To be employed or to be self-employed?

Different perspectives shed light on multiple aspects of starting your own business, but the question remains, is the risk always worth the reward? (Courtesy of Shutterstock)

Like it or not, we live in a capitalistic society. What does this mean in practical terms? We are only as good as we can produce — as far as the market is concerned, anyway. If you take a moment to look around, you may realize that almost all the things that catch your eye come from a business of some sort — the clothes keeping you warm right now, the morning coffee you so cherish, and even the laptop or mobile device you’re using to read this.

More often than not, we find ourselves on one of two sides of the equation when it comes to a business. We are either a consumer of their products or an employee of a business, working hard but ultimately getting a tiny fraction of what the people who own the company would make. Broken system? Maybe. But it is, nonetheless, our reality — and complaining will only bring us so far. There comes a time when action is required, and this action would allow us to put the control back into our hands. 

If you haven’t figured it out, I’m talking about starting your own business (cue suspenseful music) — sounds daunting, doesn’t it? And it very well may be. The grinding efforts, the personal sacrifices, and the large investments of time aren’t for the faint of heart, but may all be worth it for a lifestyle and independence that would not otherwise be achievable. And that’s not to say having your own business is some mystical land where no issues arise. 

However, it is my belief that starting one’s own venture, even if it isn’t for profit or on a small scale, is something that everyone should try — for experience, if nothing else. With a wide variety of voices coming from all levels, the knowledge and range of experiences shared in this article should serve as a guide, illustrating a mosaic of the work, strategy, and attitude that goes into building a business.  

GETTING UP TO SPEED WITH A START-UP

For all the success and glory a potential business can have, it doesn’t come without pain, sweat, and tears. A start-up is considered to be any company that is within its first stages of operation. The amount of effort and sacrifice required to get a business going at this stage can only be articulated by someone who has been through it.

Ali Hayder, the founder of a recent vintage clothing start-up known as Wayv, helps us in understanding the process through his own words. His business specializes in the sale of classic clothing from the ‘90s and early 2000s. 

Wayv Vintage Clothing. (Courtesy of Ali Hayder)

“Initially, for any business in the vintage clothing space, sourcing the products is the hardest part. At Wayv, there is a constant effort placed in finding the best products to list on our website and Instagram. We have new products coming in all the time and ensuring these products are up to our standards is fun but tiring,” says Hayder, who has been in business for about a month now. 

But a month is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. In order to get a business going, it requires years of consistent effort, and unfortunately, the statistics aren’t pretty for those unwilling to make the sacrifices demanded from a business. 

Funsquire reports that 20 per cent of Canadian start-ups go broke after one year, while 60 per cent fail after three years. 

The battle of consistency evidently rings true for Hayder, as he tries to take the more slow-paced days in stride and continue pushing. 

“The biggest challenge has been ensuring that we maintain consistency. It can be easy to get disheartened when you don’t see the growth you wish your business would see — even I have fallen for this trap a few times. But, if you believe in yourself and your business, only then will you see positive results.”

So, what keeps an entrepreneur going amidst the difficulties? What is the vision that is being reached for? In Hayder’s case, the answer is simple and honest. 

“This business is important to me because of the independence it provides me. I enjoy working on my own time and seeing results from the effort that I have put into it.” 

The lesson to be learned here? Grind. The statistics may not be in your favour, but the only thing stopping you from being the anomaly is hard work, period. 

WHAT ABOUT THE FRANCHISE?

A step up from the start-up is the small business. A small business is defined as a “privately-owned corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship that has fewer employees and less annual revenue than a corporation.” There are many different forms of this type of business, however, for our purposes we will be focusing on the perspective of a franchisee. To understand what exactly a franchise is, Rudy Banerji, the franchisee of a Subway on Bloor Street in Toronto, has us covered.  

“A franchisee is usually known to work under a global corporation or brand, and is responsible for running the daily operations for the brand at one of its locations. Unlike a regular business owner, a franchisee has a set guideline that they must follow while trying to uphold the standards set by the corporate head office. Regular business owners take on all the risks that come with operating their business, including figuring out contingencies such as marketing and operational structure. A franchisee tends to get help with these tedious tasks with aforementioned guidelines and support from the corporate offices,” says Banerji.  

Subway sandwich shop on Bloor Street West. (Courtesy of Rudy Banerji)

Essentially, a franchise is a small business that is backed by a bigger brand name. This could be ideal for someone looking to get into business while minimizing the risk required. This is not to say that risk is eliminated though, as COVID-19 has shown Canadians just how harshly unpredictable circumstances can affect even larger businesses such as Playdium, J.C. Penney, and Chuck E. Cheese. 

“COVID-19 has been detrimental to all small businesses; decreasing foot traffic into the store, while simultaneously trying to make us figure out creative ways to increase sales. I was fortunate enough to have what we call ‘restaurant partners’ such as Uber Eats or DoorDash which helped maintain sales,” says Banerji. 

Franchises have been shown to be quite popular in Canada, as we globally lead the world in a number of franchises, coming second to only the United States. It is reported that one franchise exists for every 450 Canadians.  

Banerji also offers grounded advice in relation to the comparison of owning a business versus being an employee of one. 

“I believe both nine-to-five jobs and entrepreneurial routes have their benefits. I personally always wanted to own something though, because the challenge that came with it always enticed me. I also craved more of a leadership role.

