I was talking with my father a few weeks ago on the phone. He is 86 and was telling me how much he missed running his business he retired from over a decade ago. I've built two successful audio-related companies based on his wisdom and advice; I can't think of anyone who has more sense in business than my Dad. I suggested he write a book to share it with the world, his reply was typically another moment of his frank and down to earth insight, "I can't put my head on their shoulders." I asked him to explain, and he said he could give all the advice in the world, but some people wouldn't act on it, it also took a certain kind of person to make that advice into reality.
Some of you will read what I'm writing and make it your reality, some of you need to quit reading now.
I want to talk about going self-employed, which is something I put off until I was in my forties, but I wish I had done sooner.
One lesson I learnt by going self-employed. It doesn’t matter who you work for and what title they give you (I was Managing Director for two companies), I don’t care if you are given the title Master of the Universe, Executive Studio Manager or Chief Engineer (a title more suited if you work on the Starship Enterprise)... you are still the hired help.
Last week I was driving my wife and daughter out for some lunch. As we were heading into Belfast, she commented that it would be busy as people had just been paid. I've been self-employed for about a decade so that concept seemed so weird to me, payday. I don't have a payday. But the reason I resisted self-employment was that I was obsessed with payday.
I recall sitting with a friend who was an employment counsellor for executives before I decided to do it. I was telling her how useless my boss was and how unhappy I was in my job (again.) She offered to give me a £250 counselling session for free over lunch. She asked me numerous questions, and at the end, she said 'It's clear, you should work for yourself.' She looked at me and could see I wasn't sure so asked me 'What's stopping you?' The answer was simple 'I don't want to be broke and have no money, I like the security.' I remember the reply she gave me to this day 'That's not a good enough reason.' I left that meeting, and on the way back to my job I called my wife and said 'If I go self-employed would you support my decision, it might mean we are broke for a time while I build up clients.' She agreed on the phone and said she would support me for the long term good. At the end of the first year, I had doubled my income.
Furthermore, let's be clear we all like the idea of a job because it gives us security, not anymore it doesn't. You are no more secure in 9/10 jobs than you are working for yourself in the modern world of work. Jobs for life are mostly over.
Since that day when I decided to go solo I have never looked back, but let me dispell a myth that some have about working for yourself, that it's easier. Not in my experience and not the experience of those people I know. This week I did a simple straw poll with them on Facebook and asked them if they thought they worked less hard, about the same or harder than when they were employed, 9/10 said they worked harder, here are some of the responses;
"Harder - but only because I want to and I am undoubtedly happier for it."
"Harder, but it doesn't feel as hard. You don't count the hours as you're doing it to reach your own goals and not someone else's. Harder to me means: you're willing to work longer hours, you're ok spending time on things you don't like because they need to be done. The "I don't give a damn" threshold is much higher. Overall: hard work to me is all about the attitude."
"More work, less stress"
"Harder - but feels different"
"I think it’s a case of the work never stops as isn’t just about the ‘productive’ hours it’s all the stuff on top so 24/7"
"Harder, because I have to deal with all the admin, quoting/pitching, invoicing, etc., as well as the creative side."
Self-employment is the hardest thing you may ever do, but it's also the most rewarding thing too; finding your first client, doing excellent work and sending your first invoice is magic. Running a business is like bringing up kids (I've done both, so I know). The start is hard; you are up all hours just to make sure they are alive, then over time they start to find their own feet. Both go through the teenage years where they frustrate the hell out of you, and later finally they mature into adults you can let go of... but never stop loving. I have two successful businesses now; perhaps you are wondering how to define success. Here are the official numbers for that from Fundera; 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small business fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years in business. Finally, 70% of small business owners fail in their 10th year in business. I'm pleased to say both of my businesses have made it into the small number at the end; one is on year 11 and the other year 9.
Running your own business is hard, risky and challenging there are so many reasons not to do it and to carry on collecting your pay each month.
One thing that is easier in the audio industry is the cost of entry into running your own studio business. Alan Sallabank recently ran an excellent article on the cost of going solo in post-production, but it is still a fraction of the cost than it would have been even a decade ago. The same can be said for music production, the cost is in the thousands not tens of thousands but many of you will already have the gear to get started.
My single most important piece of advice, again given to me by my Dad and a mantra that runs through all the teams I work on now is 'profit is what you don't spend.' In other words, run a business by spending as little as possible. Use a spare room, cellar, shed, dining room rather than paying rent. Don't buy stuff unless you can't run your business without it and on some occasions buy it for a job, charge it to the project and then you can keep using it afterwards. Don't hire staff but give the work to other self-employed people you know. In an average month, I give work to around ten self-employed friends, so we are all working and making a living.
If you keep hitting a glass ceiling then start your own business. You’ll get all the same shit, but you’ll also get all the rewards, perhaps 2019 is the year to do it? Take control of your studio career and your life; you'll never look back!