Becoming self-employed is not as difficult as keeping your enterprise healthy (and hopefully profitable) a few years later. A few decades ago, my venture into self-employment did not account for the market changing, making my side gig unprofitable almost at the start (consumer electronics and small appliances became cheaper to replace than repair). Fortunately, during the ’90s my Active Navy service provided a decent living for a single man. In 2001, I married shortly after I became a Reservist. That Navy Reserve income plus my civilian job kept a roof over our head, children fed and contributed to our retirement savings. However, when I turned sixty, my wife and I decided to start a business. It was a niche opportunity that she and I both were suited to fill. Before “burning our boats” and committing to self-employment fully, my wife continued to hold a jobs for several months.
keys to a successful enterprise
The first advice we had learned years before, was to not stop working for someone else until we had continuing income from our new project. Additionally, receiving a small pension from the Navy beginning that year allowed us to keep the dream going. With most of our income servicing businesses in a segment of the healthcare industry, And then, the global pandemic caused businesses to falter and many to fail. But the fact that nursing care and supplying new nursing workers was “essential”, kept our business services fully engaged. And now, after four years as an entrepreneur, the small business my wife and I started has regional and national clients.
a business mentor
While together we had years of expertise in various aspects of our services, developing a business plan, obtaining financing, organizing, then streamlining the infrastructure, cutting costs and determining how to be more efficient in operation took shape over a few years. While experience is a great teacher, and failure often breeds a “never quit” in those whom are destined to be successful, it is easier for entrepreneurs follow other successful entrepreneurs, including having a mentor or coach who is trusted to give constructive criticism as well as advice. We took advantage of resources available to get our business started by getting needed guidance from the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA funds advisers to help entrepreneurs, at no cost (the local offices are funded by the government) in many communities throughout the US. Other resources exist including a national organization of business professionals who volunteer through SCORE, conducting seminars and mentoring small businesses. And businesses can find assistance through networking in local Chambers of Commerce and Rotary Club.
formal and Non-Traditional Education
Formal education may be an option though challenging for the self-employed. Several sailors when I was on Active Duty, attended classes which were paid for by Tuition Assistance. Reservists and veterans used the GI Bill, and veterans with certain VA disability ratings were able to complete baccalaureates or post-graduate programs tuition-free. For most who intend to be self-employed, it comes down to what is required by a particular industry, and what the market dictates is required to be successful. In a technology sector, a self-employed engineer often must have a certain education level and industry-recognized certification to be a contractor. A welder who demonstrates the requisite skills, may be fully employed without a college degree. Continual education, through reading, attending seminars, participating in industry conferences and sitting on corporate boards, never ends for a business leader, or those who are working toward self-employment. Many universities offer continuing education programs, for executives, managers, and entrepreneurs, online, off-campus, and in evening and weekend formats. (Peers at my former employer gained various Program Management Institute credentials through such training and passing a certification exam.)
Informally, I know several who became successful through intensive preparation by reading textbooks, trade publications, study guides, and practicing in home workshops and computer labs. They passed certification exams easily, found employment, and with additional skills, became employed at higher levels of responsibility until becoming entrepreneurs.
education for the self-motivated at low or no-cost
For the last twenty years, a cooperative project between universities and the government has made thousands of college course available online tuition-free. Recently, I accessed MIT’s Open CourseWare (OCW) for a graduate course, Managing and Volunteering in the Nonprofit Sector. These have lecture notes, assignments and readings. With a little research, articles and books which are in the reading list, can be found through libraries, read online or purchased used from online retailers. (A personal favorite has become alibris.com).
reading is fun-damental
I have purchased books on several different topics, from language, biblical resources, gardening, and business from several sources:
Having completed the first book I obtained in the above mentioned course, Managing the Non-Profit Organization, by Peter Drucker (1990), I am becoming acquainted with the principles and practices that not only apply to my for-profit company, but also with a non-profit organization, a church, I wish to aid. Other books in the university course focus on leadership, vision, communication, marketing, and employee (volunteer) performance. Access to books in any number of subjects is available in libraries, through stores selling used books, and through Internet access which is generally available throughout the world. Books can overcome the is one of the oldest avenues to learning that does not require large investment, nor computer access. For those who have computer and access to the Internet, a course syllabus from a free course (OCW) is easy to find.
As someone once said, “if you aren’t learning, you’re dying” (William S. Burroughs, paraphrased). There is always someone who takes advantage of tools and materials to advance his or her goals. If you still want to wing it, remember a young man in Sierra Leone, in Africa who taught himself engineering and is helping change his world.