The Self-Employed Aspie

This is the first in a 4-part series on self-employment for people on the autism spectrum

Part 1: The Self-Employed Aspie

The majority of people with Asperger’s are either unemployed or underemployed. For an adult aspie, this is a scary statistic. It’s easy to hear it and feel like the deck is stacked against you.

In some ways it is. A job interview is heavily weighted in favor of social skills. Employees are generally expected to be team players. Often, getting ahead in the workplace is as much a matter of who you know as what you know. All jobs have rules, both written and unwritten, and employees are expected to follow them.

So much of what happens in a workplace is second nature to neurotypicals and a complete mystery to the average aspie.

Or at least I assume it is. My last workplace was a McDonald’s. I was eighteen.The expectations were low. As long as you didn’t steal from your register or hold the place up at gunpoint they didn’t fire you. I’m not exaggerating. Those were the only two things people were fired for in the year that I worked there.

So if you’re looking for advice about getting or keeping a traditional job–with or without Asperger’s–I can’t help you.

But if you’re curious about being self-employed, I have a lot of experience. I’ve been the owner or co-owner of a business since I was 19. I lucked into the first business–it was something my husband started around the time we got married. It made sense for me to help him out rather than going out and getting a job. 

I had few marketable skills. Bagging groceries and manning a drive thru do little to prepare you for the working world, and a high school diploma isn’t exactly a door opener. Especially when you have a newborn baby to care for and can’t afford daycare.

Fortunately, what I did have was a decent amount of common sense, a lot of energy and a knack for teaching myself new things. I checked out some “how-to” business books from the library and learned how to do the things that I felt I could do reasonably well: keeping the books, filing the tax paperwork, setting up a computer database, making newspaper ads, tracking receivables, coming up with promotional ideas.

There was a fair amount of trial and error, but there always is in running a business. Contrary to what business schools would have you believe, very little about running a business is set in stone.

As beautiful as this desk is, I recommend a slightly more modern set-up for your home office.
As beautiful as this desk is, I recommend a slightly more modern set-up for your home office.

The Perfect Job for an Aspie?

I’ve noticed that whenever I mention being self-employed in the ASD community, other aspies have questions. How did I manage to start my own business? Do I like it? Do I recommend it?

Well . . . mostly by accident, yes, and maybe.

Like I said before, I married into the first business. The second one, the one that I started about four years later and still run today, was initially a hobby that grew into a way of making a living over the course of a few years. Both businesses involved long-time special interests.

I love having my own business. I’m also ill-suited for employment.

I like to do things my own way. I like working alone. I don’t take direction well. I have no idea how to dress for working in an office. I don’t understand office politics or schmoozing the boss. I think a lot of social conventions are superfluous and refuse to play along. I can’t stand explaining myself and have no patience for supervising others.

I thrive under pressure and have a high tolerance for risk. I’m intrinsically motivated. I have a lot of self-discipline. I love the freedom of hatching an idea and implementing it without needing to get anyone else’s approval first. In most workplaces, I would make a bad employee and an even worse boss.

But I make a great business owner.

Being self-employed is my ideal work situation but that doesn’t mean it’s an ideal situation for aspies in general. At first glance, it would seem to be. All the things I like about being my own boss are closely related to my autistic nature. Very few people enjoy spending eight or ten hours a day working alone. Few people enjoy eating, sleeping and breathing their work–which is a necessity if you have your own business, and a treat if you happen to be an aspie who has turned a special interest into a job.

Because I think most self-employed aspies will naturally gravitate toward starting a business or freelancing in a niche that involves a special interest, I’m going to approach the rest of this series from that premise. A special interest is perhaps the aspie’s biggest secret weapon when it comes to being self-employed.

Think about which of these business owners is more likely to be successful: the person who loves woodworking and learns how to run a business to sell her custom-made benches or the person who wants to start a business and decides to learn how to make benches?

——–

Part 2: The Challenges of Being a Self-Employed Aspie

69 thoughts on “The Self-Employed Aspie”

  1. I would love to be self-employed but my biggest stumbling block is acquisition. How do you get new customers? How do you sell them on the idea of doing business with you? Or will you touch on that in a future post?

