Career & Self-Help

The Truth About Owning Your Own Business vs. Salaried Employment

Since I’ve worked in salaried gigs and I now own my own business I think I’m the perfect candidate to answer the age-old question: Is the grass greener when you own your own business?

The short of it is yes and no.

Probably not the answer you were looking for. Here’s the truth: owning your own business has some major advantages. You get to set your hours, you get paid based on how much business you generate, and you don’t have to tell anyone—other than your clients—that you’re taking a vacation. No approval needed, no mandated vacation days, no real mandated hours, honestly. You have the flexibility to decide your schedule. You have the flexibility to work in a coffee shop or bookstore or a different city if you want that day.

Which sounds pretty cushy and amazing, right? But I would argue that I work just as hard being a business owner as I did working a salaried role.

How is that possible Elizabeth? You just said you make your own hours and take vacations whenever you want. Well, here’s the thing. You can take vacation when you want and you can make your own hours, but I’ve found that I don’t do those things very often. Most weeks I work the same 8:30am to 5pm hours I did in a salaried position. Yes, occasionally I skip out on those hours on a Friday. And yes, those hours are filled differently than they were when I was in a salaried position. But there’s something about the business being my responsibility that prevents me from lying on a beach somewhere drinking margaritas. That and I haven’t figured out a way to get paid for said beach and said margaritas. I’m open to ideas if you’ve got them.

Now, what’s really cool about owning your own business is you get to decide what types of clients, services, and offerings you have. The mandate is coming from you rather than a supervisor. And if something isn’t working, you get to remove it from your offerings.

That also means whenever you take on a project or client, you’re working your butt off because they are paying you a fee for your services. I’m not saying I didn’t work my butt off in a salaried role, but one of the things salaries were invented for is the idea that some weeks you’re going to be working crazy ridiculous hours with loads of work and other weeks you may get to coast a little. Not all the time. Don’t freak out former and future employers. It’s just the way salaried roles often work. When you own your own business, you get paid for the exact amount of work you do. You get up to get coffee, don’t count that as part of your hourly bill because you weren’t working during that time. Can you imagine if your salaried gig did that?

Which brings me to downsides. Remember those monthly or biweekly payments that were exactly the same amount? Forget those. They are ghosts of the past. Your income will now vary based on how much business you have that month. Sometimes that’s awesome, but sometimes, like when you take a vacation, it’s not so awesome. I suggest squirreling money away.

That 401K your employer contributed to? Say goodbye to that too but do open your own version of retirement savings like a Roth IRA. 

Those team members you enjoyed collaborating with? No longer a thing unless your business is one where you have multiple partners and/or employees. But don’t disparage on this one too much, you can find interesting ways to collaborate, particularly with other entrepreneurs.

Let’s also talk about that project you want to develop. You may be developing it without getting paid for it at first. What I mean is, you may have to create assets or guides or videos or that piece of artwork, whatever it is you create, and then market it to the world in the hopes that someone will benefit from it. This isn’t different from all jobs, but definitely is an interesting twist that salaried positions might not encounter. Fiction writing is a particular place where this happens. Unpublished authors must have a full manuscript before they approach agents and editors about pitching it. That means you put in hours of work and you may not ever get paid for it.

Finally, be aware that people probably won’t get what you do. I’ve personally decided that’s okay by me. I get to explain what I do and ask questions of others about their jobs. But the standard, I’m an attorney (nothing against attorneys) line isn’t going to be your go to. Some people really struggle with this. I certainly did when I first made the transition. It was hard to explain that I left an easily describable job I liked to become a fiction writer, career coach, ghostwriter, podcast host, and content creator. See what I mean?

But I choose to look at it as an opportunity to talk with people about your business, your “why”, and your goals, which I’ve decided is a good thing.

I’ve got no skin in this game on where you take your life. It would be presumptuous of me to tell you what to do, so don’t take this post as an argument for one or the other. I’m a coach by practice and a counselor by training which basically means I’m the epitome of a person who says, “you do you” and “I can’t make the decision for you.” However, I get this question a lot, so I’m sharing my thoughts.

Good luck. Whether you take a salaried gig, open your own business or do a little of both, I’m rooting for you.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng

Leave a Reply