Rob Bettis stands at his desk and performs his marketing work from home in Stuart Heights.

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Self-employment groups offer support, resources

Many people only dream of being their own boss, but for Chattanooga residents already living out that dream, self-employment can bring both immense joy and some unique challenges.

Rob Bettis, who calls himself a "free agent marketing consultant," said being able to work when he wants, where he wants and how he wants are the reasons why he enjoys self-employment. For two years, Bettis has been a freelancer, helping businesses with their advertising and social media strategies among other things.

"It's been a really good change for me," Bettis said. "It's something I tried to do a number of years ago and was less successful at the time. I was a little bit naive. This time has been night and day different."

While working out of a home office alongside his wife, who is a Realtor, allows him more flexibility, there is one thing that affects most self-employed or remote workers these days — loneliness. That is why Bettis, and a few other Chattanooga residents, have started networking and support-like groups for those who are self-employed or independent contractors.

The Internal Revenue Service states the "general rule" is that a person is considered an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control only the result of the work and not what will be done or how it will be done. They are subject to the self-employment tax and generally don't get workplace benefits, like health insurance.

In a May 2017 survey, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that 79 percent of independent contractors preferred their arrangement over a traditional job. That same month, the bureau reported 10.6 million Americans were independent contractors, or about 6.9 percent of the total working population.

Those numbers are significantly smaller than what has been reported in the past few years by other sources. Bettis cited a report by Upwork of 6,000 U.S. workers — both freelancers and non-freelancers — that estimated 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, or 36 percent of the U.S. workforce. The study defines "freelancers" as anyone who did "supplemental, temporary, project-or-contract-based work" in the past year.

Last year, Bettis started the group "Unfederated" for other like-minded and self-employed individuals to meet monthly. He said some meetings are just for networking while others will have speakers who can give resources on a range of topics from how to market a "personal brand" to how to negotiate for better pay. He said about 15 to 20 people come each time.

"You have to wear every hat," Bettis said about being your own boss. "I have to be competent in things like bookkeeping or any kind of contractual agreements I might get in with clients. Some larger companies handle each of these things, but for me, it's one person doing it all."

Bonnie Schafer and Joy Devlin have launched a new group called Gig City VAs for virtual assistants in the area. The two women said they hope to provide a meeting place for VAs in Chattanooga and for those interested in learning more about becoming one.

Virtual assistants can be a broad job description, but the women said they basically provide remote business services and administrative support to clients all over the world, like legal firms or entrepreneurs.

Devlin said she had 15 years of similar experience at brick and mortar businesses before moving into self-employment. Schafer said she has 30 years of experience. They both have long-term clients to provide more consistent work and have been doing it full time for about five years.

"It's the first time in my entire career that I have felt valued," Devlin said. "I feel as though I am a huge part of what is happening in the business."

Moving into self-employment is basically like starting your own business, Schafer said. It means you have to build up your client base and market yourself. The women said they wanted to create a group to both receive support and provide it to others.

She said an issue they deal with often in their business is feeling overwhelmed.

"We are service-oriented," she said. "We want to help everyone but sometimes you just can't."

Devlin said she would relish the opportunity to share what she has learned with others since moving into self-employment.

"We know there are more of us out there," Devlin said. "We crave that face-to-face, which is what we hope our network will help us to do."

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.