    1. I think that’s a really industry-specific question but I do talk about generally in a later post in the series.

      The short, obvious answer is be good at what you do (which I think people on the spectrum can excel at. Who knows more than we do about our special interests?!). The trick at first is finding the people who need what you sell or do and letting them know about you. When I first started out, I devoured the “Guerrilla Marketing” book series (which is probably ancient history by now, but there must be something similar or a revised set of books). It was all about free or really cheap ways to promote yourself and I learned a ton about marketing on a shoestring from it.

      I’m happy to throw out more specific ideas if you can reveal something about what area/field you’re in.

      1. I’m good at website stuff. I know some HTML and some css and some design and some usability and some php. But more where I can fix mistakes (good problem solving and analysis) than build from scratch. And that’s where I kept getting stuck because most people look for a freelancer to build them a website, not do maintenance on it (until it’s too late and then everything breaks down and they get into a shouting match with the person who built it).

        There’s why I’m actually starting to think more in the direction of mediation. Like marriage counselling, but between programmers and customers. Because things so often seem to go wrong where neither of the parties understands what the other is talking about. And I’m impartial and honest and I speak both languages.

        I just don’t know if there’s any money in that. Because usually the arguments are about money to begin with.

        1. It sounds like you’d be a consultant who could troubleshoot things for people who know what they want in a website but don’t necessarily want to get bogged down in communicating every little detail. I once had an ecommerce application built from scratch and dealing with the programmers was tough at times. I had ideas about what I wanted and they were very competent, but it sometimes felt like we spoke two different languages and it took a lot of trial and error to get exactly what I had in mind. So yes, having a go-between would have been helpful though I don’t think I would have thought to hire one at the start because I didn’t foresee the communication issues that would arise.

          Another thought: what about doing customization of off the shelf websites (wordpress, shopping carts, etc)? Most of the off the shelf sites are hard to make look nice, especially for beginners who want to get up and running quickly without spending a lot of time learning CSS, etc. You wouldn’t have to build from scratch and I think there’s a large market for that type of design/programming work.

          1. I really agree with this. We have a lot of off-the-shelf applications that are easy to use to build things like websites. Most of these are easy enough that anyone can do it. The challenge is often that the folks who need the sites ate often too busy to take time away to use these tools. Their time really is still better invested in their business.

            I’ve had some good luck providing this intermediary service locally and would recommend exploring it too.

  2. Thanks for this. In beginning to put into action the idea in your last post, I realized I want to sell my work. So. 🙂 Looking forward to what else you say about this; especially the risk part. In reference to your last paragraph, I am the person who has the hobby – lifelong special interest, but is and always has been unsure how to ‘do the business part’ even though I’ve been told many times over the decades that what I make is sellable and desirable.

    1. Oh, how cool! Having people say that you’ve got a desirable product is a great sign. I know nothing about marketing for artists but I have a bunch of ideas in a later post for starting small and minimizing the initial risk/investment as you test the waters. The business side isn’t that hard. It’s mostly a huge amount of work once you figure out the basics.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience! As a therapist working with adults on the autism spectrum, I’d love to see more and more of them go into business for themselves. What has been your experience around the executive functioning aspects of your business? I’ve heard other adults on the spectrum state that organization and making decisions is the hardest part of working, whether in their own business, or for an employer.

    1. The psychologist who diagnosed me asked the exact same question! 🙂 I’m a super-organizer when it comes to work and I have a big bag of tricks that I rely to keep myself on track. A later part of this series talks a lot about EF and how I’ve organized my work style to accommodate the challenges I’ve run up against (and some other possible solutions). It also has a big giant cautionary warning that EF can be a huge pitfall and that’s something that needs to be addressed out of the gate or you’re headed for disaster.

      1. I’m looking forward to reading that! (excellent question) And thank you so much Cynthia for taking this topic up, it is very relevant especially since you have your good personal self-employment experience to share.

        EF – Especially getting started on tasks in time and staying motivated – is probably my biggest problem with work now, due to other issues having improved.

