On a fairly regular basis, I see an inevitable post on Facebook from someone in the “entrepreneurial” space asking people why they continue to have jobs rather than “go all in” on their dream. These people couch the question in such a way as though they are seemingly perplexed that anyone would not buy into their particular groupthink.
Yesterday, there was one about why run your own business when you could just get a job. The usual suspects all talked about not being able to work for anyone else, following your passion and lots and lots of freedom.
I replied with something to the effect of, “Most online entrepreneurs have a crappy, high risk, low paying job working for an idiot (themselves).”
I stand by that comment and I use a derivative of it on a fairly regular basis.
The reality is, most of the people who replied would be financially and emotionally better off if they actually got a job at McDonald’s. They make very little money, they put themselves (and often their family) under enormous amounts of stress and more often than not they are pushing shit up a hill with a stick.
“Oh Sean, you’re being a Negative Nancy.”
Not at all, most businesses, online or offline, fail. In fact, the overwhelming number of them don’t get past a couple months before they burst into flames and disappear.
I’m not crapping on anybody, but these people are injecting themselves and the people they talk to with massive doses of hopium.
How do I know this, well there are a couple things that always jump out at me:
- They are on their third or fourth different business/brand/service offering in the last 12 months. These people don’t push through the discomfort zone of running a business and just give up before they fail outright so that they can convince themselves that they are just “pivoting” to something better.
- They expert positioning is often pretty weak. When they lurch from one business to the next, they invariably head further and further away from their core skillset in the desperate search for money.
- They’ll often wave the passion flag as they move – “Oh, I was doing X, but now I’m moving into doing Y because there are the customers I’m most passionate about serving.” If this was your passion, then why didn’t you know? And if you just discovered your passion, are you really qualified to sell/teach/talk about it?
But, here’s the most important thing… These people often don’t make much money and as I said, they’d be way better off just getting even a mediocre job.
When you run a lame business, especially online, you’re self-employed.
Let’s call it what it is – you have a lowly paid job, working for yourself without a guaranteed income or any benefits.
There’s no shame in that. That’s the risk that these people have chosen to take in order to try to be successful over the long term.
But let’s not glorify that.
It sucks when you are walking the high wire without a net over the top of a deep rocky canyon. Even the smallest breeze can send you hurtling to your death.
That’s not a sensible thing to romanticize and for most people who set up their own small online business and decide to “go all in” before they get to a reasonable size that’s pretty much what they are doing… And they’re doing it blindfolded.
Then there are the rationalizations.
My mate Ben Settle refers to this as people’s “rationalization hamster”. The imagery being that they have a little hamster on a wheel running frantically in the part of the brain that rationalizes bad decisions.
So this is how their rationalization hamsters work…
“I can’t work for other people, I don’t like being told what to do.”
“The return on my investment of time will certainly be better investing it in my own business rather than someone else’s.”
“I love the freedom of being able to work wherever I want, whenever I want and if I choose to do it without pants, then I’m working pantless.”
“There’s a fire deep inside me to fulfil my mission and if I’m working a 9-to-5 job then I’m sacrificing my mission.”
Every single one of those things is absolute and utter bullshit of the highest magnitude.
If you can’t “work for other people” then what you’re actually saying is that you can’t work WITH other people. Having to take and follow orders is a critical part of running a business – your clients are giving you orders all the time. The illusion that you are totally in control is a nonsense for 99% of business owners.
The investment argument is defeated simply by the fact that failure rates are so high – if you have a 95% chance of failing then you have a negative ROI in that situation, so unless you’re one of the 5% of successful people AND you hit a home run, this argument just doesn’t work out mathematically.
Freedom is an illusion. When you’re trapped in a failing or struggling business and you can’t pay the bills, you’re not free.
Having a mission is a luxury. For 99% of human existence, our mission was to survive. It’s only been in the last decade that people have started talking about “their mission” but the reality is, the vast majority of people are still subsistence living, it’s just a slightly altered view of subsistence.
Wow. That’s pretty scathing. Maybe I need to give you some good news to cheer you up and stop you from drinking a bottle of bleach.
Well, the reality is that most people who go into business for themselves, online or offline, aren’t building assets, they are trying to build above average jobs.
They talk about “earning six figures” and working from a beach.
That’s a job. It’s a great job, but it’s still just a job.
I have an actual job that pays me multiple six figures and if I wanted to, on Monday morning, I could grab my laptop and head down to Manly or Balmoral and work from the beach.
I also have a few online businesses that spin off income for us, but most importantly, we have others that are purely investments. Those investments are assets that we’re building that we can liquidate in the future as they continue to get more valuable over time.
So there are two motions going on:
- There is an actual job and some online businesses that spin off a good income to more than cover our lifestyle and living expenses – this provides security and stability.
- There are investments where the capital being deployed to build those assets are money and effort. We’re less interested in these spinning off income and more concerned with these accreting value over time.
The last element of this is, I actually like my job. I acknowledge that I’m probably a bit of a unicorn in that respect. I get paid well, my job is challenging and I enjoy doing it, but I worked my way into that kind of situation through hard work over a twenty year period, so I deserve it.
Do you know what that ultimately means though? It means that I get to enjoy my business more because the stress of success and failure is largely removed from my day-to-day existence.
I have that luxury BECAUSE of the job.
That’s why I’m such a huge proponent of the side hustle. It is way harder physically and mentally for you, but you’re operating from a place of security so you don’t end up making dumb decisions under stress.
Eventually, you may get to a point with your side hustle stuff that it makes more financial sense for the stability of your assets that you go full-time. That’s awesome, you should totally do that.
I’ll be transparent – our rule has always been that if our online business investment assets hit a value of about $5m or our net income from those businesses topped $1m/yr, then it would be a poor decision for my family for me to keep working. Truth be told, if they net income hit the $750k/yr mark, I’d have to give it some serious thought.
Until then, I’m going to keep working because I enjoy it AND it allows me to enjoy running the businesses stress-free…
And that’s what freedom looks like in a modern context.