Dealing With Risks of Working for Yourself

A day in the life of corporate consultant William Melton, who moonlights as a writer and is co-author of “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Harmonica.”

Who: William Melton

What: Corporate consultant whose “real passion” is writing. He is currently working on a stage musical about DeFord Bailey, a super star of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1920s and 1930s. Melton is the co-author of “The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Harmonica.”

Where: His home office is in the master suite of the two-bedroom condo in Harlem, NYC, where he and his wife live. On particularly stressful days, Melton says he may find someplace to work outside the home. Because his work is conducted via e-mail and telephone, Melton also is able to visit his mother in Kansas City four times a year, a month at a time.

When: Because he has clients around the world, Melton is often up before dawn to deal with something in Europe, or late at night for the Asian-Pacific region. His work is heavily oriented to the end of fiscal quarters, so the first few weeks of each quarter are somewhat lighter, while the last month of each quarter is very hectic. But, he said, he can also get away for hours at a time in the mornings for walks in Central Park, or for lunch at neighborhood restaurants.

Melton schedules his current work on a stage musical, “The Color of Music,” as well as on a couple of screenplays, around conference calls and e-mails with clients. Weekend getaways or month-long breaks in the Finger Lakes District, Connecticut, or elsewhere is not uncommon to help shift himself into creative mode.

When did you start your company? Melton has been working on his own for six years.

How: Melton said he was able to build up contacts over years while he was working in the corporate environment. Although, he said, it was a bit nerve-wracking to go out on his own at first, he used those contacts to build upon after he became his own boss. Many of his current clients are all former employers or colleagues he has worked with in the past.

He said he has never had to market himself.

“I don't have a Web site, or Facebook page - I don't even have a business card,” he said. “I am familiar with the people I work with, and I have never had to worry about getting paid. In six years, I've never had an invoice that did not get paid, and only a couple of times has payment been late.”

Why: Melton worked overseas for many years, living in seven different countries. He said he eventually burned out from the constant travel and being away from his family in New York City and Toronto, Canada. So he returned to NYC and became his own shop.

“It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I wish I had done this earlier,” he said. “I can't see myself ever working as an employee ever again. It also gives me the freedom to work on my true passion, which is writing my screenplays and musical.”

Day in the Life: Melton said he usually starts the day very early and can work very late, but takes long breaks in the afternoon; 12-15 hour long workdays aren’t uncommon for him, but neither are three- to four-hour ones. The latter gives him time to write. Long walks outside, he said, also help his creative process.

Pros and Cons: Melton’s pro list: independence of running his day as he see fit; not getting dressed or shaving in the morning; not commuting; and not having to supervise people – or fire them, for that matter – and not having to deal with office politics.

“The only thing that matters is that my clients are happy with the service I provide,” he said.As for how he deals with the perceived “risk” of working for himself, Melton said he spreads his work around eight different clients; if he loses one, he replaces one – a situation he encountered last year when a client was acquired by IBM and he lost 25 percent of his revenue. He thinks he likely would have been fired had he been an employee.

“A lot of people ask me how I deal with the lack of security of not having a full time job as an employee. But no employees in this country have any security,” he said. “In most cases, you are only two weeks away from being terminated, and this can happen based on economic issues, a ‘bad revenue’ quarter or anything else that has nothing to do with your own performance. … I have come to firmly believe that the only security in this world is to work for myself and take responsibility for my own life and work.”

One of the biggest perks, according to Melton: he gets to spend time during “workdays” with his wife, Victoria Moran, a work-at-home author, life coach, speaker and corporate spokesperson.

On the flipside, Melton has no one to cover for him if he can’t follow through on a work commitment, he doesn’t have “normal office hours,” he is tied to his Blackberry and e-mail, he works most weekends, and he’s never taken a real holiday in six years.

“Vacations” typically consists of working until noon, then enjoying the rest of the day doing leisure activities.

“Victoria tells me that I need to have ‘discipline’ and tell my clients that I have office hours and am only available during these hours, but it never seems to work that way,” he said, particularly since his clients are all in different time zones.