        I’m employed, but my job is so independent that it is almost like being self-employed (I’m open for freelance work too). – based at home, drive out in my own car, organise my own work schedule et.c. Almost… it is easier than self-employment due to all the structure and scripts being in place already, which helps with EF. But not always enough to get things done in a perfectly timely manner.

        1. The way you’ve described your job in the past has made me think it’s more like freelancing than being an employee because you have so much latitude in executing the required tasks.

          I bet we mentally approach things very similarly. I could literally do anything I wanted all day long (like answering comments!) but I’m pretty strict about having a daily routine, setting schedules and deadlines and generally working like a have a boss to answer to.

          1. I bet we mentally approach things very similarly. I could literally do anything I wanted all day long (like answering comments!) but I’m pretty strict about having a daily routine, setting schedules and deadlines and generally working like a have a boss to answer to.

            I think so too:-)

            I struggle every day to keep myself from get constantly absorbed in things I want to do, and stick to my daily routines for trying to be externally productive (I mean: earn money or do rewarded work for others in some other way)… Set schedules and deadlines and remember that I do have a boss:-) In my job, I’m probably more organised than most of my colleagues in my work procedures. I use visual laminated checklists and rules for everything et.c., and it helps. With everything else, I need to be much much better at it… probably more strict & organised like you!

            I am really glad that you are taking up this topic. I have been thinking to turn my blog more back on the original track of trying to solve my employment (/self-employment) problem… It motivated me to think better about it when I wrote about it.

            The way you’ve described your job in the past has made me think it’s more like freelancing than being an employee because you have so much latitude in executing the required tasks.

            Yes… I do report to my boss once every week via phone or email, though. And I meet with her and my colleagues 4 times every year. But I do have a very great latitude in daily decision making and execution. That is in the nature of the job, and my boss also trusts me.

            1. I have lots of checklists and visual cues. I also have a magnet board for stuff that doesn’t have a deadline but needs to be on my radar and a stack of notes with tasks (nonurgent, long-term stuff) that I can do when I feel like I have nothing to do.

              I hope you do write more about employment. It’s definitely a challenging topic for many of us and I’d love to see your thoughts about it.

            2. I email myself deadlines and when I had a cellphone, I’d set alarms to remind me of stuff.

              I shop for furniture and suchlike that does my organizing for me and scan/photograph/save/etc everything so I can get and keep electronic copies of everything, since I find it much easier to organize my computer than hardcopies of stuff (you don’t have to remember to refile an electronic document!).

              Then, I file away the hardcopies and if I need to look anything up, I strictly use my electronic copy. That way, I have the hardcopy if and only if I have to produce the original version of something.

              I also keep master lists of everything: For my PhD project when I start, I plan on keeping an spreadsheet directory of everything organized by topic, author, date, etc, so that if I need to look something up, I don’t have to guess at my filenames, and that way I can just adopt a filename system that will go SurnameInitials_#, so I can keep everything even better organized (I had an organized file system for my MSc, but didn’t think about a master directory until it was a bit late to implement it – I already had several thousand papers, abstracts, experimental records, and personal reports, so cataloging everything would’ve been an overwhelming job.

              1. I live and die by my lists. I keep telling myself that I’m going to covert all of my hardcopies to digital but it’s still a fantasy right now. Some day.

                Your PhD organizational project sounds like a great idea. I know when my husband did his PhD, the amount of information was just overwhelming.

            3. It sounds like a good system.

              My virtual desk top is also very well organised… general household not so much. When I need to find a paper copy of something, then I find it quite frustrating when I remember that I can’t just do a keyword search on its name!

              ischemgeek, just because I’m curious, and I don’t hope you mind me asking: what subject area is your PhD in?

            4. Electronic copy is a matter of necessity. Having my stuff stay neat in meatspace, I think, is one of those brain-cannot-do things for me. I’ve tried damn near every strategy out there, and none of them work for me. My desk’s piles grow like cancerous tumors and I never seem to get around to cleaning it. When my desk is full, it metastasizes elsewhere rather than prompting me to clean. My desk mess can – and has – taken over entire rooms in the past, and no strategy I’ve tried has even slowed the growth. In my life, I’ve learned that when I realize that what I thought was a speed bump is instead a sheer cliff face on the side of a mountain and there’s no way I’m climbing that thing, it’s time to think of ways to go around it since going through/over the obstacle is going to be more effort than it’s worth.

