LXer Feature: Survival Guide For Women In FOSS: Striking Out On Your Own

Posted by tuxchick on Nov 10, 2005 10:46 AM
LXer Feature; By Carla Schroder

Most women, when they plan their careers, think in terms of having jobs. But why limit yourself? The computing world is a haven for the self-employed, and the FOSS world supplies tools and opportunities you won't find anywhere else...The whole idea is to do something that you find personally rewarding, get paid for it, and do it your way.

Job "Security"

What, you say, I cannot work for myself! The very idea is scary and insecure. Well, how secure is your job?

Job hunting is soul-killing and torturous on purpose. Most companies are not looking for talent and ability, and they don't know to evaluate people on that basis anyway. They're looking for nice docile workers who won't make trouble, no matter how egregious the circumstances. You're just a necessary nuisance, and adding insult to injury, one that must be paid. (There's a reason that so many companies are referred to as "adult daycare.")

Working in a job has its ups and downs, depending on where you find yourself. Even under the best conditions, you're still working to fulfill someone else's dream. Why not devote your talents and energy to fulfilling your own dreams? You'll find tremendous satisfaction in doing things your own way, and finding out that they do work. (Or not, but since you're the boss of you, you can make changes as you need to.)

Control Your Destiny

I was never a good employee. I've always had a good work ethic, and did my best no matter what sort of sucky situation I was in. But I hate all that rah rah, team player baloney and other lies and hypocrises- they're so transparent, who are they fooling? Real team players don't blow six figures on executive team-bonding exercises at luxurious resorts, then whine about paying the folks who do the real work a fair wage. Or penny-pinch on equipment and supplies when the hooter bar budget (excuse me, sales and marketing allocation) would comfortably feed and house an entire American family.

Even in a good company, there are way too many factors beyond your control. Anything can happen. When you are the boss of you, you can take control of your life and eliminate a lot of unnecessary hazards. Here is my five-step recipe for self-employed happiness:

  1. Select your customers.
  2. Decide how big you want to be. Small is fine, you don't have to be a mogul.
  3. Assemble a brain trust.
  4. Pay yourself first.
  5. Trust your gut.
The first step is by far the most important. Target who you want to have for customers. Be selective- don't take on a job unless you're sure all the conditions are right. You want customers that you can talk to, and who listen to you. You want customers that pay on time. Accepting jobs out of desperation costs you more than the job is worth- trust me on this! Don't learn it the hard way.

Small is Beautiful

Being a sole proprietor is like totally awesome, because dealing with partners or employees can drive you right around the bend if you don't find the right people to work with. But working with other people, when you can depend on them, is wonderful. Again, be selective, and follow your comfort level.

Brain Trust

You need a wide circle of support professionals: certified public accountant, business attorney, and fellow geeks to call on for help and advice. I have to insert a forceful nag here: do not do your own taxes. Do not keep your own books. And do not practice your own law. It won't cost you that much to hire professionals who will do the job and do it right. You need to invest your time in practicing your trade and building your business, not screwing up your financial and legal affairs.

And that's just for the nuts and bolts of your business. Equally important are folks who will encourage you and teach you business skills. Here is a short list of great resources for the enterpreneur:

  • The US Small Business Administration has all sorts of great free help. Make sure you get hooked up with SCORE- Service Corps of Retired Executives. These are retired businesspeople who will give you free one-on-one coaching and advice.
  • Toastmasters is great for learning to get comfortable with public speaking and presenting yourself in a way so people will listen to you and take you seriously.

Pay Yourself First

When you're starting out, enforce a strict financial discipline on yourself. It gets discouraging if you get caught up in a cycle of working hard, but not seeing enough income. Be a tyrant on expenses- don't spend a dime without knowing how it will return at least two dimes. You don't need to devote your life to enriching credit card companies- work for yourself first.

Trust Your Gut

The best part of working for yourself is you get to make the decisions. No longer do you have to be frustrated by annoying managers who never want to do things the right way. Perhaps the one of the hardest things for women is trusting our own judgment. When something feels right, or feels wrong, listen to that feeling- that comes from the little processor in your brain that's always looking out for our best interests.

But What About....

Don't let other people's ideas of what a running a business is about to taint your thinking. You don't need venture capital or bank loans to get started. You don't need to be a hotrod salesweasel rolling over people and making them buy stuff they don't want. You don't need to work eleventy-nine hundred hours a week and never have any fun. The whole idea is to do something that you find personally rewarding, get paid for it, and do it your way. We'll talk more about getting started, and how to market yourself, in future installments.
Carla Schroder has had a variety of jobs and businesses: auto mechanic, landscaping and housecleaning, massage therapist, freelance Linux/Windows computer geek, and technical writer. See Enterprise Networking Planet and Enterprise Unix Roundup Tips of the Trade for fab weekly Linux howtos, and be sure to purchase copies of her Linux Cookbook for everyone on your Christmas list.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
resources for small business outside the US, post her tuxchick 3 1,666 Nov 23, 2005 8:57 AM
Self-employed working with OpenOffice.org for 3+ years solveigh 3 2,052 Nov 11, 2005 3:34 PM
Digg? tadelste 2 1,494 Nov 10, 2005 3:23 PM

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