“Business for bohemians.” The idea might sound counterintuitive, like”spirituality for atheists” or”dog ownership for cat lovers.” The two things do not seem to go together. After all, bohemians are free-spirited, creative types who want to live a life of art and leisure.
By contrast, business is about making money and working all of the time.
Well, as you’ll learn, they aren’t as incompatible as you may think. While there’s some tension between them, they can also support one another — giving you a sustainable way of becoming a bohemian and earning money at exactly the exact same time.
- Why going into business is better than having a job
- why it’s also a lot harder than you might think
- why it’s worth pursuing anyway
Compared to a job, going into business provides bohemians with a better way of maintaining freedom in their work lives.
Let’s be honest: if we could live in our perfect version of fact, most of us bohemians would not be attracted to the area of business. We don’t want to be sitting in an office, filling out spreadsheets, and talking about gross profit margins.
More than anything, we need freedom — freedom to live”the good life.” But unless we’re born into wealth, we have to earn money somehow to pay our debts, let alone have enough time and resources to pursue our passions. And that leaves us with two basic options: get a job, or go into business.
Let’s start with the first option. Getting a job means submitting to the authority of somebody else — often a giant company. There is a reason they call it”wage slavery,” and it is not just low-paid workers who suffer from it. Even if your salary is large, your labor still belongs to your employer. No wonder there are so many miserable bankers and lawyers out there. Yes, they make boatloads of cash — but they have to sacrifice most of their waking hours to working for somebody else. The result is basically only a form of luxurious servitude.
The alternative is to work on your own — and that means going into company, whether as a freelancer, sole proprietor, small business owner, or entrepreneur. This way, you get to determine what you do and how you do it. What’s your products or services? Who do you work with? You get to answer these questions for yourself.
So you get to blaze your own path when marching to the beat of your own drum. Sure — but there’s also something anarchistic, even revolutionary, relating to it. You are doing your own thing, not someone else’s. You’re taking your life into your hands, as opposed to giving it away to a corporate master. You’re creating something new in the world, as opposed to following a career path that’s already been laid out for you.
You can create your company compatible with your bohemian values.
Once upon a time, there was a scrappy little startup that began in somebody’s garage.
But if you are a bohemian, it probably seems more like a cautionary tale. Fortunately, there are quite a few other ways of entering business.
To start with, you could pursue a lifestyle business. This is a modest, small operation you run by yourself or with a spouse. For example, you might be a shopkeeper, a coffee shop owner, a consultant, a life coach, a tailor, or a plumber. For many bohemians, these lines of commerce are satisfying in their own right and provide them enough time and money to live out their version of the fantastic life.
Stay small if it suits you. It’s a fine way to make a living and support yourself as a bohemian. However, it’s also OK to have bigger ambitions. If that’s the case, you will have to grow your company into something big enough to serve your larger purpose.
That doesn’t mean getting an all-powerful tycoon at the head of a corporate behemoth. It could just mean employing a few core staff members, working with a bigger group of freelancers, and possibly taking on some investors to help you realize your vision.
That’s what the author has done with the Idler, which began as a magazine but has gradually grown into something bigger. It’s now a publishing and events brand, including a company with a very considerable title: the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment. In addition to live events, workshops, and festivals, they offer online courses on everything from ancient Greek philosophy to calligraphy, creative writing, gardening, and playing the ukulele.
Sure, that’s harder than, say, running a vintage clothing shop. But it is not a gigantic enterprise, and the aim isn’t to conquer the world and make a fortune. It is only to have a positive influence on other people’s lives, while providing the author and his collaborators with some enjoyable work and enough income to do their thing.
But do not underestimate the challenges of running a business.
Until a couple of decades ago, the Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment was not only an online digital learning platform. It was a real, physical place you could see. Launched in 2011, it was originally a coffeehouse, bookstore, events venue, and adult education center, all rolled into a cozy space located in Notting Hill — a quiet neighborhood on the west side of London.
There, the writer, his partner, and a small, ragtag team of employees served coffee, sold books, hosted lectures, and held workshops. If that sounds like a dream, well, you are right. Many times, it was like a dream — of this nightmare kind.
Having a business provides you freedom, but with that freedom comes a whole slew of duties. There are customers to meet, employees to handle, freelancers to pay, taxes to document, records to keeporders to fill, and so forth. Then there are the countless little things that need to be done on a daily basis: opening the email, cleaning the toilets — the list goes on and on.
Somehow, you’ve got to come up with a way of getting all these things done while simultaneously making a profit. That’s a good deal easier said than done. The simplest-seeming things can prove more difficult than you might think. Take serving coffee. The writer thought this would be fun. The clients were constantly complaining: The coffee was too chilly.