              My “going around” this issue is using electronic copies of everything I can make an electronic copy of in my work. 🙂

            5. @ Cynthia, thanks! I have just read through the “Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook”, which is sort of an instruction manual for writing an analytical employment autobiography and using it as a catalyst for improving one’s employment outlook… I’m planning to use the blog to carry out the instructions chapter by chapter and then write a review in the end.

              When I say planning, I mean that I have actually bought the required office tools (the instructions are very much down-to-details) but getting started is a bit of a hurdle, and there are some other things I want off my chest first, but I will definitely start within the next month or two… is the idea.

              1. Oh, I’m excited for that series! When you do it, I’ll link to your posts from my self-employment master post (which will be up by then). I have zero ideas about how successfully being employed by someone else works (outside of fast food work) so it will be good to have a thorough resource to link to. Look, incentive! 🙂

                1. Thanks!

                  I don’t have much idea about successful employment either… (apart from my current part time job, which goes fine). I have had many short jobs but not successfully. However, the book emphasises that mistakes are opportunities to learn.

                2. Honestly, I admire anyone how has and keeps a job of any sort. In my book, that’s successful. But yes, mistakes are opportunities to figure out where things went wrong.

            6. @ ischemgeek, I like your metaphors and strategy!

              when I realize that what I thought was a speed bump is instead a sheer cliff face on the side of a mountain and there’s no way I’m climbing that thing, it’s time to think of ways to go around it since going through/over the obstacle is going to be more effort than it’s worth.

              Right! and that applies to a lot of thinks.

              I can relate to piles growing like cancerous tumours and then metastasing out from there! and I am not even doing a PhD. My husband is… He has a separate office with 2 big desks (and plenty of shelf space) for his PhD work, so he can work on it un-distracted by the cancerous piles on his work desk in our big shared office.

            7. It will be in chemical engineering. I can’t talk about specifics because I don’t want my project idea to get scooped, but generally: I’ll be working on applications for what are normally considered bad hydrogen storage materials – in the race to develop higher-capacity systems, what a lot of people forgot is that the older systems have much better kinetics than the new stuff, which means they’re useful for applications that don’t require mobility. I’m going to develop a couple new applications for them.

            8. Interesting! Albeit a bit out of my experience range, so I don’t think my imagination of it reflects reality much!

              I can’t talk about specifics because I don’t want my project idea to get scooped

              Actually I just meant the general subject area (chemical engineering), so your reply was much more specific than expected:-) and more interesting.

  4. I ran my own business as a teenager before my first “job-job” at 17, which I got because I mistakenly thought having a “real job” looked better than running a business for schools. I don’t regret switching away from running the business because while it gave me a lot of good experience and skills (including teaching me that I don’t want to be a pastry chef), having a “real job” also gave me good experience (including teaching me that I never want to work fast food again because not only am I spectacularly incompetent at drive-thru, the environment is no fun to deal with and my employers were abusive).

      1. Bakery more than catering. That way I could work on my own schedule (involved a lot of adopting a nocturnal schedule because no A/C and also the whole teenage *hisses at sunlight* thing – which I never really got over but learned how to better tolerate. I’d still be much happier if I could work nocturnally – I’ve had nightshift jobs in the past and always found they suited my body’s internal clock perfectly), plus I didn’t have to deal with others as much. I made pretty good money at it, for a teenager having a strictly seasonal job – my best year, I cleared $6500 in profit in two months of work, and employed two other kids from my community part-time.

        But I didn’t – and don’t – have the artistry to go full-time, lifelong pro with it. I can make freaking delicious baked goods, and I can make them consistently, but I can’t make them look pretty. I just don’t have the knack for it.

        1. That’s a terrific summer business!

          I was watching a seminar video just last night in which the presenter said that there are only a few things we can specialize in and even fewer we can make money at. But she also pointed out that the things we can’t or don’t want to make money at, we can still do well for fun, which sounds like how you approach baking now.

