Learn this lesson from Samson

“I am not rich but through this business but I was able to build a better home for my family and to educate my children”
Against All Odds

Simon changed his lifestyle through Self-Employment. 

Against All Odds: Introduction

Against All Odds: The Amazing Story of a farm hand who became as a Self-employed the sole-owner of his haulage company.

In recent years, South Africa has witnessed a growing trend towards self-employment as a career path of choice as more and more people endeavor to protect themselves against the vagaries of the economy and ensure their financial wellbeing. However, being self-employed engenders unique challenges and benefits to sole-proprietors. Through information derived from face-to-face interviews with self-employed people, this ‘article’ aims to highlight the motivations and experiences of self-employment in order to enable others aspiring to be self-employed to make informed decisions.

Having been born on a farm, Samson’s life appeared to have been pre-destined to be spent on the same farm where his parents had worked since their teenage years. As fate would have it, after completing his basic primary education and lacking alternative opportunities, Samson (now 55 years old) was employed as a farm-hand alongside his parents. He quickly rose through the ‘ranks’ to become a lorry driver, a position which not only enabled him to interact with other drivers during his errands but also aroused his interest in long-distance truck driving. In the intervening years, he trained as a haulage truck driver and worked for several companies. After almost two decades of working as long-distance haulage driver, Samson resigned from his job and established his haulage company which now consists of five trucks. What motivated Samson to make this huge transition from being a farm-hand to being a sole-haulage company proprietor and what have been his experiences?      

Against All Odds: Motivation and Purpose for being

self-employed

According to Samson, several push-pull factors influenced his decision to opt for self-employment as a career path. The most critical of these include:

Growing up on a farm under extreme poverty conditions instilled in Samson the desire to better his and his family’s economic well being. As he attested “… given my negative economic experiences as a child of farm laborers and as a farm employee myself, I always had this burning desire to break the circle of poverty which I was trapped in and to do that I had to make extra money doing small projects … also I did not want my children to endure the hardships that I had experienced.” Intrinsically therefore, job dissatisfaction played a critical role in motivating Samson to be self-employed in order to supplement his ‘meager’ wages and thus to improve his lifestyle. He was also motivated to be self-employed by the realization that the “pittance wages” paid out by most employers was insufficient to enable him to extricate himself from the poverty trap and guarantee long-term financial security for his family. In short, Samson opted for self-employment as a career path in order to earn more money and banish the sad poverty-stricken memories of his childhood upbringing and early adult life as well as to ‘free’ his family from the vagaries of poverty by laying a solid financial foundation.
Equally important, Samson derived his motivation to be self-employed from his desire to prove his capabilities as an entrepreneur and earn social recognition (prestige). Indeed, “the idea that a black man let alone an uneducated son of a poor farm labourer could be a successful entreprenuer was alien to many people even among my own family… but I always firmly believed that anything is possible as long as one is dedicated to turn their dreams into reality.” Apparently therefore Samson ventured into business to actualize his dreams as well as to prove those around him that with discipline and dedication and regardless of personal circumstances anyone could to break the proverbial ceiling and succeed as an entrepreneur.
Although his early experiences were characterized by palpable hardships, Samson contends that working for sole-proprietors as a farm labourer and haulage driver also provided him with invaluable business lessons and experience which prepared and eventually encouraged him to be self-employed: “In the absence of familial entrepreneurial activity to learn from, I only derived positive perceptions of self-employment from observing how my employers conducted their businesses including their work ethics and dedication and how they coopted their children into their businesses…so over time I became convinced that if they can do it so can I.” In other words, (indirect) exposure to business activity stimulated Samson’s interest in running his own business projects not only because it expunged his fears about being self-employed but also because it practically encouraged him to, in his own words, “try it out on my own as they did and create employment opportunities for my family”. It can therefore be argued that the desire “to be like my employers” is a critical push factor for people aspiring to be self-employed.
The invaluable lessons and experiences that Samson gained from working for other people were also negatively tinted with severe hardships and exploitation that he invariably endured throughout his conventional working life. He alleges that he not only endured dictatorial ‘master-servant relationships’ with most of his employers but also watched in awe as his employers enjoyed opulent life-styles while employees struggled to survive: “when I resigned from the farm and joined the haulage companies I thought grueling hard work characterized by long working hours and low wages would be a thing of the past but I was wrong. As a truck driver I worked long hours, often spending weeks away from my family but the wages remained very poor… I soon realized that employers were only interested in making money for themselves and cared little for the welfare of their employees and families. This convinced me that I could be better off working for myself.” Clearly therefore, job dissatisfaction – an issue that largely emanates from the employers’ failure to adequately value their employees – played a critical role in motivating Samson to become self-employed in a bid to gain control of and regulate his working life and income.   

From the aforesaid it is therefore clear that “while important, money is not the only factor for self-employment”. Rather the motivation and purpose of becoming self-employed has to do with lifestyle and personal development issues: the desire to realize one’s capabilities and create sustainable livelihoods; the ability to gain control of and regulate one’s working life and the ability to and satisfaction of making, implementing and taking responsibility of life-changing decisions.  

