Here's a situation that may sound familiar to you: You're a tradesman at the pinnacle of your career. You're thinking of taking your skills and starting your own business. You're thinking that you can up your income and have plenty of personal time for your family, and the freedom to do what you want on and off the clock! You go out and get your business license and apply for insurance, and wow, it's that easy! Away you go.

Pretty soon you're working 16 hours a day and can't figure out why the dollars aren't just rolling in. The phone doesn't ring with all the dream customers, and all the projects seem to take longer than expected. You have to pay your bills and take care of your family with what looks like a decent chunk of change in the bank. Then comes that tax bill.It's a lot more than you thought, and the stress of where that's going to come from seems unbearable!

If something like this has happened to you, you're probably in the middle of the jump between being an employee to being self-employed. I had an old craftsman tell me once that if all you're going to do is drive one nail a year, then figure out what you need to live on, and that's what it costs to drive that nail. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but there's some truth in it. It's not about driving the nail anymore, and it's not about an employee punching the time clock—it's about the responsibility of understanding what self-employment really means.

So, you're beginning to understand that it's a lot harder than it looks. The first three years are the hardest and frankly the most risky, because most contractors I know didn't really have a business plan when they first started. I know I didn't! If you're thinking of going the self-employed route, know that it truly is a jump. Plan for it to take a hard five-to-seven (or more!) years before the business stops owning you. My advice is to put together a business plan, read, and get as much professional advice as possible. Like anything else, self-employment—or business ownership—takes a long-term commitment!