Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Is a freelance writer an entrepreneur?
Recently I reviewed a book on Livre du Jour called The Entrepreneur Equation. As a freelance writer, I often like to read books on business and entrepreneurship, but I found this one a little disappointing. Early on in the book, she says that one-person businesses are just job-businesses, and aren't really worth pursuing, because you spend all that time (marketing, administration, etc.) to build a business that doesn't have any value and cannot be sold, since it revolves around you. She says you'd be better off just getting a regular job doing what you want to do.
The point of the book is to help you decide whether you really should start your own business, and for the most part I like the message. For instance, she points out the fallacies that are behind most people's motivations to start their own business (and why they don't work out): they want to earn their living doing what they love (running a business involves spending a lot of time on marketing and other tasks), they want more free time (you usually have to work even more in order to build a successful business), and they want to be their own boss (as a business owner, your customers or clients are your bosses, and can be far more demanding than any "real" boss you've ever had). I agree with all this stuff. Going into business for yourself is hard work, and takes a certain kind of person to succeed at it.
However, I just don't agree with what she says about one-person businesses. First of all, she is overlooking the fact that there may not be a job available as an alternative. For instance, I don't believe there are a lot of companies hiring novel writers. As another example, I knew an artist who used to work at a tile company, painting tiles, but that wasn't really a long-term career choice for her, so she went solo. There wasn't really any other option if she wanted to pursue a career as an artist, except going into business for herself. Even for copywriters and content writers like myself, there are very few jobs, yet there is plenty of opportunity to pursue a career if you work as a freelancer or a contractor.
So then we move on to the claim that it's not worth spending the time on marketing etc. if you're not creating a business with value to it, which you can sell further on down the road. First of all, it should be pretty obvious, but still bears mentioning that most freelancers have no intention of selling their business — they are creating a career for themselves, not for someone else. Yet it has been done, as you might know if you've been around for several years. Remember Carson and Content Done Better?
More importantly, though, how do you define value? Monetary value? Well then yes, she may have a point (although, as I already mentioned, selling a one-person freelance business has been done before). But for most of us, I would say that the value we get out of freelancing is being able to earn our living doing something for which there aren't many career options in the traditional job market. I definitely see that as being valuable. You're carving out a career for yourself where there aren't many options. Sure, maybe you have to work hard at it to succeed, but isn't that better than not being able to do it at all?
I don't like to criticize the book, because it does have some really great points about who should or shouldn't be running a business. But I also think that saying there is no point in one-person businesses is a little short-sighted. What do you think?
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I agree that is short-sighted to say that there is no point in building a one-person business. The other thing is that what started out as a one-person business can grow. The freelance writer may very well land an assignment that needs a capacity of two or more writers, and the overflow work can be outsourced or shared, growing the scope of the operation. Also, one-person companies do land long-term contracts ( I've been on two-year contracts before) and the value of these contracts also impact on the value of the company. Because if the freelancer wants to sell the business, and the clients are agreeable to the transfer of their contract, then the new owner gets value from the business. And yes, I have successfully inherited clients. One of my regular monthly clients came by way of a friend who was leaving her business to go fulltime. She considered selling her business to add to mine, but we agreed that I manage the clients in her absence while she tried fulltime employment. Eventially she decided freelancing suited her better, and she gave me a couple of th clients I managed in thanks, instead of giving me a cash payment. And those clients are a gift that just keeps on giving:-)
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