One of the first things I got asked, (I don’t anymore, because it’s a bit of a boring story), is why did you become self employed? The short answer? I was bored working for under achieving, over paid idiots that knew less than me but played internal politics far better than me. That and I was once locked in a safe with two hysterical women for 4 hours, but that’s a different story.
Personally i think it takes a ‘special kind’ of person to brave it and go self employed. Strangely since the economic crash of 2008, almost half the jobs created in the UK are freelance or self employed. Which means when times were good, in my opinion, we all considered ourselves a little less brilliant than we actually were. I’m sure that’s the comfort zone type of psychology. The great economic crash happened. Some found jobs, some sat on their arse and watched Jeremy Kyle, others like you, got off your backside and went and FOUND work. And that is quite special.
A great example of this is a young lady I’m working with called Laura. Laura is in her 20’s and is a graduate in Social Media. She graduated and…well perhaps the reality of there being no jobs hit her. Just because you’re a graduate doesn’t mean you’re impervious to market forces. Actually, it probably means you are more susceptible. Intelligent people + Few Jobs = Low pay for a better kind of person. Not saying that’s right; it’s just the way it is.
Laura took her future in her own hands rather than sit behind a laptop on ‘People per Hour’ and look for a job. Guess what? She went and did something so old, it’s as old fashioned as a Hovis advert. (People in their 20’s will have no bloody idea about that). She knocked on doors and asked to to speak to the right people. I’ve got give credit here to her now boss, Mick. He sat down, gave up his time to talk to her and find out what she wanted to do and what her vision was. She’s now an integral part of his business and is part of something quite exciting as their business drives forward. And she’ll be an absolute key part of it’s success. She’s got the heart and mind of a self employed person and that can only help drive the business in the future. I guarantee it.
It’s odd really, in that you don’t know who’s self employed and who’s not. They don’t look a specific way. They don’t talk a specific way. They have so many varied backgrounds and specialities, but there doesn’t seem to be a blueprint for a “Brilliant Business Owner’. Some of the people I’ve spoken to over the years have come out with many reasons of going self employed…
The boss is driving you crazy because of his short-sightedness.
You don’t get along with the other employees because you keep taking control of team projects and bossing everyone around.
Sick of your great ideas being ignored.
Frustrated at the status quo and the lack of innovation in your field.
Discriminated against, laid off, restructured, demoted and under-valued.
Fed up and ready for a change.
I’ve found that there are at least 13, basic, important characteristics that predispose people to go out on their own, and I’ve put them here. If this list sounds anything like you, then seriously consider stop reading this blog and just getting on with it.
1) You want flexibility in your schedule. Yes, everyone wants this. However, to succeed out on your own, you have to understand that being self-employed does not mean a shorter work week – in fact, it usually means a longer day and week. I have been self-employed for five years and it’s nearly impossible to take a vacation unless you have a very supportive partner or your work is seasonal. However, if it’s a really nice afternoon and I’m not on deadline, I can go town or take my son to the cinema or watch him play his Playstation. With self-employment, you make the rules of your schedule, but time not working is time that is not paid. This trade-off is one that you appreciate and are willing to embrace.
2) You want more control over your ideas, your projects and the work that you do. Are you a control freak and a micro-manager? Are you Type A personality? ( These include hostility, impatience, difficulty expressing emotions, competitiveness, drive, perfectionism and an unhealthy dependence on external rewards such as wealth, status, or power. Yeah, you’re a laugh at dinner parties aren’t you?) I can’t imagine having to run things past a co-worker or a boss now. My work and my ideas are mine alone and the only criticism I get is from my clients (positive or negative). (Oh and myself, which to be fair is not a great personality trait to have).
3) You don’t play well with others. People generally consider me to be friendly, gregarious, funny, good looking, impressive, inspiring and outgoing (and humble). However, in a work setting involving a team project, I turn bossy and controlling. I do work with other freelancers and contractors as needed, but I don’t manage or supervise anyone, and I love it that way. Simply because just on occasion, it’s easier to do it myself than get someone to do it wrong and waste my time redoing it. I’m great at communicating, (humble again also), but sometimes you end up speaking to people that have a post-it note above their bed to remind them to breathe.
