Thoughts on Making a Living

Month: December 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

13 Signs You Are Meant To Be Self-Employed – Forbes

Source: 13 Signs You Are Meant To Be Self-Employed – Forbes

Your boss is driving you crazy because of his short-sightedness. You don’t get along with the other employees because you keep taking control of team projects and bossing everyone around. You are sick of your great ideas being ignored. Does this sound like you? Then you may be ready to step out on your own and join the growing ranks of the self-employed!

I wouldn’t say one needs to possess all of these to become self-employed, but some of them certainly help. However, I don’t like the negative tone of this article. It makes it sound like one would want to become self employed only because one couldn’t stand being employed. I prefer the more positive choices of self employment. Being “resourceful” and being happy to be the “decider” are critical to being self-employed, but are also happiness inducing life choices.

On the other hand, “not getting along with others” is NOT a true indicator of the self employed in my experience. I’ve met a lot of employed grumpy and obstinate gits in organisations, but if you are going to be your own salesman and customer service agent, you better be pretty good with people or your business won’t last long, IMHO.

Are You a Customer Service Polluter?

Cross posted at LinkedIn.

When I meet executives in companies who have asked me to look at their customer service operations, I often metaphorically describe customer services as the exhaust port of the organisational vehicle. It is the place where all of the hidden metal shavings, plaque deposits, and smoke exits the vehicle.

When an organisation is doing what it does, it burns the fuel of innovation, design, product deployment, delivery, etc. However, it cannot do this without some residue. This may take the form of physical residue in the form of a coal company or battery manufacturer, but it also happens in “cleaner” or virtual industries. Even if you are operating like a Hydrogen car, you are still producing water from the exhaust. Not a problem for most, but a customer that must be watertight might have a problem.

More common, though, is the organisation that is selling a “beta” version of a virtual product without preparing their customers the inevitable flaws or simply launching a product that has not been well thought out. Sometimes, it is bad packaging or poor instructions. Sometimes the exhaust itself creates more exhaust. How about jammed telephone lines or bad self-service websites? The customer service exhaust profile of an organisation like this will be dirty and strewn with unhappy customers. The vehicular equivalent of a rusted out 1970s banger running on leaded gasoline with the main seal about to blow. Not a nice picture to imagine, especially when you view yourself as socially responsible in other ways. In fact, that is another salient point. Can you really be a good corporate citizen if you are willingly not fixing customer service problems?

This scenario is not always disastrous. If the dirty exhaust is being examined and improvements are demonstrably built into the system, the exhaust may be excused, especially if it had been predicted and explained as the necessary by-product of innovation. However, if customers a being fed a diet of dirty exhaust and expected to deal with it themselves, one is probably inviting failure.

To continue the analogy, the good news is that there are ways to use one’s customer service exhaust to improve the organisation’s operations. Whether you are at the stage of introducing a catalytic converter or converting to a hybrid technology or wanting to turbocharge innovation, measuring your customer service emissions are the place to start.

My next posts will examine some of the components used to curtail the exhaust and even begin using it to improve the vehicle’s performance.

Are you a customer service polluter or a clean burner?

The Trades and a Liberal Education

I agree with Charles Murray in Real Education that not advocating for everyone to go to university is not the same as saying that most should not have a liberal education. What is missing is a good liberal education in high school or another educational setting. One doesn’t need to take a 300 level university course and know everything about the Enlightenment to know what the Enlightenment was. I’m not one who believes that the past was so much better than now, but I do have a book in my possession entitled High School Self Taught from 1940 that, I believe, would be a real stretch for even the university graduates I know.

I know plenty of non-university educated people, mainly older people, who know a lot about history, but they seem to be a dying breed. I believe you need to have attained the “hooks” (basic concepts that let you appropriately categorize newly learned information) from school, or maybe a learned aunt, in order that one can develop the interest as an adult with self-learning. Unfortunately, we don’t even teach the hooks anymore.

Wouldn’t a plumber or a carpenter or a web developer be a better tradesman if they were to methodically study the history of their craft? I know I would be more likely to use a tradesman who could hold a conversation about something interesting he had recently read about his trade. Or, maybe, someone who understood the guild movements of previous centuries and how they influenced innovation in that trade? I need to give it more thought, but I believe a good New Yeoman would aspire to it.

With more and more people learning specialized technical trades, I wonder if we may not be ripe for a new way to learn the liberal arts while working or learning a trade? Would it ease parents’ fears that their child was not getting a broader education along with their accelerated technical degree?

But What Could I Do?

A lot.

The list of things one could do is not limited to the “skilled” trades. I’ve written about the license barrier for some work before, but many types of work have no barrier to entry. The barrier to entry is a will to do it until your fingers bleed and to go the extra mile.

Like what? Try this to get your creative juices going. Remember, this list or any other is not the be all and end all. As Seth Godin says, there is no “Bureau of Idea Approval.” These kind of lists are just ways to help you think about what is possible and what you would really want to do.

Ready. Set. Go.

Coders in Appalachia


As America goes digital, its bluest collar workers are facing the toughest challenge of their lives.

