Breaking Out of the Rat Race: The Road to Self-Employment

Figure standing on a path between two tall rocks.
The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win,
you’re still a rat.- Lily Tomlin 

It was early 2006. I had two young children and a mortgage. And I quit my job. It was a job I enjoyed, but it demanded sacrifices. The final straw was being transferred to an office in Markham while my husband worked in Oakville and our house was in Toronto. Lots of people have worse commutes,  but the craziness of the situation struck home one day when my 5-year old daughter was sick, and I was debating with my husband about whose work deadlines were most pressing so the other could stay home with her, or perhaps grandma could look after her… and I realized this was just not what we wanted. 

We bought a house in Burlington and I focused on moving, getting the kids into their new school routines,  and meeting the other stay at home moms. But something was still missing. Perhaps that was why I jumped at the chance to do some consulting when my old company called me up after a few months. Then an old colleague got in touch since she needed some extra help in her new job. That was when Celtic Consulting, my company specializing in software user experience, was born. I loved the flexibility of working from my home office. It was wonderful to have clear deliverables that I could hand off then spend time with the family. I loved my new freedom! 

If you are in a similar place , wondering about self-employment, I recommend it as a great way to take back control in your life. Certainly it helps to have a partner with regular income and benefits to smooth over the earnings bumps, or a cushion of cash or credit saved up to help until you are established. But even with uncertainty of when the next cheque will roll in, I wouldn’t trade the freedom of being able to go on a field trip with my kids or hear about their day and meet their friends when they come over after school. 

Here are a few tips to begin preparing for self-employment: 

  1. What skills can you offer? Start building up your reputation in some areas that are potentially marketable. Get recommendations on LinkedIn. Build up a list of skills and get endorsements for them. Make sure your profile reflects your latest achievements. 
  2. Who do you know? Expand your network. Keep in touch with your colleagues from past companies. Have coffee with your old friends. Join groups with similar interests. Post on social media. Not only is this fun, but you never know what opportunities it will open up. 
  3. Where will you work? It’s important to set aside a space where you can be productive. Ideally it’s a separate home office where you can close the door and concentrate, but it could be a desk or table with space for your computer. A dedicated spot for work helps to keep work and home life separate, even if they are both at the same address. If that’s not possible then a local library or coffee shop can become your mobile office. 
  4. Who will you work with? The simplest type of business is a sole proprietorship – a fancy way of saying you running your business on your own.  This is the easiest way to start. If you are working with a friend, you could form a partnership. If you are worried about personal risk and tax planning, then consider incorporation. An accountant or lawyer can help you to figure this out if you’re not sure. Cherry Chan has some good articles on the pros and cons of different business structures. 
  5. What will you call yourself? Think about a name for your company. It could be as simple as your name or initials, or reflect an interest or affiliation. Check whether the name is available then go ahead and register it.  In Ontario, the Business Development Centre has a helpful website that walks you through this process. 

Think about the opportunities ahead! Even if you are still working in your full-time job these are a few simple things you can do to begin getting out of the rat race and into greater personal freedom. What are you doing to start making your dreams a reality? 

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