To be honest, they had a point — the service was too slow. Unfortunately, so were the sales. Sometimes, the only customers would be a group of three young moms and their toddlers, that took up all the floor space. Over the course of an hour, they would order two coffees and leave a #5 bill.
Other times, customers would request soy milk. The author didn’t keep any in stock, so he would sneak out the back of the store, buy some from a nearby shop, and end up losing money on the purchase. That was clearly wrongheaded, but it was a silly response to a serious business question: Do we, or do we not, serve soy milk?
Sure, it is a little detail — but the day-to-day operations of a business are filled with such details. Each of them has to be worked out, and there’s money riding on the decisions you make.
Following conventional business practices can help you preserve your freedom to be a bohemian.
If something as seemingly straightforward as serving coffee can end up being such a pain in the neck, what about all the other tasks involved in running a business? Well, there’s no denying it: they add up to lots of work, especially in case you don’t follow some traditional business practices.
“What? Me?” Follow conventional business practices? No way, man! I am a bohemian. And hey, was not freedom the entire purpose of going into business in the first place?”
Well, yes — but you won’t have much freedom for long if you simply try to improvise your way through business and hope for the best. There’s a reason why traditional business practices exist. They’re time-tested methods of solving problems, avoiding problems, and getting things done.
If you need some convincing, just look at what happened to the author when he started the Idler Academy. Like many bohemians, he thought the rules did not apply to himand he strove to wing it. The result? Constant problems, 14-hour workdays spent trying to solve themand no time or energy left to himself.
Take his first approach to hiring employees. It essentially consisted of taking whoever was hanging around the shop and offering them a job if they seemed like nice people. He then adopted a handling style that could be generously described as permissive. He figured that if the employees were nice, he could just be fine, and everything would be fine.
But it turns out that calling your company the”Idler” Academy tends to attract people who are,well, idlers. The employees would turn up late to work and then spend their time smoking weed, drinking wine, and hanging out with their friends. Meanwhile, rudimentary tasks like cleaning the toilet were left undone, and the author ended up doing them himself.
The situation turned around when he began following traditional business practices for hiring and managing employees. These included looking over applicants’ CVs, checking their references, listing out job responsibilities, and conducting appropriate performance reviews.
These things are not exactly rocket science — more like Business 101. However, you’ve still got to do them, even if they don’t seem bohemian to you. Otherwise, you wind up spending all day scrubbing bathrooms instead of chasing your art — and that is definitely not bohemian.
Keep going, and don’t give up — unless it makes sense to quit.
Whether you decide to keep small or go big, the path ahead is not going to be easy. Running a sustainable company is hard work, and you are bound to encounter numerous challenges and setbacks along the way. Products will flop. Customers will complain. Employees will steal your wine and smoke pot on your company’s basement.
Well, perhaps that last thing is just the writer’s experience — but you get the point. Now, if you’ve ever read a self-help book, you might expect the last message here to be something like,”Do not give up. Keep going, no matter what.” But that’s not quite the perfect advice.
At some stage during your business journey, you’re likely going to encounter what the author calls the”Bohemian Wobble.” This is where you start having second thoughts about the entire running-a-business thing. “Why didn’t I just get a traditional job?” You might ask yourself. You’ll begin to envy the people who can simply go to the office, put in their time, and receive a steady salary in return.
Maybe your company is a nightmare at the moment, but at least it’s your nightmare. Better to live in a hell of your own making than one imposed on you by somebody else! Additionally, if you keep going and push through the rough patches, you will also be able to experience the many joys of running a business — like working on your own, making something new in the world, and having a positive impact on other people’s lives.
That being said, if your organization isn’t working out or it is making you unhappy with no end in sight, then you might want to reconsider it. That’s another facet of your liberty as a bohemian in company: no one is forcing you to remain in business, and you can always walk away from any or every aspect of your enterprise.
While running the first, physical version of this Idler Academy, the author gave up on more than a dozen ideas: selling second-hand books, making local deliveries by bike, and conducting a café, to name just three. They all seemed like good ideas at first but proved unviable in one way or another. After five decades, he finally decided to close down the shop altogether. It wasn’t making enough money, and it was not making him happy.
However, as you know, the Idler Academy lives on as an electronic platform, and it’s currently a joyful, sustainable company.
In comparison with a traditional job, going into business can give bohemians the freedom to live the life they want to live. To preserve that freedom, you have to make your company sustainable and manageable. This requires following the right business practices — setting the right prices, and finding the ideal sources of funding. When facing challenges with your business, it’s also important to know when to keep going — and when to give up.