Working for Yourself

The most common question I get on my travels involves some variation on “How do you find working for yourself?” — often with a subtext of either “… and could I do this too?” or “what the heck do you do all day, and how do you get it done?” So, I thought it might be interesting to talk about a few considerations to keep in mind and questions to ask yourself before making that leap, and perhaps to blog a random day in the classic “refgrunt” style. (In a later post, I’ll talk about the good things in working for yourself.) The ten considerations below, in no particular order, focus more on things to keep in mind before making any impulsive decision.

1) If you work from home and/or for yourself, your personal and professional life will overlap to an extent that some people may be uncomfortable with. (See grunt below for an illustration.)

2) In the U.S., research health insurance options before making your move. Especially if you have any kind of preexisting condition, purchasing your own insurance might be difficult and/or costly. If you have a spouse or significant other, see if you can get onto their policy.

3) Long-term planning. Libraries may not always pay well, but many of them offer some very nice retirement benefits. If you work for yourself, you lose your access to a 403B/401K, pension, employer-paid life insurance, etc. The rough estimate is that employer benefits are generally worth 1/3 of someone’s salary, so, if you are leaving a full-time job, in order to “match” your existing salary, you actually have to earn quite a bit more. Be prepared to plan and save on your own. Open an IRA and contribute the maximum; find other investments to cover the gap.

4) Taxes. Again, in the U.S., if you work for yourself, you’ll need to pick up the “employer’s” share of Social Security taxes, basically doubling what you owe. You’ll need to keep track of all of your business expenses for tax purposes. You’ll probably have to file quarterly self-employment taxes, both state (if your state has income tax) and federal. This is a lot of paperwork, and, esp. if you have other household income (your spouse has a job…), you may need to set aside up to 50% of your gross earnings for tax purposes.

5) How does your temperament fit with the idea of working from home? If you need the stimulation of being around other people — or grownups — all day, working out of the house may be a bad choice. If you are very comfortable interacting electronically, this is good, but remember to make an effort to build that in-person communication in as well. Can you work effectively from home without becoming too distracted by other things that need doing, online games that need playing, friends that are calling?

6) How comfortable are you with the idea of marketing yourself? Of asking for money? Of standing up for yourself? Of determining a fair value for your work, and sticking by that? Of keeping track of your work, who has paid, who hasn’t, and of reminding those who don’t pay in a timely manner?

7) How can you build up your reputation and your options before leaving your job? If you’re working full-time now, start trying to pick up projects on the side. It’s better to start out as a known quantity and to set up some ongoing gigs, if possible, before making the leap. You might try working part-time while building up your freelance business.

8) What exactly do you want to do? Do you want to start your own research business? Work as a library consultant? Become a freelance writer? Start a business doing presentations and workshops? Design web sites? Start up a publication? Provide IT consulting? Provide programming for libraries? Some combination of the above? Something completely different? Think about your skills and where you might see a matching market or need. Be realistic, here. You might start feeling out potential clients or publishers, or asking around to see who might be interested in your services.

9) Set goals for yourself. How many clients do you envision picking up in your first year? Your second? Your third? How much money do you see yourself making this year? Next year? The year after? What do you have to do to make this happen? How and where will you market yourself? What will you do if you don’t come close to meeting your initial goals? How much time will you give yourself before going back on the library job market?

10) If you have kids, what will you do about childcare? Set aside the idea of working from home without some kind of support. Think about preschool, public school, daycare, having someone come to your house a few hours a day, whether family can help out. Again, be realistic about your options, and make plans for what will happen if your child is sick and can’t go to school, over vacations and “teacher institute days,” etc.

So, what do I do all day, anyway?

Rachelgrunt, Random Day Last Week

Make breakfast, pack lunch, throw ingredients in crockpot for dinner later, drive Preschool Boy to school.
Drive home, note engine light is on in car, turn up radio to compensate.
Call car shop, make appointment.
Check e-mail. Send speaking rates and bio and outline to library group. Answer questions from editor about column turned in last week. Answer question from potential library school student about whether there will be any jobs when they graduate. Fix broken link someone tells me about on Delete spam. Answer several personal e-mails.
Go into jobs database and approve several jobs, delete several spam entries and two resumes.
Sort through queries for upcoming issue of Info Career Trends. Select authors for issue, e-mail everyone back. Receive instant angry e-mail from someone who didn’t make the cut. Delete it. E-mail two publishers to request review copies.
Field phone call from “market research firm.” Make resolution. Again. To get caller ID.
While interrupted anyway, throw in load of laundry.
DHL guy rings doorbell. Several boxes of computer books show up from Library Journal. Lug them inside, open, and sort them.
Select books for review in upcoming “Computer Media” column for LJ. Type in citation info for all, check pub dates online to make sure they’re recent enough to review.
Receive e-mail back from group that they can’t really afford my rates and will I come just for the cost of transportation and hotel. E-mail back, say no, sorry.
Read list e-mail, blog a couple of pertinent announcements on Beyond the Job.
See new book announcement in e-mail newsletter, get gift idea, order Chanukah gift on
Start typing in edits to book ms.
Realize it’s time to go get Preschool Boy.
Get home, find message on machine from ITI editor. Put They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs video on for Preschool Boy and return call. Talk about potential author’s book proposal and draft of a foreword for another author’s book. Make lots of notes.
Get off phone, realize it’s time to bring Preschool Boy to Spanish class, and that 2PM is way past lunchtime.
Drop Preschool Boy off at Spanish class. Go to McDs, eat unhealthy lunch while reading almost-due library book very very fast.
Go back to Spanish class, sit in lobby, pencil in ms. edits.
Retrieve Preschool Boy, go to friend’s house to pick up key to feed cat while said friend goes to Disney World for a week, play with her kids for an hour.
Go home, supervise Preschool Boy riding tricycle in circles on driveway, throw laundry in drier, make dinner for him.
Play games and read with Preschool Boy. Give him bath, read him bedtime stories, put him to bed.
Clean up cat hurl, sort mail, tidy counters, put away dishes.
Eat dinner w/ husband, who just got home from work. Talk about our respective days. Move to our respective computers.
Check e-mail, answer several more messages. Post announcement of LJ “Movers & Shakers” call for nominations on several lists.
Go back in jobs database, approve more jobs for online posting.
Type in more ms. edits.
Watch TV with laptop open, catch up on mom and other non-library-related forums.


  1. Dorothea:

    Wait, Rachel, somebody seriously yelled at you for not accepting a proposal? Do they not realize how counterproductive that is?

    Maybe they don’t. So I’m saying: it’s counterproductive. Pulling a stunt like that guarantees that Rachel has good reason not to look kindly upon one’s next proposal.

    Burning bridges is a bad idea. (I learned that the hard way.) It’s especially unwise to burn bridges over something as ephemeral as a proposal.

    Yell at a stuffed animal, punch the wall, whatever — but don’t, don’t, don’t express anger to the evaluators!

  2. Rachel:

    LOL – Dorothea, you’d be surprised what people will say, especially in e-mail. I’ve learned it’s easier to delete than argue, since the former will just reaffirm their belief they’re being singled out and persecuted somehow.

  3. Dorothea:

    Wow. That’s just… stupid.

    I have my moments, I admit, but — wow.

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