  5. I feel strongly that self-employment should be a viable option for Aspies, so I’m excited that you’re doing a series on it. I can’t wait to read the rest.

    1. Cool! I wasn’t sure how these posts would be received so I’m excited that people are interested. Also, I’ve just realized that running a business is probably one of my special interests and I’m going to need to keep my comment replies in check or they’ll turn into huge rambles.

  6. I am totally at sea regarding the first thing I need to do to get more people interested in my product [audio restoration of degraded sound files]. I’ve worked on it for 2+ decades and can count the number of paying customers on the fingers of my hand but with digits left over. 😦

    1. That sounds like a very specialized field. The first question I would ask is “why would someone need a degraded sound file restored?” Is your potential customer an individual audiophile, a private detective, a law enforcement agency, a recording studio/producer? I’m totally guessing here because I have no idea. Heck, maybe I need your product and just don’t know it yet.

      Once you know who would pay you money for your product (essential information – if no one will pay for it, it’s not really a product!) the next question is how do you find these people and let them know that you can solve their problem?

      Since a few people have shown an interest, you could start by thinking about who they were, what kind of problem they had that you were able to solve and how you found them (or they found you).

      I’m just throwing stuff out there to see if anything strikes a chord with you . . .

      1. thank you for you kind and germaine reply 🙂 so let’s see…. the first job was given me by a record store owner, he had a treasured old 45 rpm recording that had seen better days [it looked like it had been stomped on by jackboots], I cleaned it up [both physically and electronically] as best I could [this was before I got my digital equipment, using just analog boxes] and put the results on a cassette [this was back in 1990 before CDRs were available] and he paid me back with a choice of record in his shop. then about 10 years later [!] a ROTC colonel had a worn old audio cassette of the reminiscences of his great grandfather who had been a doughboy in world war I, it was an aural record of a WW1 vet’s experiences in the great war, and as part of a university scholastic project he wanted the voice of his great grand papa restored to audibility [the cassette had deteriorated greatly, with just mumbling audible on it] and I worked on it for several weeks [!] and was able to bring the fella’s voice back out of the noise and murk, and for that I was paid $300. fast forward 3 years, another record store owner had me apply my treatment [and put the results on a CDR] of some of his favorite old recordings, for which I was paid in kind [with some audio equipment that he had that I needed]. not much for 20+ years of work, is it?

        1. I’m going to ramble some more because this is a great question and one that I think other people who are too shy to ask questions may have. You have a highly specialized skill, which makes it hard to find customers because not a whole lot of people need what you can do. BUT there’s a good chance that a) the people who need it, really need it and b) not too many people are doing what you do (for similar jobs, think crime scene clean up or hard disk date recovery). People who need this kind of service tend to be less price-sensitive. It looks like for two of the three jobs you had, people saw enough value in your work to pay you in the hundreds of dollars (whether with case or merchandise). That means, if you can connect with the who really need your service, you can charge them an above average price.

          I’m not sure if that appeals to you but it’s a possibility. My brain is zinging with all kinds of ideas of how to find the people who would use your service but I’m going to stop now unless you ask me to keep going. 🙂

          /infodump

          1. thank you 🙂 you are quite welcome to “keep going” as I need all the neural assistance I can get on this and other matters. two or more heads are definitely better than one! speaking of “connection” – that one word has been my bugaboo my whole life long. I simply cannot connect with people. :i now that I am in my 5th decade of taking up space on earth, it is probably too late to fix.

              1. thank you Ine 🙂 but If it weren’t for a very sweet lady who swept ME off my feet a few months back, I would still be a lone hermit out in the woods living in a tin can. my problem is that I reside “in the uncanny valley” where all the folks lacking fluency in body language and verbal nuance, live. I don’t do subtlety, so that means I am penalized in terms of relating to just about everybody. that has cost me business and companionship for the 5+ decades of my life.

            1. Yes, the connection part can be a challenge. I’ve always suspected that I might be more successful if I was better at the people skills part of business, but I’ve muddled along okay doing what I can do (and trying not to beat myself up too much over the rest).

