A frequent question I get in the comments centers around how I got out of corporate America and became self-sufficient running my own small businesses. I wish I had some inspiring story about it but in truth it is something we sort of stumbled into through a little bit of dumb luck and fortuitous circumstances. That doesn’t make for a good book but perhaps what we learned along the way can help others to escape.
When we moved to Indiana I was working for one of the largest financial services firms in America with great benefits and the most toxic work culture I had seen. The backstabbing, posterior kissing, blame passing and ass covering would have put Stalin’s inner circle to shame. Changing jobs had always been a pressure relief valve for me. When frustration over the sheer stupidity of most workplaces threatened to overwhelm me, I would get a new job thinking that this job would be different. It never was. After a few years at that job my health began to break down in a dangerous way and I ended up leaving that job without a real plan as to where I would go afterward.
It was like a freefall with no parachute. My wife was a “stay at home” mom, known in simpler times simply as a “mom”. I had eight kids and a mortgage. My job skills were mostly customer service stuff but I was done with the corporate world so I needed to find something else to do. That is where the dumb luck/fortuitous circumstances came in.
Readers probably know by now that we live in the middle of one of the largest Amish communities or “settlements” in America. It is mostly in the rural region to the east and northeast of Fort Wayne in Indiana’s Allen County, although in the nearly dozen years we have lived here the growth in DeKalb County, Indiana has been explosive.
That is approximate of course, some people live north or west of that outline but the Allen County settlement is centered around the town of Grabill with a hard boundary to the East at the Ohio line and to the west with the city of Fort Wayne. The settlement is rapidly approaching 4,000 people and is growing by leaps and bounds, like I said mostly out toward where we live. When we moved here there were half a dozen families in DeKalb County. Now? There are 40 or 50, perhaps more, and most of the ground that has sold up here for the last 5+ years was purchased by Amish with an eye toward future growth. Many families are selling their homes in the heart of the community for huge bucks and moving to the quieter areas to the north and east of the historic settlement boundaries. The heart pin is a business I do work for and when the family moved there, everyone thought they lived so far away in the boonies but now they are considered fairly centrally located.
Yes, that is very lovely and all but what is my point? My point is that a bustling community of Amish has a lot going for it but they also have a lot of demand for services that they can’t for religious (more accurately cultural) reasons do for themselves. That is where I come in. The obvious one is driving them around and there are lots of people that do that, many for cash on the side. Lots of older retirees with time on their hands and lots of people drawing disability who get the cash off the books so they don’t mess up their disability payments. We don’t roll that way. When we decided to offer our services to the community, we formed an LLC and opened a business account at the bank. We run our payments through the bank and file a Schedule C to report our earnings on our taxes.
Our business has expanded beyond just “Uber but for Amish”. We provide a myriad of other services for the Amish and we do a great job so they are happy to pay us. We also figured out how to make the business work and be profitable, mainly by identifying good clients and bad clients. Good clients appreciate professionalism and punctuality and are willing to pay a premium. Bad clients try to get away with being cheap and they are left with the unreliable and weird because people like me won’t return their calls. When you work in corporate America, you mostly get the customers you get but when you work for yourself, being selective about your customer base is critical to quality of life and profitability.
Not everyone lives near an Amish community of course but there are a couple of basic principles that work no matter where you settle down.
There are two parts to this process, one on the supply side and the other on the demand side. This might seem a little backwards but stick with me.
On the supply side. Find something that is a need in your area, and this is important, it helps if others are already doing it but poorly. Because the demand for services in our area outstrips the supply of people willing to provide them, a lot of Amish settle for less than ideal providers. There are a bunch of flat out weird dudes that drive for Amish, guys who smoke and look like they should be in a penitentiary. There are a couple of registered sex offenders that I know of that are employed by Amish, in a community with lots of children. Lots of mestizos, some legal and many not, and that has led to some issues again because of the availability of children in the community. So when you get a married couple that are not felons, not chain-smokers or alcoholics, not going to molest your kids and show up when they say they will show up? That is golden. Be great at what you do, whatever it might be, and the money will follow.
Something else to consider. Is what you are doing relatively secure from economic ups and downs? Most Amish around here have a ton of money in the bank and they work in the trades or have factories doing mostly secure stuff like sawmills and pallet shops. They might cut back but they will need our services regardless. During the Covid lockdowns we were as busy as ever. In some settlements, like northern Indiana near Shipshewana and Goshen, a huge percentage of the Amish work for RV factories and those jobs are very prone to downturns which impacts the people who work for them. I like our area better.
You of course have to be selective where you do this, so you need to find a place with sufficient income to support whatever it is you do. Don’t set up in east Detroit and then wonder why the only work you can find is selling crack. Where you live will be critical on the other side as well, so you might not be able to just pack up your desk and leave your corporate wage-slave job and stay right were you are.
What about the demand side? By that I mean your own personal demands.
The most important thing I discovered in this process was that the demand for income for our family was the same no matter how much or how little I make. Some things are static, like our mortgage, but for the disposable income part there is a lot of latitude depending on how you prioritize. I often tell young men who whine that they can’t afford to have a stay at home wife and a large family that they can have those things, but they have to change their priorities. With a large family and a wife who was home, it meant that we often only had one car. If my wife needed to go somewhere during the day she would pack up the kids and take me to work so she could have the car. We were some of the last people I knew to get a cell phone and we had a single flip phone long after most people had smart phones.
Two terms you need to get familiar with if you are self-employed: “Making due” and “Good enough”. Life is different when you don’t have that direct deposit hitting your checking account every Friday. The more and smarter I work, the more I make, but even still there are ebbs and flows to our income. So we make do with stuff that is good enough. For example, the latch broke on our dishwasher a while back. It still washes just fine but doesn’t stay closed all the way, an obvious issue when you have an appliance that sprays hot water. Rather than replacing it, we just prop the door shut when we are washing dishes.
I don’t want to make it sound like we are impoverished, we actually have a higher standard of living and a better quality of life now. My FFL gig on the side pays for my gun habit and we have never been reliant on gun sales for regular expenses. I like buying guns and I didn’t want to make the family sacrifice for my gun habit so I figured out a way to make it happen without being a full time gig.
We pay all of our bills, set some money aside and are still able to splurge on relative luxuries like dining out or vacations or just buying random stuff. Even better we have very flexible work schedules in a lot of ways. While there are some fixed engagements each day, it is common for my wife and I to be back home for several hours in the morning and have breakfast together. We are in and out all day but I am home a lot and if I don’t feel like doing extra work, I don’t do it. I could easily be booked from 6 AM until 10 PM every day but that will kill you in a hurry and the work-life balance is one of the best parts of what we do, so we don’t kill ourselves to make a few more shekels.
Bottom line: One, find something you can do that is in demand and do it better than everyone else, the income will follow, and two learn to adjust your expenses so that you are not enslaved to your monthly bills.
How that looks for you will be different, depending on your age, where you live, your personal health and your skills and talents. It is amazing how much money is in circulation out there outside of the paycheck world, and if I can do it, so can you. It is mostly a matter of making the decision to make it happen and most critically setting aside all of the excuses you make as to why your personal situation doesn’t allow you to do this. Six months before leaving my corporate job I would have sworn that there was no way I could have ever been able to leave the corporate workforce but here we are living a pretty good life and doing so because of how hard and how well I work.
You can do it and you ought to at least consider it. It is always better to exit on your own terms then to find yourself out of work because your employer found out about the spicy memes you shared on your “anonymous” social media account.