-rated.
  • The long commute and the delayed train journeys and the over-crowding.
  • That guy on the morning train who shaved with his Remington without regard to his fellow passengers. Yuk.

Here is what I like about running a business:

  • Having all those resources on-line and not in someone else’s books.
  • Making all the decisions.
  • Being responsible for my own destiny.
  • Not being judged except by myself.
  • Working hard but not too hard.
  • Taking time off to de-stress and relax when I want to.
  • Working with people I have chosen myself.

Lots of people never work for anyone but a big employer. Many are probably happy, but they are not really independent or always allowed to think for themselves. We small business owners are both independent and free thinkers, so be happy like me. Don’t you enjoy it too?

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Loss of status issues for the newly self-employed

Signpost at the Cape of Good Hope

I remember well what it was like to find myself without a job, not able to get one and with the prospect of “getting on my bike” and earning a living as a self-employed person. I had not planned to be self-employed; it was a matter of survival, which I have discussed before.

In the corporate world of larger organizations we have the concept of status. We know our place, and we have worked hard to get there. I had various titles such as “Manager”, Senior Manager” and “Senior Consultant”. Once I thought these had some sort of cachet; I guess the main purpose was to define our roles, and so that we knew who to report to and others knew that they had to report to us. There are other reasons for titles of course. In the accountancy world, especially in larger partnerships, the title of “Director” is dished out to those who think they should be partners but haven’t been offered this status; it helps them feel better than being a senior manager but really doesn’t have any other meaning.

In the small business area titles are irrelevant to the clients and customers, and one has to get on with building a business. Just the same, if someone had been made redundant it takes a while to recover the self-esteem had when he or she had a designated title. It is bad enough feeling unwanted when made redundant, but not even knowing by what title to call yourself is very hard indeed.

Strangely, many people find it very hard to see themselves as the boss and in charge, and it may be a completely new experience. Of course being in charge has a lot of responsibility, not least in earning a crust to live on, but new business owners amongst those who have lost their jobs need to recognise the freedom they have to make their own decisions. It should be liberating and invigorating, and even if we make the wrong decisions sometimes at least we can change our minds. In the corporate world it can be very frustrating implementing someone else’s wrong decisions.

Running one’s own business can be so much more satisfying than being an employee in someone else’s business. We just have to throw away the conditioning and forget the grand titles we used to have. Just call yourself the Boss. Don’t you agree?

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The excitement of independence

In my previous article I referred to Penny Power and her recent blog, and she and subsequent contributors including her husband and co-founder of Ecademy referred to the different attitudes we need as small business owners to those we are required to have as employees, particularly in a larger corporate environment. I started my first job in a bank, and whilst it was no ordinary bank, it was a large institution. When I finally left it was because I felt I was an under-rewarded number as opposed to a real person with aspirations and needs.

My next job, in which I lasted a good few years, was a smallish firm with one office. Whilst life was not always happy there, with occasionally difficult bosses with alcohol and mental problems, we had some great times too and the firm felt like a large family. Many of the problems are those which one might have in an extended family, but at the same time we had fun as well as doing some good work. Also, in those inflationary times, the partners did their best to pay us properly and to keep up with market rates. That, combined with the fact that the work was challenging, technically difficult and challenging in a geekish sort of way kept me pretty happy work-wise until my boss’s declining mental health (as I realised only later) forced me to move on.

One of the attractions of the next firm I joined was that it was small and I was in charge of a whole department, such as it was. I had had a brief encounter at my previous job with modern technology in the form of computerization of the department of which I was an assistant manager, and my brief in the new firm was to run it more efficiently and preside over the introduction of information technology. As it happened I also thought that it would be good to acquire wider computer skills with both hardware and software so that I was more adaptable in case I lost my job in the recession of the nineties. What actually happened was that I was not only running my department but also IT troubleshooter for the whole firm, from dealing with dodgy cables to “undeleting” what the secretaries had accidentally deleted. Such faux pas were all too easy then and I earned the gratitude of ladies who had inadvertently deleted entire reports which their bosses had spent hours dictating. It was easy stuff, we had a family atmosphere in the firm and I could more or less do what I liked within my domain without interference as long as nothing went wrong, and it didn’t, I am pleased to say.

Came the time when the firm’s useful client base was bought out by an international firm, along with the staff, and I found myself in a huge corporate environment in which one could hardly wipe one’s nose without logging it, where there were rules, a compulsory conference, and “bonding” days spoiled by people being so competitive. What was worse was that as a guy with a small firm background I was never given any decent technical work; the partners were prejudiced against all of us “hicks” whom they felt had been dumped on them and worse, these partners had no idea about commercial realities and economics.

That is why I thank the heavens every day that through whatever circumstance, I am an independent business owner in charge of my own destiny. I make all the decisions (well, I consult my wife often) but the buck stops with me, and that is fine. Also, I can do whatever I like as long as it is legal and ethical in order to make some money.

I have been trying to explain this to a small start-up business client that he needs to get out of a mindset that he only does one thing. Of course he did only one thing when he worked for someone else. Now he needs to be more flexible for his family’s sake.

I explained a while back that my wife and I needed to be open to running any sort of business for which there might be a demand. That is why we have several businesses. I love my independence, and am looking forward to starting the fifth business venture my wife and I have between us, which has come to me through networking. Those two words in that last sentence, independence and networking, illustrate why having one or more of one’s own businesses is so much fun and is so rewarding.

© Jon Stow 2009