You don’t have to start your own business to be an entrepreneur. That was some key advice I recall from the late Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples, when he spoke at Babson College—known for its entrepreneurship programs. Stemberg felt that the best way to continue a business education was by working for a company that was already established—a leader in their field. His idea was to absorb as much as possible, and then, after seeing how the sausage was made, determine if you had the stomach to really do something on your own.
I was reminded of this sage advice from Stemberg during a recent conversation with a reader, a retired plasma physicist in the defense industry, who learned the “Tom Stemberg” approach long before there was a Staples. How my physicist friend created his career is more important today than it has ever been. It is a story for Millennials and a younger generation, about how to be an entrepreneur and also work for a company. It’s called being an independent contractor.
Becoming an independent contractor isn’t easy. You have to have some skills. As my friend told me, “I didn’t become a plasma physicist without some hard work.” Concepts had to be learned. Knowledge wasn’t just falling out of thin air (actually some of it might have been). He told me the odds of actually becoming a plasma physicist are about the same as making it through Navy BUD/Seal training. Maybe lower. But if you do make it through, you certainly are marketable. And that’s where it gets to be fun.
Fun in that you can have more control over your future. My friend was able to write his own ticket, basically, by becoming an independent contractor. He would apply for contracts, get hired and work at companies just like a normal employee would. But the difference was that he was able to act as a free agent of sorts, moving from one job to another. He was able to rely on his own skills, set his own price, be his own marketing department, and be his own retirement planner.
It’s not without its risks.
He told me, unlike the full-timers, when companies downsized it was the independent contractors that were the first to go. But he knew that. And during the times when there were no contracting jobs he would get a regular job. He became a “captive” as he put it. At one stint, the company offered a continuing education program for full-timers. He took advantage of it and got his MBA adding another marketable skill to the list.
Combine Stemberg’s advice with what my plasma physicist friend did and you can retire at a young age, in a warm climate and tell me your story.
P.S. Did you have a “real” job before becoming an entrepreneur or starting your business? Please tell me about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. Know someone new to the working world? Please share this with them.