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February 24, 2003 Program Summary

"Self Employment -- A Reason For Setting the Alarm Clock or Do I Really Work at Nothing All Day?" was the second event in a two-part series called "2003 Career Kickoff," designed to launch the year with an inspiring strategic jump-start! A summary of this event follows.

Pros and Cons of a One-Person Business: Firsthand Insights From Two Veterans
by Michael Raphael

Michael LujanCarolyn Margon"I wanted the freedom to develop my own ideas and experience into a value-added service where I could realize exultation from my accomplishments," said Mike Lujan, veteran technical communicator who enjoys the benefits of working at a distance.

"Fortunately, I had already worked in a similar business so I was aware of what kind of work was involved and what the issues were," said Carolyn Margon, a computer trainer and résumé advisor who started a new business in the area, and enjoys going to people’s homes to teach them how to use their computers.

The two experts, neighbors in Morro Bay, spoke from a combined experience of more than 50 years in contracting and self-employment as technical communicators, writers and trainers, describing the challenges, rewards, pitfalls and other aspects of working alone.

Lujan has been a technical communicator for more than 23 years, working mostly for Silicon Valley companies. Owner of On the Same Page Technical Communications, Lujan specializes in technical writing, training, and instruction.

Margon is president of As You Like it Consulting, a 5-month-old business of helping people with their résumés and document editing, and training older persons in their homes on uses of their computers. Her background includes more than a decade of contract work with Microsoft Corp. in Seattle.

A few of of Mike's and Carolyn's many complementary viewpoints and experiences follow. For the complete story, click here to open or download Mike's and Carolyn's presentation (48K PDF file).

Click this link to open the preliminary discussion topic, A Comparison of "Professional Modes" (16K PDF file).

Photography by Mary Meyer.

How did we get here?


Speaking on being a one-man business, and the pros, cons, challenges, and approaches to meeting those challenges, Lujan provided a comprehensive sense of what it takes to run a one-person business.

When he was laid off from a staff position in 1987, he took a "leap of faith," he said. He had worked alongside contractors and freelance writers "who seemed more connected with doing quality work than with being a company soldier."

Pros: "I wanted the freedom to develop my own ideas and experience into a value-added service," said Lujan, on why he has been doing technical communication at a distance for more than 23 years.

Cons of what he does: "Continually having to market the business and stay ahead of, or least up with, the competition; pressure of total responsibility, including insurance, benefits, scheduling vacation around client needs; attracting clients."

Greatest challenges: "Establishing credibility for being independent; blending in, that is, always considering, remembering and practicing the proper protocol (especially when on-site), and behavior to remain in touch and in focus.

Lujan approaches those challenges by trying to "keep everything within reach" and not being afraid to take on a project "no matter how small the accomplishment."



Speaking on being a one-woman business, and the pros, cons, challenges, and approaches to meeting those challenges, Margon described what got her to this point in her professional life.

"I love going to people’s houses and seeing how they live" -- that’s one of the great benefits, she said.

She commented that her work in Seattle (she was the one person in her company who made all of the house calls) "was the most fun I ever had," and that she came to this area because "San Luis Obispo is a better place for this kind of business."

Pros: "Fortunately, I had already worked in a similar business that went bust in the Internet meltdown in Seattle, so I was aware of what kind of work was involved and what the issues were."

Cons of her career move: "It takes a long time to get known, and I left behind my network and contacts of 20-plus years."

Greatest challenges: "Adapting to a new culture, convincing potential clients that my service is worth their investment, learning new things all the time, knowing when to say no."

Her approach to meeting those challenges: "I let my personal exhaustion guide me. When I can’t stand up during the day, I figure I have taken on too much."

Deciding who your clients are


Lujan has had the opportunity to complete many projects for the "Big Guys" (and he has worked for giants in the industry, especially in Silicon Valley) and has learned many new technologies while he was at it.

Challenges include:

  • Getting in over your head.
  • Thinking a project is too simple (not challenging or stimulating).
  • Taking on too many clients at once.
  • Juggling projects and coming up short with regard to delivering what the client expects.

His approach to those challenges: "Try to clearly define not only the deliverables but the dependencies; that is, what the client is responsible for providing, such as equipment, personnel for reviews, or extra training as needed."



Margon sees herself primarily as a personal computer trainer in the same way a personal trainer works on fitness. She helps people get the most out of the computer they already own. She has built computers, and is not afraid to take on any computer.

She’s worked with people "who have gotten themselves into a mess" and, depending on what their problems are, tries to "weed out those clients and refer them to better resources than myself." Sometimes she has driven a long way, worked on their machines for a couple of hours, and has not been able to move the client forward.

Her greatest challenge: Getting good clients who will offer repeat business and good referrals. Her approach to meeting that challenge has been to not charge clients she could not help. "However, they do take up my valuable time where I could be working with paying clients, so I have decided to institute a fee for just showing up, whether I can help them or not."

Promoting yourself


Giving your business a good look and feel and literally promoting the business are among the pros of promoting yourself, Lujan said. Looking bad (promotional materials that don’t work very well), and having a Web site that search engines can’t find are cons. (Lujan’s Web site,, is an excellent example of a digital portfolio.)

Lujan’s greatest promotional challenges are "realizing the self-confidence and self-reliance needed; knowing when not to over promote." He approached that by developing his Web site, continually working through e-mail promotion, sending Christmas cards, attending networking functions, and making "out of the blue" contacts. He also cautions against "looking too expensive."



"I always carry brochures and business cards with me wherever I go. I have gotten clients from tennis games, outdoor walks, lunches, grocery stores," she said. "You just never know when you will come into contact with someone who needs your services."

"Letting people know what I do without being too aggressive" is her greatest challenge. Her approaches to that are to have "good sales literature" and to spend the money "to make it look professional."

She added she is not convinced that she needs a Web site "because if someone can find me on the Web, they are already too advanced for the services I offer."

"Self Employment -- A Reason For Setting the Alarm Clock or Do I Really Work at Nothing All Day?"
Date: Monday evening, February 24, 2003
Speakers: Michael Lujan, Technical communications professional in technical writing, training and instruction, project management, business development and marketing, and a member of the SLO STC board of directors; and Carolyn Margon, president, As You Like It Consulting, and a future board member of South Bay Women's Network and the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce.

"Self Employment -- A Reason For Setting the Alarm Clock or Do I Really Work at Nothing All Day?" focused on the challenges and rewards of getting up in the morning to the tune of being your own boss. This presentation was Part 2 of a two-part mini-series called "2003 Career Kickoff."

Mike and Carolyn spoke about establishing and running one's own business to serve a variety of local and remote, small- to large-scale clients. They will address the challenges of working on site as well as telecommuting, and will explain approaches that include, but are not limited to:

  • Assessing your experiences and interests to determine if starting your own business makes
  • Promoting yourself using both "analog" (such as brochures) and "digital" (such as a Web site) approaches.
  • Determining clients to suit both their needs AND your capabilities.
  • Visits to clients (confirming time and available resources, establishing agendas, and evaluating working sessions)
  • Setting up your office (including to work on a "virtual" basis).
  • Establishing fees and rates (avoiding "sticker shock").
  • And the all important, but sometimes daunting, effort of obtaining payment for services.
Door Prizes:

Doorprize winners(2 door prizes)

"101 Tips for Telecommuters: Successfully Manage Your Work, Team, Technology and Family," by Debra A. Dinnocenzo; AND

"Running a One-Person Business," by Claude Whitmyer and Salli Rasberry.


And here are our two lucky door prize winners!



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