I know times are really tough for many people. Here in America, we have incredible opportunities to succeed, but our social safety net has a lot of big holes in it - you can fall right through to complete disaster. If you do fall, it can be very hard to move back up, but I fully believe that the best way upward for many of us is self employment.
Self employment doesn't mean automatic riches. It may not even mean riches at all. Many self employed people earn a decent living, but we can be affected by recessions and depressions just like any business.
I just finished up our 2009 taxes and realized that our gross income was about 55% of what it was 5 years ago and 20% less than what it was last year. That's quite a pay cut, but it does illustrate one of the great advantages of being self employed: I may have less income right now, but I still have income. When you work for yourself, you don't get laid off - unless you've done something very dumb (such as only having a handful of customers), you will always be bringing something in.
By the way, I did much better in January and February is also doing well - almost seems like old times.. I don't dare think that things really are about to turn around, but it was nice to have a good run again. We'll see what the rest of the year brings.
Are you taking advantage of the lull?
Not being busy brings opportunity. When you are running flat out, you may be making money hand over fist, but you probably aren't learning new skills. Slow periods are ideal times for education - and learning new skills can help you through the next down-turn or even avoid it entirely.
That also applies to people looking for work, of course.
You have more time for planning. More time to reorganize your files, clean up deadwood, more time to do all the things you just can't get to when you are busy.
All work and no play makes Jack what?
You have time to play, also, and while it may feel inappropriate or even wrong, taking some extra vacation might just be the best thing you can do with your increased spare time. If the business just isn't there, you can't spend all day every day fretting about how you will find something to replace it. You need a break - take one.
You aren't going to give up, are you?
The absolute last thing you'd want to do is seek employment. Oh, sure, it can look very attractive: you'll take a part time job, maybe 20 hours a week and that will bring in enough to make up the shortfall and you still have time for your business.. but you won't. You won't be available to old customers or new while tied down with that part time work - that's lost opportunity that could be worth many times the paltry hourly wage you get from the job. You'll also be more stressed trying to juggle too many things. If you really think a part time job is going to help your self employed business, you might as well just close it up now and start looking for full time work!
There may be exceptions to that advice, but in most situations you just need to lean into the wind and keep plodding forward. If you have done well before, you can do well again. You may have to do something different - for example, ten years ago a lot of my business still came from SCO Unix. I saw the writing on that wall years before and was already moving my business in other directions. I was fortunate in that I knew SCO's demise was coming even before they started up their Linux nonsense (not that it took any great brilliance to recognize that!). Even so, changing the main focus of a business is much like changing the course of a giant oil tanker: you usually can't do it instantly.
Income is more important than expenses
While you are waiting for the helm to turn or the snows to melt or whatever it is that you have to wait for, while you are tightening your belt and turning down the heat and canceling your HBO subscription, closing off the spare room or doing whatever else you need to do, try to remember that your time could be better spent looking for more income. I made some cuts, but they were things I would have done anyway: my primary goal is always to increase income, not cut expenses.
OK, maybe this isn't the year for a month long Caribbean cruise. But it isn't the time to stop advertising or sell your computer, either. In fact, it might be exactly the right time to ramp up advertising and buy new equipment. If you can't afford it, your every waking thought should be "What can I do today to improve income?"
Income is more important than expenses
Yes, I already said that. I said it again because it's important. When faced with economic difficulty, most people's first thought is to cut expenses. Look at the Tea Party movement as a perfect example: they want to cut taxes. Our roads are crumbling, our bridges falling down, our schools failing our children. Crime is rampant, we're entangled in two wars - what do we really need? We need more money. Fine, we can argue about how much of the control of that money should be at the Federal, State and local level, but government at all levels needs more money, not less.
There are places in government where there is waste. There is waste in every business, too. I pay for an Internet fax service even though very few people send faxes any more. If I were a Federal Agency, the Tea Party folks would be screaming that I am wasting money. Maybe I am, but every now and then I have someone who wants to fax me something, so I keep the service - it may be "waste", but it's an insignificant part of my expenses and it's convenient when I need it.
If it really is waste, cut it (in your business or in government). Just keep your main focus on increasing income - that's what is important.
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