Why I Work For A Small Company

(C) 2003 Hank Wallace

“This is the best company on the planet!”

Heard this line? The moment I first heard it I was fidgeting with my pen, 19 years old, very nervous, and interviewing for my first job out of college. They flew me out for a couple days and treated me very well. When my future boss’s boss told me that there was no place better to work, I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Within 30 days, I had moved 1,325 miles, rented an apartment, and started work.

After a month on the job, I noticed an odd pattern. The engineers were given little respect, expected to work overtime for free, moved around like pawns, and generally treated like human resources. Being a technician and not understanding this I asked why they took it. They replied, “That’s the way it is.”

I remained perplexed until I enrolled in engineering school at Big Name U. There I found the students were given little respect, expected to work overtime for free, moved around like pawns, and generally treated like lab rats.

Eureka! That’s why the engineers allowed such on the job denigration. In school they had to pay thousands for that privilege, but on the job, they were being paid. And they were being treated better than lab rats. They were now being treated as human resources! No wonder the engineers thought they were getting away with murder.

As a result of these experiences and many others, I have forsaken big company life and now run a small company. I do understand the draw of a big company job: challenge, travel, leading edge work, decent pay, and job security. But along with those things come several disadvantages. One cedes control of every aspect of work life to someone else:

  • retirement investments
  • health/life insurance
  • working hours
  • vacation schedule
  • income level
  • project schedules
  • shipment schedules
  • workload
  • selection of co-workers
  • quality of your work
  • continuing education
  • personal dress
  • parking arrangements
  • chair selection
  • wall decoration

When you look at the list above, which of those things would you consciously choose to let someone else control? Parking? Well, you are letting someone else control all of them if you work for anyone but yourself. This is not a screaming horror, but just something to consider. Everyone has a different pain threshold.

There are some disadvantages to running a small company. For example, I do not have the option of getting a project to 90% completion and then dumping it on an underling. I cannot always leave work at 5:00p.m. on Friday. “I was in meetings all day” is a lame excuse. There is no one to hide behind when my design has a bug. I cannot afford to anger even one customer or ignore one email or telephone message. And I pay an extra 7.65% self employment tax.

Rumor has it that the biggest downer for the self employed is job security, but that is not true. I have many employers (called customers), you have one. A couple of mine have gone out of business for various reasons. No big deal! I have more job security now than I ever have. Why put all your eggs in one basket?

What is popular is not always what is best, but it is usually what is easy. Running a successful company is not popular. Rather it takes hard work and determination. Great blessings come at great cost.

For more details on striking out on your own, see my article, Becoming an Independent Contractor.

Author Biography

Hank Wallace is the owner of Atlantic Quality Design, Inc., a consulting firm located in Fincastle, Virginia. He has experience in many areas of embedded software and hardware development, and system design. See www.aqdi.com for more information.