Every once in a while, I bump into an old colleague, supplier or client from my corporate past and they’ll ask me how my new self-employed life is going. Of course, what I imagine they’re really asking is…please tell me it’s failing miserably so that I don’t have to go back to my desk in 20 minutes for a conference call with some global “team” where I’ll sit and question WTF I’m doing with my life (even more than usual).
And of course, there’s a small part of me that would love to indulge them and say, well, yeah, it sucks because now when I travel, there’s no black car and suited chauffeur waiting for me at the airport with my name on a clipboard, who’s going to drive me to a fancy hotel whilst talking about the weather, and then hand me over to a bellboy who (btw) somehow also knows my name, and will carry my luggage up to an executive suite where he’ll sweetly begin walking me around the amenities [telephone-here, shower-there, tiny bottles of Molton Brown yay!], whilst I look for ice to pour myself a scotch. [Corporate or not, one should always travel, with scotch].
Anyway, its definitely a win-some-lose-some scenario. But just as I romanticised the notion of corporate travel above [I left out the part about standing at the check-in calling the Finance Department to find out why they hadn't yet paid for my reservation...], the other side tends to overrate and romanticise the perks of running your own business, especially if you choose to work from home. Like the idea of sleeping in or working in your PJs…both of which I curiously attempted in the early days…neither of which, worked. Mainly I find, if you sleep in…you don’t make money. And if you’re in your PJs when someone stops by to give you money, yeah…no.
That said…there are some real perks. Some lesser known, lesser romanticised, seemingly inconsequential, but actually amazing, perks of being your own boss and of working from home. So what I normally turn around and say when I get asked how its going, is something like this:
1. You know what? I NEVER get cc’d on an email.
When you work for yourself, and for the most part, alone…an email is either for you, or not for you. Of course the obvious benefit of this is that when you sit down at your computer every morning, there are maybe four unread emails in your inbox. Seven if its peak wedding or Christmas season…twelve, maybe, if something you posted on Pinterest suddenly got an unusual amount of attention. [Look who’s liking your Pins!] But it’s never 50…100…200. And whilst this on its own is joy enough, what it really means is, there are no politics, there is no subterfuge… this won’t end in drama.
There is no assistant copying you in a) to show off he’s doing what you asked him to do (i.e., his job) and b) because if the supplier fails to deliver he wont be to blame. There is no supplier copying you because your assistant can’t milk his P.O. out of Finance and he’s hoping you can. And there is no boss copying you because…well, he doesn’t really have a clue what he’s doing so he fills up the cc row in the hope that more is more, and well, someone else must. To put it in good old corporate speak, there is no ass covering of any kind. In fact…it should actually be called ac’ing not cc’ing…because, (with the few exceptions where its genuinely necessary, relevant or useful to keep someone informed), what you’re really saying by including someone else is, “Look, look, I’m flying! I have an idea! I’m closing deals! I got this!” and in the same breath…“but if this shit goes down, you’re going down with me.”
Speaking of Corporate Speak...watch this:
("No dude, we are on different fucking planets." Love this guy.)
2. Now, let’s talk about lunch.
In the history of my very colourful career, regardless of whether I was a meagerly paid intern or running an ad agency with all the aforementioned perks, one hour was never and will never be long enough for lunch. I don’t necessarily mean to suggest we should go all Mediterranean and take long boozy lunches with 3-hour siestas afterwards [although if I had enough co-conspiring self-employed friends I’d totally be down] I’m just saying the one-hour lunch break is neither lunch, nor break.
If you’re an intern, you spend that hour waiting for the elevator, walking to the nearest affordable deli or supermarket, wondering which boring chicken sandwich to get today, standing in line with 34 other people doing the same thing, probably eating your sandwich with one hand whilst paying with the other, spilling coffee all over yourself in the process, running back to the office to stand in line for the elevator, nipping to the bathroom to deal with the coffee stains, and then sitting back down at your desk 3 minutes late to do big work for little money all over again.
If you’re higher up in the food chain…it’ll take you 15 minutes to leave the building because 6 people will stop you on your way out to ask you if you read the email they cc’d you on, 18 minutes sitting in traffic to get to the little neighborhood spot around the corner, 27 minutes to get your steak, probably responding to emails the entire time whilst also on a conference call…anyway you get the idea. Whatever number of minutes it takes to do whatever it is you need to do...its not 60.
3. Also...when I discuss ideas with my clients, they don’t turn around and say, great, can you put that into a deck for me?
Powerpoint. The most misused and overused software application of all time. I never did get, and never will get…why a bunch of reasonably well educated, experienced and apt human beings suddenly need to see something in visual format in order to understand it. The sales are going up, the complaints are going down, we need to brainstorm a promotional campaign, or arrange a team-building event.
How exactly does including clip art help you process that information any better than with what I just said?
4. Moving on. Finance.
Sure. Not having a guaranteed pay-check deposited into your account every month could easily be the worst aspect of self-employment, but the flip side of that is that when there is money in that account, and you need to purchase something...you um, purchase it. You fill in your credit card details, or you whip out your cheque book, or you flick through your cash. You don't have to climb up the stairs to the Finance Department, you don't have to make small talk and compliment their scarves in the hope that this might charm them into giving you a Purchase Order, you don't have to convince anyone that you actually require materials in order to do your job, or I dunno, of the radical and revolutionary idea that the Christmas campaign billboards might need to go up before Christmas?
Do I need to draw you a flowchart?
5. And lastly, because I know you noticed that sneaky glass in the first illustration, Wine.
I'm not sure I need to really explain this one. Some nights its necessary...to crack open a good red, put on some jazz, and just carry on working. Sort of like I'm doing. Right. Now. And unless you're Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson in What Women Want, nobody really does that in the office.
On that note, I'll leave you with some jazz...because you know what? Working for yourself...well, its almost like being in love.
Ok, and just for fun...because I mentioned the movie and was reminded of this scene (which by the way you can't do in the office either):