              It seems like you’re more comfortable with online communication than face-to-face so my suggestion would be to see if there’s away to offer your services online. I assume it would be fairly easy for people to ship you the item they want you to extract audio from? Maybe you could find people who need your services via things like getting involved in audiophile forums (which you might already be doing, being seen as an expert in a community is a great way to “soft” market a service) or posting classified ads in relevant places. Actually, I’m starting to drift into stuff that I’m going to cover in a later post . . .

              1. thank you 🙂 the first few jobs were from my dealings with record store owners whom I helped in the past with other things [and bought mucho product off of], one client was the wife of a nurse I worked with in the hospital I used to work in, one was a wrongplanet.net member who responded to one of my posts advertising my services in passing while discussing something else. that is the extent of my “professional” success and my ability to network/socialize/entreprenurialize [a made up word].

  7. My son is a 7yr old Aspie and is such an amazing and clever child! I have high hopes for him, I know he will be capable of a lot of things but obviously in the world of work social skills are huge! It is so interesting to read your blog! Thank you for writing it! 🙂

  8. This is very interesting, thank you!
    Although I am not an Aspie (at least, not diagnosed), I do have a lot of the same things as my Aspie fiancé on work-level; I too can have planning-problems, some social problems (mostly because of a speaking-disability, but still) etc. And I am starting my own business. So I will follow your next couple of blogs with much interest!

    1. I’m glad you found your way here! Hopefully you’ll find some helpful tips in the rest of the series. I’m not the most verbal person so I have a lot of work arounds for dealing with that and it’s worked out pretty well. You can’t avoid all social contact as a business owner, but things like scripting and choosing alternative communication methods when possible go a long way toward making life easier and more pleasant.

  9. But…in addition to being good at whatever your business is, you also have to be a salesperson, getting people to want/buy your product/service. Doesn’t that part require lots of schmoozing and social skills?

    1. Speaking from my experience: Good word-of-mouth does a lot of your selling for you, so if you do a good job and make a habit of good customer service, it’ll do a lot of the work for you. Also, you can script sales stuff to a large extent. Selling your stuff isn’t nearly as hard as, say, smalltalk at the bus stop with a random stranger because 1, your conversation is largely confined to a topic that you’re interested in; 2, your conversation is structured around points you want to make, and 3, the conversation itself has a readily-apparent purpose and endpoint. My selling stuff conversation flow chart isn’t nearly as complicated as my smalltalk flow chart.

      Finally, in the Internet age, a lot of your conversation and correspondence can be done by email, eliminating the need for social chitchat for a lot of things.

    2. I talk about this in more detail in another part of the series, but all of what ischemgeek says above is true. For example, I would never go into a business that required me to make presentations to large groups all day long to get customers. Same for something that required going on sales calls all day or spending all day on the phone. I did okay with a service business that required me to talk with people to enroll them in classes and to teach, but it was an area that I loved so it was easy for me to “sell” them on the benefits. There are also a lot of businesses where you can do all of your selling activities in text based format, for example an online store that you promote by being a part of specialist forums and doing social media promotions.

      One of the main points of this series is how to structure a business to minimize the challenges we face (social, organizational) and capitalize on our strengths (expertise, passion, deep knowledge, perseverance).

  10. This is a great article as always! Thank you! I’ve been part-time self-employed and really loved the autonomy. Unfortunately though, some of us don’t have salable obsessions . . . and I’d love to see someone tackle that in an article. For example, my area of great intensity, focus, and expertise is designing cohesive fantasy story worlds, usually ones that turn metaphors from our world into scientific or magical systems in the other world. (Yes, it’s the system thing that I love about this, not to mention my chance to pull in weird aspects of linguistics, history, etc. in original ways.)

    This isn’t exactly something people pay for. Sure, I’ve published some of my own fiction online, and also started an interactive web show that many actors have joined. But I don’t make money off these — and to really play the fiction game seriously (for pay), I know I’d have to have much better social skills, be able to write in ways that NTs understand, etc. And even then, almost no one makes a paying career as an author.

