Self-employment is overrated!

Don’t get me wrong. Self-employment is awesome – I’ve been self-employed for nearly 30 years and I love it. But it’s been so oversold that it’s become a bright shiny object in and of itself. Take control of your life/time/money; monetize your passion; become wealthy beyond your dreams; retire early; determine your own destiny; blah, blah, blah.

Yes, all of these things are possible but being self-employed has little to do with it. You can have any or all of these things by working for someone else. You may not have them in your current job but there are certainly jobs where all of these things can be available to you. Self-employment might bring some or all of these benefits but they are the exception rather than the rule.

If you have any doubts, take a look at this infographic published on Mashable in March 2012 – The Pitfalls of Freelancing. Some quick facts arising:

  • 8 in 10 freelancers didn’t get enough work in 2009.
  • Of those, half went through stretches without any work at all and half had to dig into their savings to get by.
  • 12% relied on food stamps, 26% borrowed money from family and friends and 37% relied on credit cards to get by.
  • Less than 50% saw their incomes increase over the previous year.
  • Of those studied, 60% were happier being independent workers than being employees. That means 40% were not and would rather be working for someone else.
  • Based on the above stats, it would be safe to say that of the 60% remaining, few would be kidding themselves that they were enjoying financial freedom or would be in a position to determine their own destiny (yet).

NB – The stats are from They are US based and relate to freelancing but  could probably equally apply to many other economies and self-employment models.

Self-employment is not some Utopian world that’s out there waiting for all and sundry to stake their claim. Anyone who enters self-employment thinking it’s going to be ‘better’ than employment is in for a shock because ‘wherever you go, there you are’.

If you struggle financially working for someone else, chances are you will struggle financially working for yourself. If you have problems relating to your current boss, chances are you will have problems relating to your new ‘bosses’,  your clients, bank manager, landlord, etc. If you feel unfulfilled working for someone else, chances are you will feel unfulfilled working for yourself. If you are getting into self-employment to escape bullying in the workplace, chances are you’ll be bullied by someone else, a landlord or a competitor. You can certainly deal with these issues but self-employment isn’t the remedy.

Highlighting the money side of things, I like this take on it from Carol Roth, Author of The Entrepreneur Equation*…


Self-employment will serve up whatever you bring to the table. If you want above average results, it takes above average effort, creativity and commitment.

You may well get to the point where it does deliver the life of your dreams but that’s not the default setting. The statistics say the default setting for self-employment is failure. That’s not because it’s particularly difficult or beyond most people’s capabilities. It’s because they underestimate effort and overestimate reward.

It’s the same as any other aspect of life, it’s what you make of it. Just don’t get sucked into all the hype about it. Manage your expectations and take a reality check before you take the plunge and things should work out just fine. And if you decide self-employment is not the thing for you, well and good. Play to your strengths and have a fulfilling life either way.

Have you found managing expectations a challenge in your self-employment journey? Comments are welcome below.

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About the Author Brett Jarman

I've been self-employed since I was 19​ (and that was quite some time ago) and have owned manufacturing, service and consulting businesses ever since. Every business goes through stages and each stage in each business needs a different strategy to flourish and prosper. I can teach you about the stages and the strategies to shortcut your success.

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