Why I Started My Own Small Business

Gentle Readers,

There are many reasons I decided to start my own small business two years ago. These reasons are still compelling to me even though I have been working full-time on top of my business, and started the business in a niche I did not yet fully understand. I am a queer woman and the professional world wanted to wipe that off of me.

Like many young professional women, I don’t necessarily fit in many work settings. I have worked for small businesses, fast food, county government, local nonprofits, national nonprofits, retail, and a variety of temping opportunities, first as an admin and now as a professional. I fit in maybe one of those work environments, and that organization no longer exists.

A little over two years ago, the female editor in chief of the NY Times was fired for daring to ask why she was being paid less than the male editor who occupied the role before you. Fired for asking why.

Work environments were not designed with women in mind because sexism said they didn’t have to be.

Most women I know contort themselves to fit in to work environments. We ignore the subtle and not-so-subtle sexism. We ignore clients hitting on us when we are not free to leave their vicinity. We ignore that desks are built with the average-sized man in mind, and are not comfortable for our bodies. We beg to have office buildings not burn us in winter and freeze us in summer since we are more likely dressed for the actual weather and not insistent (conditioned into) on wearing a three-piece suit regardless of the appropriateness to the season.

We read the articles telling us that we are considered harsh if we act confidently. We read the articles that bemoan our poor negotiating skills right next to the articles that say we are not appropriately ladylike when we negotiate well.

We are chided for our very voices with new concepts like vocal fry and commanded to talk in masculine normative methods of expression. EVEN when it is proven that women’s general style is more collaborative and more effective.

We contort ourselves. Many of us have extra things to contort. Our colleagues ask about boyfriends we aren’t interested in having. Our preferred styles of dressing can be read as unprofessional on a body read as femme, but would be fine on a body read as masculine. Our bodies themselves are not read as belonging in public due to disability. Our relationship styles may not value marriage or monogamy the way the government and dominant culture would prefer.

We can contort all of these things and still not succeed. We can still be fired for daring to simply ask about our pay rate.

I opened my own small business to avoid these controls on my personality and dress-code.

Two years ago, I was fed up with my gig-centered work-life and my inability to get hired for a career-based job in my profession. I had applied for so many things. I had contorted. I was not getting what I wanted.

So I decided to create it.

I am creating a space that focuses on a niche in my profession and allows me to serve my community through it. I am creating a space where I own the keys to the door, and set the dress code. I am still a professional, but my fantastic dyke hair is fine with my supervisor as she is me. She still makes me wear the pearls when it is required, but she never tells me to grow my hair out. She never requires me to wear heals. She never tells me to dress like a lady. She knows that I am a human and that being a good human is the true goal.

I am creating a space where I do not have to say yes to potential clients that I find distasteful to work with. I can focus on serving the LGBT community. I can serve my community competently, because I know from personal experience some of what they are facing and I know where to research the specific problems that impact us.

I am creating an environment where I do not have to punch in. Eventually, I will not have to be there to “get my 40,” but rather must get the work done in a timely manner for my clients. I work better after 10 am, and can set most appointments after that. I adapt my work life to me. Should I decide to have a family in the future, I can schedule my life and career together far more easily. I am creating this because I am dissatisfied with the work environments available to me.

I don’t want to just show up. I want my work to reflect my values. I am creating that work.

What made you start your own business?

Author: ZJ Thorne

Lesbian on the path to Financial Freedom

  • Dollar Engineer

    This is awesome ZJ! I think it’s not only great you are doing what you want to do, but also doing it comfortably so you can do it best and serving your community as well.

    • Thanks! I’m hopeful that I can live well within myself while doing good.

  • femmefrugality

    Yes, yes, yes! While it is horrible that environments essentially force women out, I’m excited for what the future holds as so many women are starting their own thing as a result. Maybe long term, that can affect positive change. Especially for even further marginalized populations, like the LGBT community.

    Isn’t it illegal to get fired for asking a question like that?!?!

    • I don’t know if she sued. I just remember being so angry that there is no way to win except by not playing.

