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5 reasons why women should stay in paid employment instead of starting a business or portfolio career

When you’re meeting new people one of the first things you’ll talk about is what you do for a living (or the first thing, if you’re talking with a man!).  When it comes to explaining my portfolio career of business consultant / company director / farmer / author and professional speaker – and how I came to this after a career in finance and consulting – people often assume that I made the transition when I became a mum.  Or because I didn’t enjoy working in the corporate environment.  Or because I didn’t want to work full time any more.  And they often ask me to help them in making the same transition.

It’s true that there are some benefits for me personally in the career I’ve carved out for myself. But if you are considering leaving paid employment to start your own business or portfolio career, my advice to you is to stop and think twice.  Maybe the best thing for you would be to stay where you are, and here are 5 reasons why you might be better off staying in paid employment: 

  1. Routine – For those of you with children or other interests outside of work, I believe that paid employment lends itself more easily to routine. For those of you with children – you know how important routine can be – and when it comes to managing kids and a career paid employment could actually be better for your routine: you go to work at the same place most days making childcare logistics more predictable; you know roughly what you’ll be you’ll be working on and what to expect; most bosses these days understand you have a life away from work and even if you have to take work home with you, you at least have the regularity and discipline of “a place for work and a place for home”.
  2. Freedom – ask any small business owner and they’ll tell you that the idea of starting your own business to buy yourself freedom is a myth or at best, an ideal that requires ongoing management and focus.  In my business I work odd hours often involving very early mornings for speaking jobs or after work appointments for coaching sessions; long days for facilitation work; frequent travel; and the all-hours admin that comes with no longer having an IT help desk and a team of other experts and specialists to draw on.  Yes I have the freedom to sometimes choose where and when I work, but it’s almost always dictated by my clients.  In my corporate roles my bosses were generally supportive of me trying new things and doing things my own way.  I had the freedom of knowing roughly what my set work hours were and therefore I could schedule yoga classes, writing classes, language classes and so on around that – all of which is now virtually impossible.  Freedom comes in different guises for different people but I’m living proof that having your own business is not the silver bullet many people think it will be.
  3. Distraction – it’s hard to be the best in any one thing; and almost impossible to be the best at lots of different things. My week this week has been fairly typical – a 3-day work trip to Alice Springs with my Chairman hat on for the educational board I chair; a mentoring meeting with a new client; writing an article for a publication on “How to grow your business and your personal brand with LinkedIn”; a media interview as Chairman; an MC job at an event tonight; and meetings with the Bank, selling agents, buying agents and valuers for a new farm property acquisition.  Challenging? Yes. Fun? Yes. Efficient? Not really. I think I do an ok job in all these areas but I want to be better than ok, and distraction works against me in this regard.  A portfolio career sounds good on paper but it’s a big job to keep on track with goals in all these areas and my career plan overall.
  4. Money – it takes time to build a successful business and to get your cashflow and profit to an equivalent level as your paid employment.  I’ve been running the sphinxx business and my portfolio career including the farm for more than 5 years now and my income still isn’t at my corporate executive level.  Yes there are other benefits, and yes I could have driven harder on the revenue side, but if financial gain is a necessity for you then you really need to do make sure the numbers stack up for you before you write your resignation letter.
  5. Reputation – not everyone will agree with me on this but I think the bigger the company, the bigger your reputation and clout when it comes to your personal brand and career opportunities – and especially board positions. I’m fortunate to have more than 15 years experience to draw on working with big brand corporates and I think this adds weight to my CV and reflects in my personal brand – particularly in terms of the resilience, experiences, kudos and connections that it brings. When you start a small business or consider a board career you need to think carefully of how to make your brand as big as it can be – whether or not you have a corporate background to leverage.

So… where to from here for you?  Many women engage me as their mentor or coach with a view to starting their own small business or portfolio career – and it’s a privilege and a thrill to assist them in doing so.  But for many, the realisation will come that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Taking the gloss off can help.  So read these tips, print them off and read them again in a month’s time.  If you still want to make the leap then let me know and I’ll be happy to help.  But if you decide you want to stay and make the most of the career opportunities paid employment can deliver – then I’ll be just as supportive of that too.


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