(This article originally appeared in the Florida Times-Union)
Although the economy is improving, many highly-skilled workers are still looking for a job that will provide the same level of income they had before the Great Recession. Baby Boomers are particularly concerned; they often have significant financial commitments such as mortgages and worries about funding retirement. Rather than wait for the perfect job, many have started their own business. The data suggest that these businesses are “microenterprises,” companies with only one employee – the entrepreneur.
In fact, a new U.S. Chamber Foundation report says that this group of workers “now numbers 10 million in 2013, up 9.1% since 2001, a growth rate 2.6 times faster than employees in incorporated entities.” Workers are creating their own jobs through consulting or contract work while waiting for a full time job to appear, and in some case, as a permanent solution. Daniel Pink wrote about this idea as early as 1997 in Fast Company Magazine and later when he published his book on independent contractors called Free Agent Nation in 2001. In 1997 he reported that the IRS planned to issue 74 million 1099 forms – what he called the “pay stub of free agents.”
This group is a significant economic engine; independent workers make up 7.6% of the national labor force and account for more than $626 billion in income, according to a report by Jeffrey A. Eisenach
writing for American Enterprise Institute. Twenty percent of self-employed workers are in management, finance and professional services, industries that can deliver services via email and the web.
They are joined by an estimated 32 million Americans who consider themselves self-employed on a part-time basis, often in addition to their “regular” job. Freelance writers, artists, craftsmen, coaches and consultants of all kinds work after hours and weekends to build a business, bring in extra income, or just scratch a creative itch. Terms like “mompreneur” and “solopreneur” are entering the mainstream as these workers create support networks and share resources.
Women are a significant factor in this movement; the report states that 90 percent of women-owned businesses have just one employee. Lynn Higgison, PHR, is not surprised. She left a successful career at UF Health to start her own venture called Opportunity Knocks in 2013. She enjoyed her job, which consisted of leadership and management development, but felt she’d done as much as she could do within the organization. “I wanted to help people develop holistically,” she says, “and not just within the context of their current job.” She cites a list of friends and business owners who choose not to create jobs or manage a team. “Managing people takes you away from the work you love; I think it’s why many women leave their corporate jobs in the first place.”
Marilyn Feldstein is another soloist who left corporate life after living through a series of layoffs in A-list companies. She’s run a successful career coaching firm since leaving Merrill Lynch in 2000. She has plenty of work, but has not considered adding staff. “When I need help with a project, I hire a contractor. Some of my business owner peers have said told me that they are planning to start an empire. I’m not. I worked for empires; I have no interest in building one of my own.”
Both Higgison and Feldstein say that they love the autonomy and flexibility of working for themselves. They consider it a very attractive alternative to finding a new job, one they hope more job seekers will embrace.