Against All Odds

Differences Between Being Self-Employed and

Working for a Boss

Samson contends that since establishing his haulage company, he has not only learnt invaluable lessons on how to run a sole-proprietor enterprise but has also come to appreciate the apparent differences between being self-employed and being an employee. According to him, key differences between the two endevours include

Being self-employed has guaranteed me job security

“because I do not have a boss who can dismiss me at any time for any reason”
A critical difference between being self-employed and working for a boss relates to the severance of the ‘master-servant relationship’ between the employer and employee. As Samson attested, being self-employed has empowered him to formulate developmental initiatives for his company and to decide when and how to implement them without reporting to a boss. Furthermore, unlike his limited duties as an employee where he only focused on assigned tasks, being self-employed has given Samson the right to actively pay attention to and control everything pertaining to the growth and development of his company. All in all, being self-employed has empowered Samson to independently do whatever is logically necessary for the success of the company and, by extension, personal development.
Within a conventional company, employees’ working conditions such as, inter alia, working hours and wages, are strictly regulated by specific national and company rules. However, while acknowledging the importance of setting and adhering to rules, Samson contends that being self-employed gives him greater latitude and flexibility in implementing regulations in-line with current business trends. For instance, his working hours are flexible and as such, often report for work as and when loads become available. Furthermore, unlike conventional companies which pay hourly-based overtime allowances, Samson say “I pay my drivers load-based overtime allowances (no-load-no-allowance) and when business is low, I reorganize the working hours to prevent drivers from claiming overtime while sitting idle…so by using these strategies I manage to balance my income flows and protect myself from unpredictable business fluctuations”. Thus, the high degree of flexibility with regards to working conditions gives Samson and his employees greater job satisfaction.
Whereas conventional businesses are owned by and therefore have to distribute their profits among many shareholders, self-employed people invariably return the profit from their investment. Thus, despite unpredictable income streams (see below), on average self-employed people earn more employed individuals. As such, self-employment is more rewarding and fulfilling.  
An equally important difference between self-employment and being an employee relates to job security. Although employees of conventional companies are protected from ‘wanton’ dismals from work by a myriad of national laws, Samson contends that security of work is not always guaranteed and as such, the fear of being dismissed at any time is always latent in the minds of many employees: “…most companies that I worked for have many laws which have to be strictly adhered to but its impossible for any normal person to do this so I always feared that I could be dismissed for unintentionally contravening a rule…” On the other hand, Samson adds that being self-employed has guaranteed his job security “because I do not have a boss who can dismiss me at any time for any reason”.    
Samson also contends that whereas being self-employed creates avenues for innovation and thus personal growth and development, working for a boss entails strictly undertaking specific roles, with clearly defined duties and responsibilities which offers little room for personal innovation, personal growth and development.

 

Against All Odds: Challenges and Solutions of being Self-employment

Self-employed people face numerous challenges in their quest to sustainable grow their business enterprises. As such, self-employed people must always be innovative to mitigate the effects of challenges.  

The dearth of business skills is a critical challenge which most self-employed people have to contend with. As Samson rightly observed, “…I only received basic primary education and I never had any formal business training. So I have been conducting my business through trial and error as well as from the assistance I get from my peers”. With poor education and business training, Samson argues that he faces major challenges in, for example, marketing his enterprise, signing contracts, doing his accounts and integrating new technologies and systems into his enterprise. To mitigate these challenges, Samson says he has to depend on the good-will of other people for assistance and / or the use of consultants, the latter which however erodes his profits. Furthermore, he also attends business meetings, conferences and workshops for training
Samson also alleges that most financial institutions are reticent to lend him money to grow his business since they regard him as a high candidate because he does not have adequate collateral security; a running contract with clients for his services and has unpredictable earnings. Lack of financial support has therefore hindered the growth potential of his business. In light of this and as part solution, Samson says he saves his earnings diligently (directly with the bank and by participating in a cooperative group which lends money to members on a round-robin basis) and uses such savings to recapitalize his business.    
The haulage industry is highly seasonal and competitive. For instance, customers are easily lost to bigger competitors who reduce haulage rates because they benefit from economies of scale. Samson argues that, “as a small entrepreneur, I am forced to operate as a sub-contractor because I cannot access enough work on my own”. While sub-contracting is an innovative operational strategy which protects small sole-proprietor enterprises against competition, it also has its challenges. As Samson has experienced, “some agents give us very low rates and often pay us very late. Because of this I am often forced to borrow in order to pay employees while waiting to be paid”. Furthermore, they also operate on a no-work-pay basis. In short, self-employed people have small workloads and unpredictable income streams, all of which hinders business growth.
Negative public perceptions and attitudes constitute one of the greatest challenges for the self-employed. According to Samson, “when I started out I had to contend with some of my family members who never believed that I would succeed, but rather believed that I was wasting my life when I resigned from formal work… now as an entrepreneur I also struggle to convince customers and financial institutions that my business is viable…” However, Samson contends that to ‘overcome’ these challenges, self-employed people must not only be resilient, innovative and offer professional services to the best of their ability but must always remind themselves of their original goals when they set up their business because “… doing so helps me to keep soldiering on”.   
Against All Odds

Conclusion

Self-employment is a growing trend in South Africa. But as Samson rightly argues, not only is self-employment highly challenging and risk but also the motive for opting to being self-employed must not only be to make money for its own sake but rather to promote personal development, ensure long-term financial security and, by extension, changing one’s lifestyle. Indeed, as Samson has experienced, he is “not rich but through this business I was able to build a better home for my family and to educate my children”.  Against All Odds. He could dream, believe achieve his goals in life.

Against All Odds: Quotes

  • “Life isn’t about finding yourself, its about creating yourself”
  • “I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me, I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win”. Arnold Palmer
  • “Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds”.Orison Swett Marden
  • “Think of success as a game of chance in which you have control over the odds. As you begin to master concepts in personal achievement, you are increasing your odds of achieving success”. Bo Bennett