Being 'Clutch' Because Going Solo IS Long Term Employment

I was reading the newspaper last week (gasp! Yes, I still get one) and there was an article entitled, ‘Average Time Employees Stay At Job is 4.4 years.’

The median number of years that workers have stayed with their current employer went up to 4.4 years in January 2010, from 4.1 years in January 2008, according to newly released statistics from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The increase in what’s known as ‘employee tenure’ reflects, in part, large job losses among less senior workers in the most recent recession.

Workers in the public sector fared better than their counterparts in the private sector.

I’ve been really annoyed frustrated lately listening to people complaining that solo practice is hard. This blog has never posted anything claiming otherwise. But there are significant upsides to the equity one earns through creating and building a solo practice that pay off in the long run.  The biggest – never getting laid off and real job security – the security you provide for yourself by committing to making it work and doing what you need to do ‘in the clutch’ - sustaining it through sheer sweat.

I’d like to pose this question to you:

“If you knew you would never get a paycheck from an employer ever again what would you do?”

1) I would bemoan my fate and lay down and die

2) I would figure out a way to earn a living

I’m guessing that after you’re initial annoyance with me for offering up a choice between such extremes, you selected number two.  But that’s the cold, hard, unsweetened version of life today. Lay down and die or figure out a way to earn a living.

Now that we’ve gotten this straight, do you want to hang with the crowd that’s going to constantly tell you everything that can go wrong while offering you no real knowledge on how to succeed, just sitting shiva while your body is still warm? Or would you rather hang with the crowd that is going to help you succeed by pointing out the realities you MUST work with and then helping you build something life-sustaining?

If you want to hang with the crowd who beats their chests crying ‘why me?’ get off my RSS.  It’s not that I’m not sympathetic but my sympathy isn’t going to put food on your table. My sympathy isn’t going to pay your student loans or buy you health insurance. My sympathy isn’t going to put a roof over your head, make you handsome or beautiful or well-dressed or help you find a soul mate, either.  Sympathy gives you a moment of not feeling alone so you have a chance to regroup and then hopefully take action to change your circumstances.

Can I empathize?  Of course I can.  I’ve been self-employed continuously for 18 years and prior to that on and off for 11.  I’ve had more dips than your local ice cream store, more stress, more anxiety than I care to discuss but I would NEVER trade it for a steady paycheck with strings attached and the constant threat of a pink slip. Been there. Done that. Quite frankly, if I was born 160 years ago I would be the one heading to California during the gold rush instead of sitting trussed up with a lung-crushing corset in a Philadelphia parlor sipping tea. That’s just who I am.

So stop thinking in terms of what you can’t do and let’s discuss what you CAN do

A friend of mine in Texas who has had a firm for 11 years called me a few weeks ago.  He was drowning and panicked.  His practice area is in a drought, he’s struggling to meet payroll, he has clients who aren’t paying and he feels he is getting sucked into quicksand.  I asked him very seriously, ‘do you want to close up shop and go work for someone else?’  Without missing a beat he replied, ‘I love having my own business. I can’t imagine ever working for someone else.’ The advice afterward was easy. I told him to either put his employees on a temporary lay off (that’s what unemployment insurance is for) or cut back their hours to give him some economic breathing room, to close files on non-paying clients (as appropriate) and revamp retainer agreements – ‘no payment, no work.’  If they are not paying, spend that time marketing instead of sinking more hours into a non-paying client, get educated on new practice areas that flow naturally from his current practice area so he can market to his current clients and leverage their connections.

Two weeks later we had another conversation.  Employees went part-time, retainers revamped, files closed on non-paying clients and enrollment in education on new practice areas AND his vacation was canceled, planned purchases put on hold and other cost-cutting measures. Why? Because he said, ‘ I love having my own business. I can’t imagine ever working for someone else.’ He also recognized another reality.  His business had to change for economic reasons because life as he’s known it is changing and his first priority is to put food on his table.