      • femmefrugality

        Dang, I hope she did.

        • I hope so even though I know that these cases are hard to prove. If the employer uses a different pretext for the termination, you have to have a good attorney.

  • Pia @ Mama Hustle

    Being comfortable is one of the reasons I went back to working for a smaller business. I just couldn’t wait to be back in jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers, rather than dress clothes that always made me uncomfortable. I’m contemplating making some career moves, and that is one of the things that’s stressing me out the most. It’s hard to find “flattering” – read: socially acceptable – clothes for a large, round body at a reasonable price. I’ve also noticed that some of the outfits that are considered appropriate on smaller women suddenly become “inappropriate” on me – like short sleeved shell tops, for example. I guess fat arms make people uncomfortable, regardless of how much excellent work they produce. -.-

    In terms of working for myself though, I do that to keep my skillset fresh, and to work on assignments that flex my creative muscles. The extra income helps too. It’s not a lofty objective, but it contributes to my overall happiness.

    • It’s amazing how uncomfortable people are in the presence of fat arms. My bustier friends can’t find any tops that aren’t “too sexy” for work.

      I also hate dry – cleaning. So expensive and inconvenient.

      When I don’t have clients in, I wear workout clothes to my office and kick off my shoes. It’s a big benefit.

  • This was a truly inspiring read, and I hope to be able to accomplish something like this in the future. Ultimately, being your own boss is a sure way to gain all of the happiness you look for. Congratulations on being a straight hero in my eyes!

    • Thank you for reading my piece and your sweet comment. Hopefully someday we don’t have to opt out in order to live the decent life we want.

  • Awesome post! I can definitely identify with the struggles of being a professional female, but have found much more freedom in embracing my plan for semi-retirement. I’ve stopped caring so much about standard expectations. I allow myself to wear my hair up in a ponytail or braid. I usually wear a comfortable pair of flats instead of high heels. I rely on the same rotation of clothing, instead of shopping for new and trendy things. I don’t stress out over appearances, being a go-getter, or competing with my co-workers. I lay low, do my work, and go home!

    I guess our plan to semi-retire is my own way of starting a business. I will be able to work on flexible terms and not need to be a cog that doesn’t quite fit in its spot of the machine.

    • Yes! Nonconformity is a social skill!

  • Thank you for pointing out some of the factors that make work environments difficult for women. That’s awesome that you’ve started a small business so you can succeed at work and make a difference in the community, all while staying true to who you are. My mom is a small business owner after many years as a SAHM and side hustler. It would be very hard for her to get a traditional job with that resume, but she is highly skilled and motivated and her business is doing well because of it.

    • It’s so frustrating that if your mom and other SAHM/D wanted to re-enter a more traditional work force, their valuable skills are not recognized. This system stinks. Not everyone should have to be an entrepreneur to make it. I’m glad she was able to start her own business.

  • Pingback: Is Just Making the Cut Worth the Cost of the Dream? - Make Smarter Decisions()

  • You mention a very interesting point about desks being too large for women. My wife was mentioning something similar regarding chairs.

    Glad you’ve decided to be your own boss and make your own rules!

    • Your wife is right about chairs, too. Essentially all of the built environment considered the average man’s needs. If you differ from that, it can physically hurt. This is why more women get repetitive stress injuries from desk jobs than men do.

      I’m glad to. Thanks for reading.

  • I’m very lucky to be male – even without all the sexism etc, my wife is the one who has to go through childbirth and all the other fun things. I have said several times to her that females a lot better at dealing with a lot of things than males are.

    Major kudos to you for starting your own business, that’s a great idea and I hope each year gets progressively better for you 🙂

    We started a business to blog, we really want to make a success of it and maybe one day help people with their finances as our full time jobs.

    Tristan

    • Childbirth and periods are just not fun. Neither is sexism. I agree that women of my acquaintance are better at dealing than men are.

      Thanks for the kudos and reading. I hope you find your success.

  • Pingback: Heteronormativity at Work | Femme Frugality()