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A new survey questions techies about flying solo

Empty promise? Or paradise?

Do you have what it takes to go solo?

By Porter Anderson
CNN Career

(CNN) -- You're self-employed. Do you have it made in the palm-fronded shade? Or are you about to be washed away as soon as the current tide of available work goes out?

You hear people talking about self-employment these days as if it's an island of career sanity they're all swimming for. Maybe that's inevitable as mergers and acquisitions bring more and more workers under corporate rule. Restlessness is a logical outcome.

But in fact, that same spreading context of big business -- often hard on smaller and independent ventures -- also may make the prospects of jumping ship and paddling your own kayak look riskier than ever.

"Most agree the present environment makes it harder to succeed with self-employment," says Cynthia Morgan,'s executive producer and vice president for content. The site is considered a leading intersection on the Internet for IT (information technology) workers and employers.

graphic It's the week of the Fourth: Feeling independent?

Yeah. I'm ready to go self-employed now.
Ask me on Labor Day. I'm considering it.
Not me. You know how nauseating Sartre said freedom is.
View Results

But in the case of this membership survey, the question is whether to leave -- or not to leave -- those employers. Some 818 respondents were heard from during the month of June, in this survey titled "Do You Have What It Takes To Become a Self-Employed Tech Professional?"

"Just about everyone wants to strike out on their own sometime," Morgan says as she interprets the survey data. "But they won't do it for the money -- what they're looking for is more control over their professional lives."

Morgan notes "one surprising point -- the younger and less experienced you are, the more likely you were (as a respondent on this survey) to think that self-employment's biggest advantage is the ability to control your work hours. I would have thought just the opposite," she says, "since older, more experienced workers are also more likely to have established families and homes."

On the team, and off

Probably the most interesting outcomes of this survey are based it its divided response pools. In many cases, survey questions were asked directly of respondents who are currently self-employed, and then of respondents who are not.

"There's a strong grass-is-greener effect here," says Morgan. "Those who aren't self-employed tend to have a far rosier picture of self-employment than the people actually living the dream.

"I got the feeling from the survey that women just wanted more control over their lives, period," she says. "They were far less worried about risk, even when they acknowledged that money could be a problem.

"What troubled me, though, was that techies taking this survey seemed most afraid they lacked some pretty essential tools for self-employment: communications and sales, financial management skills. Women, in particular, were less confident of their abilities in this area."

In fact, among respondents in the South, the paperwork and accounting duties of self-employment were cited as the key fear, surpassing even concern about financial risk.

For a comparative look at what some current and potential self-employed workers told click here.


Among some of the results revealed by the two-pronged questionnaire approach:

•  Only 13 percent of those respondents currently self-employed said they worry about risk the most, while 29 percent of unemployed respondents and 28 percent of the full-time employees said risk would be the most daunting aspect of self-employment

•  Those who are self-employed said ambition and willingness to work hard are the most valuable assets to take into a venture. Self-confidence was cited as the next most important attribute

•  Full-time employees surveyed were more likely to say they think self-employment is easier than the overall group said. Unemployed respondents were least likely to say that

•  Self-employed respondents generally dismissed market analysis as a tool in business. Instead, they said that having advanced tech training was the most valuable aid

"In a lot of cases," Morgan says, "people seem to be hoping self-employment will provide whatever's in greater contrast to their present situation. The unemployed and tech pros working in startups -- high-tech or not -- were far more likely to worry about the risks of self-employment than those in more established companies. That could very well be because they're already facing risk right now. The last thing they want to do is go somewhere with more risk.

"And people in high-tech startups," she says, "were likelier to say they think self-employment's good because they felt it could bring their workloads under control."

Her solo act vs. his

Among the gender-related results of the survey's responses:

•  Women's reasons to be self-employed were, for the most part, control of workload and hours, and choice of work location

•  Men's reasons were likelier to include being your own boss

•  Women's fears of self-employment were in the areas of having to sell themselves to potential clients and being isolated from peers -- and women in the survey tended to be more worried than men about making less money in self-employment

•  Men's main fears of self-employment involved risk and lack of team collaboration

•  Women respondents were less likely than the men to consider a lack of money to be a big problem when self-employed -- but they were much more likely to worry that they might not have enough industry connections to make a go of it

•  Men respondents said they were more comfortable than the women with the idea of starting a business with family members

Company of one

Overall, 84 percent of the survey respondents said they'd stay in the same tech profession they're in now if they became self-employed. Six percent said they'd leave technology completely.

Would you consider striking out on your own as a technology professional?
Yes, if I were sure of getting a few good contracts...but not right now
No, not in the present economic situation
I already am self-employed
Yes, I will probably quit my job and move to self-employment soon
Yes, my current job is insecure and I may not have a choice
No, never
(More Charts)

Some 41 percent said they think it's easier for technologists to succeed as self-employed workers than it is for other professionals to pull it off; 22 percent said they think it's harder; 26 percent said IT careers are no worse or better than other fields.

"We found," says Morgan, "that tech pros with high income levels were especially concerned about risk, which makes sense, since they probably have the most to lose. But interestingly, the self-employed were far less likely to cite risk as a problem.

"Non-managers considering self-employment are more likely to worry about risk than managers," she says, "possibly because of the difference in income levels. But they're also far more likely to want to do contract work for a former employer.

"And the more experience a responding worker has, the less likely it seems to be that that worker thinks ambition and hard work are the biggest assets you can bring to self-employment. "

In fact, most of the survey universe said they'd be uncomfortable applying for loans and starting a business with a colleague from their current workplace.

Sea to shining sea

"New England techies were more likely than others to think the best asset in self-employment is sales ability," says Morgan.

"Respondents in the mountain states -- where self-employed technologists are proportionately rare -- were the most optimistic, regionally."

Southerners responding to the survey seemed to be less worried than others about where their next customers were coming from and more concerned about having a financially stable spouse or partner.

"And people in the Northwest," Morgan says, "were much less optimistic about the chances for success in self-employment than those elsewhere in the country. They had a gloomier picture of potential earnings if they struck out on their own. They were more likely to worry about finding customers.

"The Northwest also has a high percentage of self-employed tech professionals: They may be speaking from sad experience."



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