“As much as the internet gurus have glamourized that entrepreneurship is the answer to all your financial problems, it genuinely isn’t for everyone. When considering this path, I would recommend being brutally honest with yourself. Be honest about your work ethic, and see if you can improve that first. Look at how often you give up on things you start and how often you follow through with your goals. It’s easy for me to sit here and say ‘save up enough capital and invest in a business,’ but if you lack the ability to really focus on not giving up when a task gets too hard, then I’d consider looking for something more stable.”

The lesson to be learned? There are ways to become independent through your own business without the absurd amount of risk we often hear about, and strategies like franchising are right up that alley. And if you do feel like this is the long-term route for you, be sure to assess your work ethic and willpower before making the leap. 

GATHERING STUDENT PERSPECTIVES

Whether the future workforce ends up being more focused on starting their own businesses or working under a hierarchy, it is the students of today that will be filling up these opportunities of the future.

Sawan Bhatnagar is a motivated third-year finance student at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, who has completed internships on Wall Street and started his own portfolio management business, G3 Capital. Considering his experience in working both a nine-to-five and having his own business at such a young age, Bhatnagar’s perspective on the crossroads between employment and self-employment was very clear. 

“Networking with investors, developing ideas, or building onto existing ideas are all rewarding aspects of running the show on your own. A standard nine-to-five job likely doesn’t entail any of this and truly makes you what they call a ‘corporate slave.’ With your own business, you have the ability to scale your vision to the billions. From some of the biggest investment banks to retail giants such as Amazon, these companies first started with a dream. Thus, the allure of ‘making it big’ and taking pride in what you’ve created is definitely what pushes me to entrepreneurship,” says Bhatnagar. 

Though Bhatnagar may be south of the border, his attitude seems to echo sentiments felt by Canadians yearning for more out of their professional life. Small business statistics from 2013 show that entrepreneurship is the number one choice for Canadians who want more out of their careers. Additionally, one-third of Canadians like the idea of being their own boss, and approximately one-fifth want to start their own business within five years. 

On the other side of this coin is Sidak Sran, a recent McMaster engineering graduate. Sran’s views contrast those of Bhatnagar, and is mainly rooted in his co-operative education experiences through university, where he was working as an employee with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. 

“Starting my own business would mean that most of my time and effort would be dedicated to the business itself, and I would often have to make sacrifices elsewhere.”

“There are definitely lots of benefits to working as an employee for an organization. Some of the benefits include stability, steady income, and atmosphere. Personally, I have had a positive experience because it allowed me to create a strict schedule for myself, which helped me organize my time efficiently.”

Though Sran leaves the window of opportunity open, as of right now he feels content about his workplace choices in the same manner that he has experienced up to this point: as an employee. 

“Personally, I do not see myself looking to start my own business anytime soon. I am someone who values stability greatly and working as an employee within an organization allows me to create a strict schedule where I can plan out my entire week with work, events, and various hobbies. Over time, I have realized that prioritizing my schedule ahead of time really helps increase my overall productivity. 

“Starting my own business would mean that most of my time and effort would be dedicated to the business itself, and I would often have to make sacrifices elsewhere.”

The lesson to be learned here? Take in a wide breadth of experiences before you decide on the type of life you’d like to lead. Though still fairly young, it is the experiences of both these individuals — and what they have learned they liked and disliked along the way — that led them to these opinions. 

EXPERIENCE IS PRICELESS

Of all the insight that can be offered, there is perhaps none more qualified than a veteran. With 20 years of restaurant owner experience, Dinesh Grewal shares some of the lessons he has learned along the way. 

“I learned the importance of teamwork. No entrepreneur in the world can ever say that they have made it alone. Without the right team you trust to get the job done, no business can stay afloat. You always need to plan before you execute something — business decisions and life decisions in general should not be made in haste, and thinking about your next two or three moves is highly important. 

“I also learned how valuable passion is. Times will get tough; the business won’t always be doing well and you will feel like quitting. But if you have the same passion for the business you started with, you will make it through,” says Grewal. 

“But the key is again, passion. Without it, your business will not survive.” 

The element of passion is a theme expressed repeatedly by entrepreneurs, and Grewal makes sure to mention it again when asked for his advice for young people looking to potentially make a move and start a business. 

“It’s a great endeavor for a young person to take on if they have the passion. When you are young, the risk is very low compared to later on, and you will learn the ins and outs of many things you had no idea about before. But the key is again, passion. Without it, your business will not survive.” 

Lesson learned? Plan ahead. And whatever you decide to jump into, be sure it is coming from a place of genuinity and sincerity. This is the recipe for allowing passion to flourish. 

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

At the end of the day, whether someone wants to join an organization as an employee or take the risk and start something of their own, there is no right or wrong answer. It is about what is best suited for you. My goal is to simply allow you to see all the possibilities for yourself beyond what is conventional. 

In fact, the message of this article is one that goes far beyond that of the business world, and that is to avoid living your life with blinders on. Encumbered by our own comfort zones, we fall into the pattern of judging things as “not being for us” without even ever having tried them. And in an age where half of Canadians have reported being unhappy with their job, it seems that entrepreneurship may be one of many things clouded by peoples’ preconceived notions. 

If nothing else, let these words serve as a discussion piece showing you different perspectives on work life, along with a peek into many of the details and mindsets that are behind the scenes running businesses you are likely to consume from.

We have all heard the cliché, you only live once (thanks Drake) and as corny as it may be, it is the absolute truth. Why not go out there and feel what it’s like to embrace your professional life wholly? At its best, it’ll be your greatest pride and biggest responsibility, and at its worst, it may be something that never came to fruition, but left you with countless stories and experiences.  

About the Author

By Shivam Sachdeva

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

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