So, here’s the unvarnished reality.  We are simply heading into a different world.  I’ve written about it ad nauseum trying not to make it too bitter but not wanting to pour on the happy sauce, either.  Consider it today’s wild west. The key is learning what you need to know and then implementing it. It is about recognizing times are different.  It is about recognizing you may will probably have to do with less – not just professionally, but personally.  It’s a bitter pill to swallow after our economy has ridden an unsustainable high for decades.  But after you’ve digested this put it into perspective. Compared to many other countries,  it’s actually still pretty sweet.  You still have many more options than billions of other people around the globe. Or you could be selling underwear.

So, no happy sauce here.  However, if you want to learn how to go solo we’ll provide the education and support.  You, however, will always provide the sweat to put the food on your table. No one can do that for you.

P.S.  For those just starting out, meet Nathaniel Kelly.

For those who are laid off from Big Law or anticipating a pink slip, this little excerpt may resonate with you:

From ‘Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Other’s Don’t

In 1978, Bernie Marcus, 49 had just been fired from a chain of hardware stores.  He had few options, so he did what he had been talking about doing for years: He started his own hardware chain.  At every turn, he would have to be ‘clutch’ – that is, excel under immense pressure.

His stores would be different from all other hardware stores – they’d be warehouses filled floor to ceiling with everything needed to fix or improve a home.  A great plan, except he didn’t have enough money to fully stock the first two stores.  One store looked more like a going-out-of-business sale than a grand opening. But he came up with a solution born as much of his street smarts as of his two decades in retailing: “We bought boxes. We bought empty paint cans. We had to give the illusion that we had merchandise.”

Two years after the first store opened, the concept was doing so well that Marcus and his partners decided to take the company – The Home Depot – public.

The pressure will always be there no matter your journey. Be clutch.

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8 comments on “Being 'Clutch' Because Going Solo IS Long Term Employment

  • “If you want to hang with the crowd who beats their chests crying ‘why me?’ get off my RSS.”….I relish the tough love!

    So many of my fellow students whine about loans and the job market it gets ridiculous. Some actually have dropped about because of their perception that job prospects are down for students. It seems odd that it does not enter the realm of possibilities to work for themselves. They just do not get the idea that a self employment is employment.
    Great article! Thanks!

    • Michael,

      Yes, I’m feeling a little tough in my love these days :-)

      I actually like hearing that those who perceive their job prospects are slim are dropping out. This is very good thing. They are at least taking action and recognizing they weren’t mean to be lawyers. They are saving themselves from debt while leaving whatever opportunities are available for those who truly want to pursue the legal profession, including student loan money to finance it. As more drop out, the law schools will have no choice but to heed the wake up call, too.

  • Great posting! I just purchased Clutch over the weekend to give myself a pep talk!

    As an adult, I’ve been through recessions before, starting with the “Arab Oil Embargo” in the early 1970s. This one seems so much worse, and it is, but I think what is making people crazy with fear is that a certain political class want us to be angry and upset. It’s sad to say, but these people are terrorizing their fellow Americans for their own political gain.

    Not only am I working on my practice, but I am working on not being angry and upset! Otherwise, they win.

    • Corrine,

      Congrats to you for your mindset. This is really half the battle. I do agree that what we are heading into is different and considerably worse for most people because they are grossly unprepared and have been led down the garden path for too long. And there is a certain amount of political ‘terrorizing’ going on and it is done in sound bites rather than presenting depth of knowledge with an action plan.

      What’s critical is each of us individually understanding what is going on and then each doing what needs to be done. We all have control over our own actions and how we react to what happens in our lives.

      Let me know what you think of the book!!

  • This morning I met with a local firm who is interested in hiring me for contract work and the partner who started the firm 20 years ago said the same thing- that having his own practice is the best job security because its unlikely that all of your clients will fire you at the same time.

    You won’t hear any complaints from me. I’m loving this adventure.

    • Rachel, that’s the spirit! It’s true: it is the BEST security. You know you are going to give it your all. One thing you have to remember – it is what keeps us on our toes and never truly comfortable resting on our laurels – you are only as good as your next client. That’s why it is critical to keep that upper mind at all times. It is also the one thought that drains us, too. So beware when that feeling periodically overtakes you. It’s that slight agitation that keeps us doing what we need to do to survive.

  • Too few lawyers believe in themselves enough to even try to tough it out. We live in “the clutch” these days. Like the Florida Bar told me: “You’re a LAWYER. You HAVE a job.”

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