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one-person operation

Andrew Miller runs his own small consulting company, ACM Consulting Inc. in Toronto. ‘In my view and from where I sit now, there are no cons to running my own business. I can say that with zero hesitation.’

Back in 2006, Andrew Miller, then a consultant for IBM Business Consulting Services, received an e-mail from his boss that would change everything. Strange, considering it was like so many others he had received over the years.

Although Mr. Miller technically lived in Toronto, his desk was in Winnipeg while he worked on a long-term project for a client. It was a typical work arrangement. For the six years he had been consulting, four of them had involved living out of suitcases. And now it seemed he was in for another extreme commute.

"The message said, 'We have a great project. We want you to work on it. It's going to be out West. We need you there for six to nine months, five days a week,'" Mr. Miller says now. "When I was 25 and single, that was a lot of fun. But I was 32, married and with a child on the way."

In other words, not exactly the perfect time to jump ship, leave the confines of a nine-to-five job, and hang out his own shingle. Yet for more than six months Mr. Miller had been considering leaving his job to work for himself, so the moment he received his manager's e-mail, he knew what he had to do.

"Once I sent the letter of resignation, there was a feeling of freedom. I felt it was just the right thing to do even though it wasn't like I had something else to fall back on," he says, admitting he had only about three or four months worth of living expenses saved up.

Still, it turned out it was the right choice. Now, six years, a new house and three kids later, Mr. Miller's own small consulting company, ACM Consulting Inc. in Toronto, is thriving. Within weeks of leaving his job to go solo, he landed a large health-care client in Toronto only 20 minutes away from where he lived with his wife, Eryn Miller, who was four months pregnant at the time and very supportive of his decision.

He hasn't looked back since. Today Mr. Miller helps clients such as the Bank of Nova Scotia, 3M Canada, Mount Sinai Hospital and Women's College Hospital improve their efficiency and communication. He has also written more than 100 articles and is a speaker.

In short, giving up a steady paycheque is the best thing he has ever done, he says.

"In my view and from where I sit now, there are no cons to running my own business. I can say that with zero hesitation," Mr. Miller says.

For starters, there's the sense of control he now has at work. Like other solo-preneurs, he is more in command over whom he works for and where that work takes place. Even what time it happens.

"My clients don't care if work is done at 10 o'clock in the morning or 9 o'clock at night. This business allows me to structure my day in a way that makes me most productive," he says. "And believe me, I'm not most productive when I'm sitting at my desk for 10 hours."

Although he admits it took more than a year to break the nine-to-five mindset, he has finally caught on and now might put in an hour of work at 5:30 a.m. before the kids wake up. Then he's able to spend a couple of hours with them before school.

The sense of control also comes into play in another way. He feels more accountable for business successes – and failures. "When something good happens at work it feels great. When something bad happens I know it's my fault and there's something I need to improve," he says.

Then there's the question of money, a common concern for most people who don't get a steady paycheque every two weeks. Rather than build up a large emergency fund that he can dip into when business slows, however, Mr. Miller uses another tactic: He gets on the phone and calls past clients or current ones. Seeing a dwindling bank account balance is the push he needs to put himself out there and do more business development.

What he doesn't do? Cold calls to strangers.

"Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to hire a consultant today.' So 99 per cent of my business comes through referrals," he says.

He doesn't worry much about competition from larger firms, either. Although he's a one-man operation – and plans to stay that way – being small can be a good thing. He's able to work with a number of clients on smaller jobs rather than get sucked into a long-term, all-encompassing gig. He can also build his client relationships from the beginning rather than simply act as a consultant who comes in to execute the plan after another colleague strikes the deal.

"I'm not naive. Of course there are people who do similar things to what I do," he says. "But I don't feel like I'm competing with anyone because there's only one person in the world with my specific background and experience. And that's me."