Friday, May 25, 2012

E-commerce for Dummies Part 3: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Self Employment

When you think of online stores, you think of huge companies like Amazon and If smaller stores come to mind at all, you probably assume that they want to grow into retail superpowers…and most do. But in fact e-commerce empowers businesses of all sizes, right down to one-man home-based companies like Curio City Online. If starting a cottage industry has ever enticed you, here’s what it’s like to work by yourself, for yourself.

The Good

Being your own boss is generally as good as it sounds. You don’t answer to anyone. Your word is law. You can set your own schedule, within the demands of your workload, you never have to do pointless busy-work, nobody ever yells at you, and you don’t have to yell at anyone else.

Job security: I can never be fired or laid off unless my company fails.

The commute is really, really short.

Seeing results from your work is especially rewarding when the credit is yours alone. If your company is very successful, it will enrich you – not somebody else.

Quality standards are whatever you say they are. The company culture is an expression of your personality.

Other people are often very impressed that you're a President and CEO.

The Bad

Sure you’re your own boss…but you’re also your own employee. Nothing gets done unless you do it, and nobody except you knows or cares about anything that you do.

Income insecurity: I pay myself a percentage of net sales, so when I have an especially bad week I get an especially bad paycheck. Because retail’s highly seasonal, I make fully half of my annual income in November and December, which stretches the other 10 months awfully thin. I could annualize my salary – take a standard paycheck based on the previous year’s sales – but I’ve come to like the immediate, direct link between sales and pay.

Working alone is isolating. I have no casual social interaction, nor can I float ideas and hash out problems with other interested persons. I get some virtual human contact in various web forums, but a very social person would quickly go mad.

When you work at home, you can never go home from work. You can never call in sick. You don’t get defined vacations or holidays; in fact, holidays are mostly just extra work. If you ever do take a day off, everything stops because nobody’s working. And “day off” is a stretch; I haven’t gone more than one day without at least checking my email in nearly seven years.

Just as you deserve all the credit for your company’s successes, you’re also wholly to blame for its failures. Your personal weaknesses are your company’s weaknesses. I suck at marketing. I have no interest in it. But a business can’t survive without it, and it's too expensive to outsource, and so I do what I must…and I do it poorly.

Sometimes you need to hire experts to handle things that are simply beyond your abilities, like tax accounting and web programming. It’s difficult to find people who will work reliably for reasonable fees, and depending upon outsiders for vital functions might be repugnant if you’re the self-sufficient type. You don’t have much leverage over independent contractors, and you will sometimes find yourself at the mercy of their schedules.
The Ugly

Personal grooming and presentable attire sort of drop off your radar when you seldom leave the house. It’s not too unusual to work in your pajamas or underwear. Unless you make some effort to keep up professional appearances, you might be surprised one day to see a hermit in the mirror.