Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, I saw the world through a self-employed lens. My grandfather sold and repaired typewriters, a business he started in downtown Chicago in 1951, a time that must have been most colorful. My family settled in Milwaukee, where my father became the largest independent distributor of office equipment in the Midwest.
Grandpa Irv, right, stands outside Irv’s Office Equipment in Chicago in 1951. (Courtesy of Jennifer Lynne)
Small Business Week
Each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration designates the first week in May as National Small Business Week. Self-employment has many advantages when dealing with chronic medical issues, such as hemophilia or von Willebrand disease, or when providing care to an elderly mother. I have always felt an affinity for self-employment. I’d imagine it’s the same as medicine to a doctor’s child or education to a teacher’s child.
In my junior year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I set myself up with some highly desired internships. One was at The Wall Street Journal. Upon graduation, I had multiple offers, but I chose self-employment.
Through my business, I help nonprofits and small businesses create and execute digital marketing programs, including websites and social media. I love both the technical and creative sides of a project, and I am good at what I do. The clients I adore.
The hospital room office
2006 was a horrible medical year for me and nearly cost me my business. Keeping my business afloat during a frustrating three-week hospitalization was almost impossible without hospital Wi-Fi or a reliable cellphone. (I’m looking at you, Blackberry and Nextel, circa 2006.) I remember taking a call from my biggest client and trying not to lose the sale while being carted off for surgery.
Thankfully, technology has come a long way since then. 2019 was also a horrible medical year for me. Seven hospitalizations and three surgeries left me depressed and pissed off most of the year. The sixth floor at Tampa General Hospital became my second home. There is little doubt in my mind that a traditional employer would have said adiós and fired me. However, I can’t fire myself, so this part of my story ends well.
I discovered it is possible to run my small business from a hospital room, so long as the hospital room has Wi-Fi. My clients had no idea I was hospitalized so many times that year.
An IV machine, which gives medicines or fluids through a needle or tube inserted into a vein, was my frequent companion. I learned to type with an IV in one arm but realized it’s challenging to use a computer with an IV in both arms. Movement causes the IV machine to beep, which invites death stares from the nurses — not good when confined to a hospital bed. I successfully kept up with emails and texts by using my iPhone and iPad.
Be ready for a challenge
I was working remotely long before COVID-19. My schedule affords me the utmost flexibility. I’d imagine I’d look pretty stupid with my foot elevated with an ice pack in a traditional office. Need to sit at my desk and ice my knee at home? Not a problem.
There are drawbacks, indeed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end …….