Freelancing is entrepreneurship.
Some don’t see it that way. Indeed, I don’t describe myself as such. When asked what I do, I say that I’m a freelance editor. The term entrepreneur conjures images of people selling widgets as seen on Dragons’ Den. But going into business for yourself is by definition entrenurial: you invest in yourself, both time and money, and risk losing both. By no means is it license to print money. Sure you can write certain things off (at least partially), but you also write off parts of your life. You run the business but the business also runs you.
In his article for Briarpatch, Ryerson professor Alan Sears critiques what he calls “The Canadian Cult of the Entrepreneur”; the idea that entrepreneurship is the cure for all that ails us. I agree that it isn’t. Running a small business can be extremely risky. Some people succeed and grow, but many more don’t and lose everything: their money, their house, their marriage. Others tread water, which can be just as stressful. One spouse often has a “real” job with a steady paycheque while the other runs the shop. Then if the entrepreneur needs to hire staff, well, now the responsibility has trebled. Employees rely on the business for a living. And if a small business goes under, the bank gets first dibs, not the employees who worked to help grow the business.
As for a safety net . . . .crickets Most freelancers I know rely on their spouses for things like health insurance and so on. And if you’re not married. . . . more crickets There’s no unemployment or pension and no short- or long-term disability, unless you buy insurance.
Employees who work for a small business most likely don’t have health insurance, let alone a compensation package rivalling those offered by large corporations.
And yet entreprenures are touted not only as the saviours of the economy but the answer for youth unemployment and First Nations poverty, among other things. That’s a lot of pressure for a business that could go bankrupt due to a critical illness. More important, it lets government and big business off the hook.
Frankly, many people are not cut out to run a business. It takes discipline and a strong stomach.
A few months ago I was chatting with a recently laid-off marketing person who was enamoured with the idea of self-employment. “My colleagues love it! They’ve never looked back!”
“Yeah, it’s great!” I said. “But feast and famine, you know. It’s all about cash flow.”
She looked at me. “Huh?”
I explained that I wasn’t working at the moment; that it was a slow period; that the invoices I’d earned by working seven-day weeks for about two months straight had all been paid up so I had to drum up work or use my savings, which I prefered not to do.*
“Seven days a week for two months?”
“Oh, yeah. Deadlines. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.”
Suddenly I wasn’t that much fun to “network” with anymore.
*Note: One of the advantages of self-employment is that you can take a vacation more or less when you want for as long as you want. The disadvantage: you don’t work, so you don’t get paid. However, if you plan for it, it’s doable. That said, it can eat into your savings. Also, you have to check your email to book projects so you have work when you return home. Depending on what you do, you can work abroad. Check out The Nomadic Editor to learn more.