    Fortunately, my facility with words can be used for brand or technical writing, which is how I make my living currently. But I admit, I sometimes envy those Aspies whose supreme obsession is molecular biology, electrical engineering, or some other sought-after field. I think those are the Aspies everyone looks at as geniuses, because their talents and skills are perceived as valuable. I mean, the experts always say that Aspies have their best chance at career happiness doing what they’re exceptionally good at. But (as I’ve discovered) that assumes one is exceptionally good at something with monetary value.

    1. You’re right, we don’t always have skills or special interests that are marketable. Writing is my first love, particularly fiction. I doubt I could make a living at it. But like you, I’ve put it to work for me in slightly different ways and those have turned out to be things I can make a living at. Like I said somewhere up above, there are a small number of things we’re really good at and an even smaller number that we’re both good at and can make a living off of. Which is true of everyone, not just aspies.

      I think that it’s important to be realistic when approaching the question of how special interests can be turned into a livelihood. My fantasy job would be fiction writing, but I’m content with making a living with the more marketable aspects of my specialty and writing fiction for pleasure. I think this might be akin to an avid but not world class runner taking up running shoe engineering (or working in a running store or whatever) for pay and enjoying running as a serious hobby. It’s not ideal, but it allows us to be in a field of interest and put our expertise to use.

      1. But don’t go into it assuming you can’t make a living with your focus area either, even if it seems kinda out of the box – sometimes you just have to look at it from a slightly different angle. I’m not self-employed, but I’m a fiction writer too (as in, that’s what my bachelor’s degree is in…). I now work in nonprofit communications, and a large chunk of my job is writing creative nonfiction to tell the stories of people in my community. Seriously – it’s a perfect fit for my skillset. Maybe think about what skills might you have that transfer to something that IS lucrative. I have done technical writing as well. But I started over a decade ago as an admin assistant and consistently did such a standout job with the writing part of my job that people began to rely on my writing and I was able to make that into my entire job. Took time, but totally worth it.

        1. That’s a really great point. We do tend to focus on the product more than the process. I enjoyed reading about how you found a great application for your talent.

          I think it’s also worthwhile to really understand what part of that process you enjoy the most and make sure that’s front and centre in the business.

  11. I’m really keen to see how this post evolves. I’ve just finished reading through all the great comments and enjoyed reading what others have to think on the subject. I am currently employed but think I could “be better” as an entrepeneur. I work as a business analyst currently and have been for almost a decade now. I trained as a draughtsman but found that with a young family I needed to find an outlet for my opinion on design and eye for detail and found that working in a statistics shop as an analyst allowed me to really put my abilities to work. Early in your blog post you mentioned some of your own challenges to playing a role in a traditional office. I felt like you were describing many of my own observations of myself and why I really feel I could be more productive and perhaps more content out on my own. Navigating office etiquette seems to absorb energy I know would be better invested in work and ultimately clients.

    In many ways I think we are living in the ideal time for someone with AS to enter be an entrepeneur and really find a professional home for these special interests. Beyond the world of AS, I believe that we’re really starting to embrace collaborative working environments and the old idea of a job is starting to fade. It seems like, in general, there really are fewer career or professional jobs available. In some small way I think this is because of a changing economy but more than that, I take it to be evidence of the impact entrepeneurs are having everywhere. I feel like every day I am introduced to someone who works on something that is so unque and special and because of some efficient marketing they have been able to find a niche to sell their work and these folks are eating, paying their mortgages and are happy. I also feel like businesses, regardless of size, are really concentrating their resources on their core business streams. As businesses concentrate, those extraneous activities may still need to be performed and in there is the opportunity for new business. Furthermore, we’re living in a society where we’re so overwhelmed with generic options that we’re really creating opportunities for someone who is ready to stand up and say: “Hey, I’m obsessed with great coffee. Come to my store. I want to share this with you.” (BTW, we have that coffee shop here in Charlottetown, Adam’s amazing!) If only we had a group of people who are their happiest, their most productive, strongest when they are given a chance to emerse themselves in a sliver of an idea and really produce something that only passion for something for it’s own sake can produce. Wait a second, we do. We are those people.

    I can see I’m rambling. That’s likely my exciitement for this subject pouring out over the keys.

    1. Great points! There is definitely a trend toward specialization, which as you point out, is good for both people who have a passion for something and want to share it and the people who can pick up those side stream activities and turn them into a business.