Source: Can You Teach a Coal Miner to Code? — Backchannel — Medium

I found this article about Bitsource, a new coding school / shop, to be both inspiring and melancholy. I liked the spirit of the founder in making a clear choice to prove that these coal mining tradesmen could learn a new trade. I believe it is possible  and these brave men are making it happen the best they know how.

On the other hand, I found it melancholy, because we, as a country, shut down the life affirming work of so many without so much as a “sorry.” “They’re hillbillies and they’re digging dirty coal, so they deserve what they got.” seems to be the feeling of many towards the people of Appalachia.

I am from the western end of Kentucky which fared a little better than the eastern end, but still has its share of problems due to the mines closing. One idea that his article brought out was the idea of meaning in the work. I liked Rusty Justice’s (great name!) characterization of the mining work that many of the people did before,

After all, coal was the back-end code of 200 years of industrial progress — the fuel that bent the steel for Ford cars and train tracks and skyscrapers, and much of the electricity to light them.

So, in looking for new work, the thing that drives so much of the desperation is the loss of meaning in work. These people and those from my part of the Commonwealth are proud people who don’t want hand-outs. They want real fulfilling work. But, just like their pioneer forebears, they are going to have to make their work. It is not going to come to them in the form of mine jobs anymore.

I also like how Justice is driving the trade meme of coding,

The two kept thinking about what Such said about coding being a trade. “That’s when we said,” Parrish recalls, “we’ve been working with tradespeople all our life.”

I hope Bitsource is successful and also spurs many more trade based coding start-ups. It would be nice to see Appalachia rise from the coal ashes.

Licensing and the Self-Employed

For some New Yeomen, especially tradesmen, licensing is part of the job. The Wall Street Journal writes that licensing requirements have increased exponentially over the last few decades. I’m not exactly anti-licensing. I’d like the eye surgeon I use to have a license from the state medical board. However, this example seems extreme to me.

It takes 372 days on average to become a licensed cosmetologist, but only 33 days to become an emergency medical technician, known as an EMT. In several states, a hair-braiding license requires 1,500 hours of training and multiple exams. For those with limited means, that may prove impossible.

I’m sure becoming a cosmetologist is hard. I couldn’t do it. But is cosmetology that much more difficult than being an EMT? Are EMTs trained too little? Is it bureaucratic waiting periods from the state or the trade bodies?

I fear that business licenses from states and some trade licenses from some trade bodies have become a way to keep people from considering self-employment.  Are all of these licenses really required for consumer protection? Especially, in today’s online review world? What are the chances that a rogue hairdresser could succeed for long, if all his customers were slating him online? Just as importantly, is innovation being stifled by all of these trades being taught and regulated in the same manner?  Uber and the highly regulated taxi industry come to mind.

Finally, I am certainly in agreement with this statement,

Reducing burdensome requirements on job seekers is part of reforming the criminal justice system. If nonviolent ex-offenders who paid their debt to society aren’t able to obtain a license for certain types of employment, how can we expect them to rejoin society, partake in American life, create value in their communities and improve their lives? By removing these needless barriers to opportunity, we can offer a hand up to the people who need it most.

However, if you are considering self-employment in any of these fields, please don’t give up. If so many others have made the trek, so can you.

Header Photo Credit

I am very grateful to Georges Jansoone (wikimedia: JOJAN) for providing the header photo with a Creative Commons license. It is a very cool photo that epitomizes the tradesman’s workshop of old.

Description English: Traditional carpenter’s implements; Ethnographic Museum of Western Liguria, Cervo, Flower Riviera, Italy
Date: 8 May 2009
Source: Own work (Own photo)
Author: Georges Jansoone (JoJan)

What is the New Yeoman?

By my definition, the New Yeoman is a middle class, self-employed person such as a plumber, coder, designer, trader, store-owner/keeper, artisan, mechanic, carpenter, family farmer, one-person law firm, book-keeper, small manufacturer, or private teacher/tutor. In short, any professional, tradesman, or craftsman that plies their trade for themselves. We look to others not for a permanent paycheck, but for a voluntary exchange of goods, services, and ideas. At times, by necessity, we may need to be employees, either in addition to our trade or in place of it, but our goal is always to be a New Yeoman again.

We choose our work, we enjoy it, and we’re proud of it. We know, care for, and talk to our customers. We are not nameless, inter-changeable people in large organizations. We live within our means, anticipate and prepare for lean years, and show humility in flush years. We are good citizens of our neighborhood, even when our neighborhood is virtual. We help others when they are unable to help themselves, but we expect others to work as hard and endure risk as we do when they can. We share our knowledge of the New Yeoman life with each other. We encourage and mentor others who want to become New Yeomen.

In short, the New Yeoman is what a good chunk of America looked like before the 20th century. Technology has been blamed for destroying the original Yeoman life at the end of the 19th century in America, but the New Yeoman embraces technology. Technology not only makes their work possible, but in many ways makes their work more attractive than that of employees in large organizations. In my humble opinion, it is an admirable way of life that is poised for a return in the 21st century.

At The New Yeoman, I will write about the life and try to be a good New Yeoman by sharing my experiences. My own New Yeoman life began in 2005. The details of it and my employed life before it can be found here.

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