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Self-employed of the world - unite!

Published on Thursday, 29 Mar 2012
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: Self-Made Me
Author: Geoff Burch
Publisher: Capstone

Shocking statistical warning: By some estimates, more than 20 million jobs disappeared in the developed world during the global financial crisis and its aftermath. Job-hunters the world over are now facing up to the grimly inevitable realisation that “employment” might be on its way to becoming an obsolete economic term.

Author Geoff Burch posits that more and more of us will have to turn to self-employment to earn a living income. And he’s probably right.

The first impression of his sixth book is positive. Its cover, inspired by the Socialist Realism art-poster genre that was ubiquitous in the Soviet Union and in Mao’s China,   promises boldly provocative reading.

Unfortunately, it fails to deliver. Much of Self-Made Me consists of truisms, aphorisms, and statements of the painfully obviously. Burch is fond of metaphors, and this book is bursting with them: workers pedalling on a single giant bicycle, beehive factories, companies as steam engines, the self-employed as guerillas. 

Burch is a British business guru who has written a number of fairly successful titles, including Resistance Is Useless, Go It Alone, Writing On The Wall, and The Way of the Dog.

He is also the star of the modestly successful BBC TV show, All Over The Shop, which is an instructive series for small businesses. Burch is quite the raconteur, although he’s one of those guys who thinks that adopting a shrill-old-grandma accent makes his “gags” funnier. In other words, he can be annoying in large doses.

But some serious business wisdom lies beneath his wise-guy persona. And Burch is in demand in the  public-speaking circuit, on a vast range of business topics. Whatever you think of his shtick, he is a consummate self-made success story himself.

Self-Made Me is not the definitive book on self-employment, but it has its moments. And, I dare say, if you are setting out into the working world and intending to work for yourself from day one, it will be hugely useful in helping you see what you’ll be up against.

One really excellent aspect of Self-Made Me is that each chapter is summarised by a bullet-list of “points to ponder”. Of the dozen points at the end of the first chapter, three are really worth remembering if you are playing the self-employment game.

First, “customers want outcomes not process – they want to know we can do it not how we do it.” In short, deliver the goods, and don’t wail on about how hard it was making them.

Burch says “success will depend on broadening your skill base and flexibility.” Who can argue with that?
And he states that “to survive, you need to budget for wild fluctuations in income” – a point that cannot be overemphasised for the prospective go-it-aloner.

By the 12th chapter – “The Fame Game” – we get gems such as “don’t be afraid to put your own name to the enterprise”, and “have the courage to guarantee what you do”.

There’s a lot packed in here, and it’s clear that Burch is passionate about individual endeavour. If you can groan your way through stuff you’ve heard before, then you’ll still find plenty to ponder in this clever little book.

In Self-Made Me, Burch has delivered an easy-to-read primer on how to escape that world of quiet desperation called employment.

So, if you don’t want wilfully unfair appraisals, office politics, rictus smiles, colleagues acting dumb when you know they know you’re just about to be fired – and all the other penitential realities of the modern workplace – then there is an alternative.

Moreover, it’s a choice that over 8 per cent of working-age Hongkongers have made. Actually, for famously entrepreneurial city, that’s a surprisingly small percentage, lower even than that for risk-averse Singapore. In South Korea, the figure is close to a quarter of the entire working population. And in Burch’s Britain, the figure is almost 14 per cent, meaning there are over four million self-employed Britons. That’s a lot of people with control over their lives and careers. But if self-employment is not for you, freedom will remain fleeting. 

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