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Notes from a small business: Working on your is fine, as long as you like your own company


By Guy Browning, of the design agency Smokehouse

One of the many clichés that abound in big business, and make working for them so tiresome, is ‘There is no ‘I’ in team’. When you work for yourself, the opposite is true. There is no ‘team’ in I. It’s just you, by yourself, against the world. Which, hopefully, is just how you like it. 

This means you are free from the absolute chore of undergoing unimaginative teambuilding trust exercises with the rest of the office. These are where you’re supposed to close your eyes and fall backwards, ‘trusting’ you’ll be caught by colleagues who you wouldn’t normally trust to put a stamp on an envelope. A bonding awayday is often the final straw that prompts a person to take their own ‘I’ out of the team. 

The best thing about working alone is’re alone. In every normal office, there is an incredibly annoying person: someone who sniffs all the time, or whines all the time, or talks about their rash all the time. When you work for yourself, you are completely free of that kind of person. It’s often worth taking a moment to sit back and think about the fact that they are currently annoying someone who isn’t you. 

Working alone, there’s only one incredibly annoying person you have to deal with, and that is yourself. It takes incredible discipline to identify why you’re annoying yourself – for example, saying yes to projects that mean working through the night – and then correcting the fault. In a marriage, you have a partner continually working to improve your personality; in business by yourself, you don’t (unless you’re in business with 
your partner). 

The worst thing about working alone is’re alone. If you’re the sort of person who can’t cope with their own company, you are clearly not going to be able to run your own company. And even if you’re good at being alone, it can still be a lonely old business. There’s no one to congratulate you on a job well done, no one to go to the pub with after work and no one to tell you that you’ve got cabbage between your teeth before an important meeting. 

Theoretically it’s now possible to run your business from your mobile phone, without moving from the duvet. In practice, that’s not a good idea. Research that has yet to be done would surely suggest that negotiating in your pink slippers and towelling dressing gown is about 10 per cent less effective than doing so at a dedicated desk, fully dressed, with a calculator at your fingertips. 

Most people like to have an ‘office’, even when they work from home. There’s an interesting progression of this working space for people who work alone and become successful: kitchen table, living room, spare room, shed in garden, purpose-built extension, office in town, divorce, new house. 

Some people who work alone, especially those who used to work in a big business, have made a solemn vow never to work with anyone ever again. Others intend to work alone only until they have grown the business enough to take someone on.  

Taking on your first person is the second most difficult transition in business, after going it alone in the first place. In effect, you’re taking on someone who takes everything for granted: salary at the end of the month, holidays, parental leave, free teabags. The person who has to guarantee all that from now on, all the time, is you. So really, you’re still on your own.