This is a guest post by Zack Shay.
The TV show "Mad Men" shows, in part, the journey of Joan Holloway from stereotypical secretary who dreams of nothing more than being the pampered housewife of a wealthy doctor into a bad-ass single mother and entrepreneur. Through the course of the show, she manages to climb the ranks until she becomes a partner in her firm and even brings in her own clients. At the end of it, her company is taken over by a larger company which refuses to take her seriously and essentially pushes her out simply for being a woman in a high power position.
Not one to take things sitting down, the show ends with her using her contacts and experience to create her own production company.
Now, I'm not in any way suggesting the show is a feminist utopia. It's not. It has so many problems. I don't particularly suggest you like watching it unless you're like me and just love advertising and copy. (I do!) I wanted to share this because I consider it an example of what I'm talking about here. Despite the fact that Joan proved, time and again, to be a highly capable worker- she was never able to overcome the bigotry of her time as an employee.
She was able to create a business where she was in control.
She would have the ability to pick and choose clients, working with people who did respect her, and to only hire staff and bring on people who she chose. As a single mother and business owner, she had more freedom to set her own schedule and decide whether to take on work that would negatively impact her family.
Now, I know, not everyone is a partner in an advertising agency who gets bought out for the equivalent of $2 million dollars to start a new company with. I'm certainly not. I was never rich growing up, I never got a job that paid me 6 figures.
You don't need money to start a business.
I started my first business, an online craft store, for maybe $100. I started it on Etsy, so my only cost there was the $0.40 to list items, the $100 came from material costs as I tried to figure out what would sell. My second business, home organizing, I started for about $40. $20 for a cheap pre-paid phone and $20 for business cards.
My third business, business coaching, I invested a lot in training- but ultimately I started it for a whopping $0. I got my first $1500 client without putting any money into software or websites or anything else. Talk about a return on your investment. That's right, you can get paid without putting ANY money upfront.
I never set out to become an entrepreneur.
I've always craved the stability and structure of employment. There are few jobs that I'm unwilling to do, and I enjoy most work. I've worked as a stagehand, office assistant, farmhand, retail associate, dishwasher in a restaurant, etc. I never hated any of them.
I can even live pretty comfortably on relatively low incomes. I'm happy with second hand clothes and road trip vacations and low cost Christmases. As long as I could make ends meet, I was happy with a modest income. I didn't mind the work and I didn't mind the pay, but the work was intolerable.
I'm transgender, and I've never had a job where I felt truly comfortable being myself.
I've had jobs in Connecticut and North Carolina and Ireland and I never found one where I was truly confident in being out, where people used the right pronouns for me (I'm non-binary, singular they), where I truly felt safe and comfortable. I didn't face much outright hatred for it, but people didn't understand it and I never felt really comfortable.
It's hard when you're an employee to speak out against mistreatment or micro-aggressions. Often your boss will rug-sweep it, in worse scenarios your boss will add to it. Finding a new job is a daunting task and the prospect of choosing between quitting or making a hostile work environment even more unsafe is not pleasant.
Every time something happened, I would have to debate if it was worth the risk. Did I want to open myself up to further problems? Could I live with myself if I just kept silent? If I spoke up and they refused to work with me, would I be able to find another job? It was a miserable and scary experience.
So many workers feel the same way.
New mothers who feel pressured to cut their maternity leave short and are given inadequate pumping facilities. People of color who are expected to bite their tongue when they endure racist comments. Immigrants who face xenophobia. Women in male dominated fields get all sorts of crap. So many people have to endure a job where they don't feel supported, comfortable, or even safe. They feel absolutely trapped and resign themselves to trying to push for change or suffering in silence.
Most of the entrepreneurs I've known have been women, and many of them queer women. I would say that 90% of the entrepreneurs I've personally known have been women, most of the people that I work with are women. To date I've only had one male client. I'm not suggesting that all entrepreneurs are women, of course. I'm saying that there are plenty of entrepreneurial women out there to use as role models! Starting a business still has a gender gap, but that gap is closing as more women realize that entrepreneurship gives them control and power over their own lives.
As an entrepreneur, I'm in control of my entire life.
If I don't feel safe, I can just walk out of the room. If I don't like the way someone speaks to me, I don't take that person on as a client. I am fully free to put myself in spaces that are full of people who support me. As an online business owner, I'm also free to move if I don't feel safe in the area I live. My income won't suffer at all, I don't have to worry about finding a job in a new place. All I need is an internet connection.
I get to decide my own schedule. I schedule days off into the calendar and they're completely respected. I don't want to work before 10 am and I don't check anything work related after 9 pm. I take an hour off to pick up my kid from school and 2 hours off for dinner/family time/putting the kids to bed. If I didn't want to work after dinner time, I don't have to- I choose to.
I get to give myself raises instead of trying to convince someone else.
While I was starting my home organizing business, I also worked part time on an orchard. I had become the assistant manager there and in my time at the orchard my responsibilities had more than doubled. I was now working alone much of the time, supervising another employee, basically running the place to give the owner freedom to take care of other business or take vacations.