      There are so many examples of both types of businesses that are successful. A place like Five Guys is spreading like crazy and their menu is literally, hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, hot dog, fries. That’s it. But I would drive a hell of a long way for their burgers and fries, right past dozens of other burger and frenc fry joints. Granted, we all probably want to do something a little smaller scale than Five Guys, but the same principle applies.

      1. I love this Five Guys example. I think it works really well. Most of the practical examples I could think of were predominately IT and I wanted to avoid that venue since IT always seems to be the cliche’d job for AS folks.

  12. … I have been self-employeed since 1989 … as a sign painter … (hence my user name here)
    I value being able to work alone and go at my own pace.
    One of the most common comments I hear about self-employment is as follows:
    “I wish I were self-employeed so I could do whatever I want…”
    This pushes my sarcasm button bc many people are under the impression I just do whatever I want, whennever I like.
    But instead of a smurky reply, something occured to me one day and now I explain as politely as possible …
    “Being self-employeed is great in so many ways, but it is no pic-nic either – because most people have only 1 or 2 bosses to answer to – maybe a manager, & assistant manager. But THE manager is easily the final word on any situation regarding that particular job description. But I may have 10 bosses at one time, because ever how many jobs I have going in my shop at one time equals how many ‘bosses’ I have. Clients are my bosses. I have to answer to each one. And my job is extremely varied. I may be on-site for one thing, delivering something else, doing carpentry, arranging specs with a welder, painting, etc etc., ultimately to present an attractive, functional product to a happy ‘boss’.”
    (who will obviously show their appreciaton monetarily)
    Hmmm. Most people had’nt thought of it that way … !
    Because of the number of technicalities in my work, and the varied potential applications & solutions available to give a client the biggest ‘bang for their buck’, I take no chances and allow for few surprises.
    Whether I do orginal art & design for the client, or utilize their own logo & information, they are provided detailed layouts, sometimes showing a varied degree of prices if budget is a concern.
    Every specific from colour samples to hardware is discussed at this point, and if there are any changes this is the advantageous time to make them.Finally, by the time we enter into a contract, the customer knos exactly what they will recieve.
    After all these years, I seldom have to elaborate to that extent with my repeat customers, but I still continue to pay attention to detail & ask questions so I can be sure to give them exactly what they need.
    The ability to provide customer service which pays attention to specific needs & presents practical, asthetically pleasing (when applicable) solutions is the most challenging & rewarding part of my job. It has been a way for me to use my artistic talent for a more steady income than art, bc art is so subjective and randomly pleasing.
    But every business needs a sign, and some kinds of businesses need several!!
    I am very blessed to be able to do something I love everyday at work!

  13. I got fired from McDonald’s after about two weeks of work. I didn’t steal, I came to work every day, ten minutes early. I learned how to run the register in record time — all the managers were talking about how amazing I was. I didn’t leave my register to run to the drive-through when the other workers yelled that a cute boy was coming through (I was the only one who stayed with my register.) I honestly have no idea why I was fired. McDonald’s was just like every other job I’ve had: work a couple of weeks (or less) and then get fired and never told why.

    This is one reason why I consider myself disabled. If I even knew why I always got fired, I might have some idea of what to work on to become more employable. But I have no idea – I’m smart, I like to work, I’m a hard worker, I’m dependable, I move heaven and earth to get to work on time, I do what I’m told. I have no idea why no employer wants to keep me.

  14. Despite being diagnosed with AS. I’ve never been out of work for too long, thou it drained me at time looking for work. I’ve through with education institutions, and getting certified for nothing. Getting a job isn’t that difficult for people who want to work and change their attitude. I am unsuited to open employment and often not a good fit in company culture. I have set my own business up from scratch as a Personal Trainer, though I am still developing my marketing skills. I have learnt some new marketing skills being a distributor and posting catalogues through people’s doors and keeping business records. I also have a van, and that is used for odd deliveries and jobs. And when things go quiet, or I get bored. I use agencies to get me work. The best advice for anyone who is down, you need to get off your backside and meet people. As, no excuses, you must learn to deal with customers when you are self-employed.

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