When I was younger, music was a huge part of my life. It’s probably safe to say it was my life. So much so, by the time I was in high school, I was fairly certain I wanted music to be my career.
At the time, I took private lessons with a professional musician. As you’d expect, I told him about my interest in essentially following in his footsteps. Assuming he’d immediately start helping me craft a plan to guide me into this career, I was quite surprised at his initial reaction. He smiled, looked me straight in the eye and said, “If you’re seriously considering becoming a professional, I’m going to do my best to talk you out of it.”
The headstrong teenager in me wasn’t so pleased and, eventually I pressed on. But, over the next 5 years as I attempted to make it in the music business, I came to understand why that was his initial message: it can be ugly out there for the independent professional.
The reason I’m telling you this story? During the last decade that I have worked as an independent international development and humanitarian aid professional, I have been asked countless times about making the leap to go solo. And, my first reaction is the same as my music teacher from long ago: I’ll do everything I can to talk them out of it. Here are three of my top reasons:
- Winning new business: Many people interested in going solo are true seasoned experts in their chosen technical expertise. If you’re not, you’ve already got a massive strike against you; you’re just not competitive. What I’ve found is that, for a very large majority, technical subject matter expertise does not mean you are a good sales person, specifically, nor a good business person, more generally. This isn’t a rare phenomenon – just look at the number of professors who are brilliant in their field, but are really lousy teachers. Going solo always means you’re going to have to win new business – constantly – to keep food on the table, and this takes up an extraordinary amount of time.
- You’re responsible for everything: Taking the above one step further, going solo puts the onus of running your professional life squarely in your lap. Assuming you can land gigs and perform the work (already a 120% time commitment if you’re doing it right), you also have to keep your books, file your taxes, maintain your technology, make sure you have insurance, and… the list goes on and on. You even have to schedule – and actually take – your own vacation time (how many entrepreneurs do you know who do that well?)
- Financial stability: We know there are no guarantees in life (except for death and taxes). So, working for an established company doesn’t provide you with an absolute guaranteed income, but assuming you’re adding value and always performing, there is a level of security that we’ve all grown to depend on. Benefits are an extension of this stability. This simply doesn’t exist when you go solo: not only are you only as good, and as financially viable, as your last contract, you also have the added pressure of collections and sales cycles that can be breath-takingly long.
As I mentioned, these three are only the tip of the iceberg. The pitfalls and challenges of being an independent professional never seem to end. However, we all know successful solo practitioners. Its clear that going solo is absolutely a viable option for many of us. There are tons of success stories out there.
So if, after considering all of the risk and responsibility you’ll be undertaking, you still feel the entrepreneurial urge, put together your foundation and plan and make the jump!