Because I'd taken on so much more responsibility, I asked her for a raise and was turned down. At about that same time, I had decided to raise my prices as a home organizer. No one batted an eye or balked or told me it wouldn't work. In fact, I was offering a 20% discount for the first session and a woman refused to take the discount- insisting on paying me the full price.
As an entrepreneur, people are happy to pay me what I'm worth.
(At least, I choose to only work with people who are happy to!)
That sounds like a pipe dream. I never would have dreamed of it before. That was never something I could say as an employee. As an employee, I took whatever people were willing to offer. I never had an employer offer me more and I was afraid to ask for much. As I shared above, even when I'd taken on more responsibility and was clearly doing more work than I'd been at the beginning, employers wouldn't give me much in the way of a raise.
As an employee, you're forced to take on a scarcity mindset- for most of us, there really aren't that many jobs available and we can't just go out and find a better one. As an entrepreneur, you're allowed to take on an abundance mindset- there are literally billions of people on this planet and you have the freedom to go out and find the ones you truly want to work with. We're the same people, our work is the same, yet as an entrepreneur we have so much more freedom to value ourselves.
I'm not special, by the way.
I know, I know, I'm supposed to insist that everyone is special and you have a unique gift- I believe the opposite. I'm not special, everything that I've done is something that anyone can achieve. I'm a transgender person with disabilities who grew up in poverty and never had any friends or relatives who were entrepreneurs, I was the first person I knew who started their own business. The only unique thing about me is that I refuse to give up and I'm willing to risk failure to gain success- that's something anyone can learn to do. Anyone can create a successful, profitable business.
I recently had the privilege of helping an immigrant woman start her own business. She wasn't even sure if she could or wanted to start a business before we met, and I helped her get the confidence to not just start a business- but to start it the right way. She's charging more than she ever would've believed for her goods and she's focusing on growing in a way that will work for her long term and give her the freedom she dreams of.
That's what I do, what I love doing. Not just helping people start businesses, but helping them get the right start. I don't want people struggling with their business, working all hours of the day, struggling to balance priorities, and you don't need to.
How can you actually start a business?
It's a daunting prospect, but for the first time in history literally anyone can start a business for no upfront money. There is so much free information online and in library books that you can figure this business thing out and even learn a new skill to turn into a business. If you live near enough to a public library, you can even start an online business without owning your own computer or paying for internet.
When I proposed this article, one of the things Jessica asked me to include is how women can find a skill to monetize. A lot of people get stuck on this, looking at the skills they have and thinking no one could get paid for that. This thought made sense a few decades ago. We now live in a world where people are literally paid big money to play video games. People have become millionaires, starting by publishing comics for free online. You can make money doing virtually anything if you're willing to figure out how to. Instead of trying to figure out what skills are profitable, figure out what you're already good at doing.
- What do people tell me I'm good at doing?
- What do I love to do, what could I do every day and be happy?
- What have I always dreamed of doing?
- What problem in the world do I really want to solve?
Are you the one all your friends go to for relationship advice? You could become a love coach. Do you absolutely adore taking care of animals? You could be a professional pet-sitter. Is your family amazed at the meals you create? You could start a blog or youtube channel showing your recipes and monetize that. Are you awesome at doing makeup? Become a beautician. Did you grow up bilingual? Become a translator. Are you super passionate about safe sex and consent? Create a business around that.
You should make sure it is something you're good at, but most people already have skills that they can monetize.
Now, yes, there are some things where you need certification for legal reasons. Massage is one example- so make sure you check if it's legal to just get started without formal training. If it isn't, you can either choose a different business or invest in training now. It's up to you.
You can turn just about anything into a business nowadays. The only limit is your imagination.
It's not easy, but it's so worth it.
I know, I make it sound like it's so easy to just wake up one morning and start making money as a business owner. In a sense, it is. When you know the skills you have and how to sell them, you can just go out and start making sales overnight, I've been able to help two people make their first sales in 24 hours!
In reality, starting a business is one of the most difficult things a person can do. It takes a lot of work to learn how to make sales and market yourself and figure out what you really want to make money doing plus there are a lot of responsibilities business owners have that employees don't. Taxes, book-keeping, record keeping, compliance, so many different issues. Running a business forces you to be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and what you truly want in life. It's a difficult, ugly, amazing, overwhelming road.
You have to make sure you do it right.
I will end this with a word of warning: As amazing as entrepreneurship is, there are traps. As many business owners that I know who are living the lives of their dreams, I know more who've made bad choices and have gotten themselves stuck. You can end up working with bad clients and undercharging and in just as bad a situation, if not worse, as you were in at your job.
I truly believe that anyone can create a successful business, but it is vital that you make the right choices and build a strong foundation from the start. This is one of the reasons that I do what I do, and I love what I do, because I get to help entrepreneurs build that foundation and create a business that will truly serve every aspect of their life.
I completely, fully, and truly believe that you can start a business.
Yes, you. It is totally possible for you to take full control of your life. To never again be at the whims of misogynistic creeps. To surround yourself with loving support and customers who adore you.
Zack Shay is an Intuitive Business Strategist who helps entrepreneurs take their business to the next level. Zack helps their clients increase their income, build their audience, all while getting more free time and creating a life that works for them. When not helping people grow their business, Zack loves to paint and spend time on the beach. You can learn more at zackshay.com