Birth of an Independent
I first became an independent in 2001. It was not a matter of choice. I was thirty, working as a consultant in a prestigious New York branding firm. I had just gotten married, and we had our first kid on the way. I hadn’t been thinking about starting a business. But then life took one of its unexpected turns. Two weeks after September 11th, I got laid off. Trying to find another job wasn’t an option. Everything was at a standstill: there were no other jobs.
So that afternoon, in between packing up my stuff and saying some quick goodbyes, I decided to start a consulting firm with a friend who had also been given his walking papers. Our plan was simple. Along with our skills and business contacts, we had cell phones, computers and internet connections. As long as we kept our costs low and our clients happy, we could make a good living, have some fun and chart our own course.
It worked out well. We had good ideas. We were small, mighty and focused. Over the years we built a solid reputation. Soon we had landed clients like Microsoft, MasterCard and Gartner and established multi-year relationships with them.
The more things change
As it turns out, we were the advance guard in a big shift in how work works. Back then, starting a small virtual consulting firm with big aspirations was still exotic. Much of the technology we take for granted today wasn't commercially available, and more importantly, neither were all of the services that have been built on top of that tech. If you want to see what I’m talking about, spend a little time poking around on Google’s small business page from the week we started our company.
Shout out to the Internet Archive—you guys are magic.
Today, the landscape is far different. From mobile devices to cloud computing, big data and machine learning, the tools available to independent businesses have never been more powerful or more plentiful, and they've never been cheaper. But with all that choice comes the paradox of choice. Making sense of it all is harder than ever. And with the mind-bending speed with which it's all changing, there's a pervasive feeling that you're always chasing a moving target.
A business about business
I recently started another business. It’s called indie.biz and it’s a business about business. Specifically we want to make it easier for anyone to successfully start and run their own independent business.
Over the course of the last two years, I've talked to hundreds of people starting or running their own independent business, as well as many others who are thinking about it. I've talked to bakers, lawyers, jewelry makers, interior decorators, graphic designers, contractors, bike builders, acupuncturists, therapists, rancher-innkeepers, fashion models, fashion designers, software developers, beer brewers, specialty tradespeople, a guy who makes incredible mustard and many others. They’ve come from all walks of life. Some are retired and some are still in school. Their business and ideas have been as diverse as they are.
But they’ve all shared a certain traits. They’re driven and courageous and creative in ways that have been inspiring. Although they're business owners, most didn’t start out as "business people". They’re people who have a skill, passion, asset, need, calling that drives them to start their own thing, despite the difficulties. That passion keeps them chugging along, figuring out the business side as they go.
They’ve talked about how hard it is, but also how much fun it can be. They’ve told me about the emotional highs and lows. They’ve talked about feeling isolated and alone, but also said that they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Or couldn’t do anything else. And they’ve all wished they could focus less on the BS and more on the work that inspired them to start the business to begin with.
What’s your story?
We're starting this blog to tell our story and the stories of independents we meet along the way. Our goal is to start a conversation about capitalism, work, business, creativity, productivity, imagination, problem-solving and independence. We want to paint a more accurate picture of independent work, debunk some of the myths and share some big, audacious aspirations for what we can build independently, together.
If you're an independent, or working on becoming one, we'd love to hear your story.
Next week: we'll take a look at the numbers and trends behind the huge and varied independent market.