It's the nature of New Year's resolutions to make promises that we can't keep. This is the year we'll go on a diet, work out at the gym, quit smoking, feed the homeless, learn Chinese and be a better Mom, Dad, brother, sister, son, daughter or friend.
But if there's one New Year's resolution you should try to keep this year, it's this one: To start your own business and be your own boss.
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Here are good reasons to take the plunge this January instead of procrastinating until 2012.
1. You'll never get laid off again.
Tired of being a number on somebody else's spreadsheet? That won't happen once you start working for yourself. "Jobs used to be for life, and leaving a company to start your own could put your entire career in jeopardy," says David Ronin, co-founder of UpStartBootcamp.com, a New York company that provides coaching, classes and information to first-time entrepreneurs. "Now the average job lasts about four years—if you can get one." On the flip side, most start-ups don't succeed and, while you won't get fired from your own business, you might end up shutting it down and losing the money you invested. "You'll probably take home a smaller salary, work harder and face higher stress levels, too," Mr. Ronin says.
2. You can stop asking your boss for a raise and give yourself one.
When you run your own business, there's no limit to how much money you can make if your company takes off. Because you're taking all the risk, you're entitled to all the upside. "A 'real' job does not have your best interests at heart—ever," says Scott Gerber, a New York entrepreneur and author of "Never Get a 'Real' Job." "Most jobs offer employees nothing more than a false sense of security, a workload that far exceeds their pay grades and a benefits package that they are most likely paying for themselves." While getting a business off the ground is never easy, every dollar that you put in and every hour that you work is an investment that returns profit back to you. "Find me any job that offers that level of financial incentive, and perhaps I'll think of getting a 'real' job," Mr. Gerber says. (Mr. Gerber is also head of Young Entrepreneur Council, which writes a guest column for WSJ.com.)
3. You can write off that new laptop, Blackberry, iPad or printer.
One of the fringe benefits of running your own business is the opportunity to write off or depreciate legitimate business expenses. Recent changes in the tax laws make these deductions even sweeter. Under expanded bonus depreciation rules, qualified investments in fixed assets purchased between Sept. 9, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011, can be fully written off for federal tax purposes, according to Michael J. Goldberg of New York's Ganer, Grossbach & Ganer LP. (Check with your accountant to make sure your state accepts bonus depreciation for tax purposes.) A new business also can use the Section 179 deduction to write off the price of certain equipment or software, up to $500,000 in 2011. The disadvantage is that the current year Section 179 deduction cannot exceed the net income of the business. Start-up costs of up to $10,000 are deductible once the business begins, Mr. Goldberg adds.
[See the New Tax Deal: What's in It for You?]
4. You can unplug and work anywhere there's WIFI reception.
Forget the daily grind of commuting to the office. Today's mobile start-ups have unplugged from their digital tether. Small business and social-media marketing consultant Richard Wooley, co-founder of New York's Bond/Wooley Inc., says the key to working virtually is picking your spots—ideally, locations that offer comfy chairs and free WiFi. "When I'm spending an afternoon working through a call list, the best place for me is an independent coffee shop," Mr. Wooley says. "Starbucks can get too noisy to have a real conversation on a cell phone." By contrast, Mr. Wooley finds a quiet bar the perfect setting for crunching complex formulas in the Excel spreadsheets he prepares for clients' business plans. Says Mr. Wooley, "The key is to take off the shackles of a cubicle, charge your laptop battery and get out in the world."
[See Bootstrapping: Starting a Business on a Budget]
5. There's never been a cheaper time to start a business.
Ten years ago, a typical Internet start-up needed $1 million to launch a product and millions more to prove its business model and scale it to profitability or an IPO. Today's start-ups run lean and mean thanks to the plunging cost of technology and a surplus of real estate and talent. "The popular 'lean start-ups' approach favors developing a product and getting it into the hands of customers as quickly and inexpensively as possible," says Mr. Ronin of UpStartBootcamp.com. "Plus, the stigma of freelancing has lifted for both companies and individuals so start-ups can hire top talent on an as-needed, virtual basis. This lets founders hire better talent with more flexibility, reduced office space needs, and lower benefits costs." And thanks to the power of social networking, it's no longer necessary to hire an expensive PR firm to generate press. You can target niche publishers and bloggers instead.