Business feature - Opinion and advice

Becoming Your Own Boss: 10 points to ponder before you unplug

by Bonnie Bucqueroux (United States)

I want my own Web design business because:

illustration of home office

These are just a few of the reasons that people cite for making the decision to stop working for someone else and to become their own boss. While it is important to nurture your dreams, don't forget to ask yourself, "What is the downside? What must I give up or replace?" Here are 10 things to think about before you unplug.

The 10 points

  1. Insurance (Better safe than . . . oops? ) - The first issue that most people in the United States face when they think about going out on their own is how to replace their health insurance. In some other countries, it is even mandated by law that a self-employed person provide for their own insurance. Yikes! Can it really be that expensive? For most people, the question is not whether they can afford to have health coverage, but whether they can afford not to.

    Even if you are young and healthy, can you sleep soundly knowing that an unexpected accident could put you out of business if you don't have adequate coverage? Should you pay the extra fees for maternity care and mental-health benefits? What about dental insurance, long-term disability and life insurance?

    If you and your spouse are partners in the business, should you have even more life insurance to carry you through? As an employee, you never had to worry about business insurance, but as the boss, you must. And don't think that working at home means you can rely on your homeowner's insurance to cover any losses. Any claims adjustor worth his paycheck will disallow payment for any claim that's business related. A basic business policy covers your equipment and software, while providing liability protection.

    What about business interruption insurance if a fire or a robbery puts you out of business for weeks or months? Should you invest in a special rider to handle situations such as reimbursing clients if their irreplaceable photos are lost, strayed or stolen? How much is too much insurance - and too little?

  2. Marketing and promotion (Let me tell you about my better Web mousetrap . . .) - How will you attract new clients? The good news is that you have the final say about how to position yourself in the marketplace. The bad news is that it is now all up to you. Yellow Pages or direct-mail or both? How about new business cards and brochures? Should you develop a news release about your roster of services? Where should you send it? Where will you find the time, resources and energy to develop and implement your marketing plan? And how much of it needs to be in place before you open your doors?

  3. Sales (Just sign on the dotted line . . .) - Creative people often want to believe that their work will sell itself. But even so, you need someone to close the deal - someone who bids the job well enough so that you make good money. Do you find it hard to ask people to pay what you are worth? Do you feel squeamish trumpeting how good you are? Do you take it personally when someone turns you down? Can you negotiate without caving in? If you cannot do all of these things and do them well, who will?

  4. Perks and pats on the back (Is that an attagirl I hear or just an echo?) - When you work for others, you can at least hope that they will acknowledge a job well done, but clients typically think that paying the bill is quite enough. Who throws the Christmas party or sends an unexpected bouquet? For these things to happen, you must now learn to gift yourself.

  5. Legal issues (According to line seven of our agreement . . .) - Do you know an attorney who understands the Web design business? Whose laws apply if your client is in another state - or another country? Do you have a basic contract to protect you and your rights? Do you know what you need to know about copyright?

  6. Training (Flash 5.0? But I haven't even learned . . . Part One) - If a dog year is equal to seven people years, then a Web year must be worth 10 years in any other business. How can you keep up? Javascript, XHTML or databases? Not only does training take time and money, but the challenge is to find good training that truly pays off. (And don't forget that you must now pay for your memberships in relevant trade associations.)

  7. Infrastructure & incidentals (My kingdom for a paper clip . . .) - Remember when you first left home and discovered it took real money to keep yourself stocked with toothpaste and toilet paper? Expect the same sticker shock when you have to supply your office with everything from stamps to stationery. Moreover, checking your inventory and placing orders takes time you may not want to spare on deadline (and aren't you always on deadline?).

  8. Software and Hardware Upgrades (Flash 5.0? But I haven't even learned . . . Part Two) - It is much more fun to complain about the boss' blind spot or the stupidities of the accounting bureaucracy than to find that you are now the person who must decide whether the new features in Photoshop 6.0 justify the money to buy it and the time to install it and learn it. And how about that faster chip? Will it really make you that much more productive? Where will you find the time to do the research to make the best choices?

  9. Paid vacations and sick time (Tell me again, what does an entire day off feel like?) - Especially if you work at home, it can be hard to carve out time for yourself. Who else can carry the load when you have the flu? Work for someone else for a decade and you might earn four weeks of vacation. Work for yourself, and can you afford to give yourself three weeks? Two weeks? A half hour for a cup of coffee? The reality is that companies give people time off for good reason. Taking a break helps people cope with stress and recharge their creative batteries. Ignore this and you had better re-visit that first item about health care and life insurance (I'm warning you).

  10. Friends and fun (Want to have dinner by yourself again Friday night?) - Many people rely on their "office family" for emotional support and interaction and some folks even meet their spouses on the job. It can seem lonely out on your own, and if you work with a spouse or a friend, you may find this puts different stresses on your relationship. Even if your business expands to include other people, you may find it different now that you are the boss. Another good reason to take some time off to meet people and enjoy their company?

The purpose of this checklist is not to discourage you from pulling the plug on your current job to go out on your own. For many people, the joys of working for themselves far outweigh any drawbacks. But thinking through the issues can help you make better plans and informed choices, thereby enhancing your likelihood of success.

(But then again, if I were smart enough to take my own advice, would I be writing this on New Year's Eve?)

Photo of Bonnie Bucqueroux

Bonnie Bucqueroux consults on online training initiatives through her company , and she assists her husband with his web design business Newslink Associates. Bonnie co-hosts the Mid-Michigan Chapter of Webgrrls at Michigan State University and is a frequent presenter at the WEBCities series produced by CMP Media. She also continues to work for progressive police reform and victim advocacy.