4) You have passion for what you do. Whatever you decide to do with your one person business, you need to have an ability to translate your passion to your customers and clients. The self-employed thrive on an unbridled enthusiasm for their work. Otherwise you will quickly burn out and get discouraged.
5) You are a good listener. Being self-employed does not mean talking about yourself all the time to anyone who will listen – quite the opposite. You need to listen to conversations in your industry, listen carefully to your customers and your clients and become a fantastic analytical thinker. Be able to repeat back to people what they are saying to you and offer solutions to their problems. The amount of people that ‘think’ they know what a business needs is unbelievable. You’re customers know what they want…with the right questions they’ll tell you what they need and then it’s a case of will you be able to deliver?
6) You are comfortable being “the decider”. When you are your own boss, you can’t pass the buck. You are your brand and your business, and if something goes wrong or there is a complaint, you need to embrace the criticism, make improvements and move on. Or do what I did…take it personally and make yourself ill. But more about that on another day. (That’ll be one of those uncomfortable subjects later).
7) You have a support system. Working alone (and often from your home) can be isolating and lonely. Without co-workers, there is no stress-relieving water cooler banter and a group willing to give you an office party on your birthday. This can be very lonely for some people, so it helps to have family and friends who understand this situation and are willing to help. Your support system must embrace your lifestyle and be totally on board, especially when you start doubting yourself. This is where I let myself down badly. I began to isolate myself the more and more I did. That’s apparent now. Because when things fell apart for me, there was no-one I could reach out too. I was stressed, upset and not thinking logically. I was becoming rational in an irrational mind. That’s not healthy. It’s heartbreaking. And these blogs will start looking at the signs and the symptoms so you can look after yourself now and avoid the pain, anguish and heartbreak I put myself through.
8) You are a disciplined self-starter. You don’t need anyone else to tell you what to do and you always take the initiative. To be self-employed and succeed you must be proactive much more than you are reactive. This requires the ability to effectively manage your time. People may think I spend all day in my dressing gown and slippers (Not a great sight), watching episodes of “Jeremy Kyle”, but I get up every day at the same time and I work intensely during normal work hours (and in the evening and on weekends). If I screw around and waste time, I don’t get paid. It’s as simple as that.
9) You are able and willing to attend events alone. This is the most difficult part for most. People like the shield and protective cover of a group. When you start our own business, you need to be willing to put yourself out on a limb and walk into a room where you don’t know a soul. Attend conferences, workshops, classes, seminars, fundraisers, networking events – by yourself. If you attend many of these types of events, circulate and introduce yourself regularly, then you will see some of the same people and build relationships so that you aren’t out there by yourself as much. You’ll also quickly work out who the ‘serial networkers’ are. They attend every event, talk to their mates, and never seem to do any work whatsoever. Avoid them at all costs!
10) You are able to compartmentalise work and private life. This is something I’ve struggle with constantly. Being self-employed means you set your own hours, so you need to be able to do just that – set work hours and hours for family/personal time hours. I want to be available to my clients 24/7, but I also want to spend quality, focused time with my family at the end of the day. I want to be fully present for my work and fully present for my family – definitely easier said than done, but something that is vital for personal and professional stability. This is another reason why I’m writing this. I lost that plot. Spent too much time on my ‘phone’ and wasn’t present enough. A huge regret and the beginning of the end.
11) You have an ability to let things go. You don’t take things personally and you don’t dwell on things you can’t change. If something from the work day is really upsetting me and I know I can’t have any impact on the outcome, I have a glass of wine, write an angry blog post or email (and then delete it) and get over it. Or that’s what I used to do. As I became unwell, I realised that I had no release mechanism for this. What was once a very raw, honest and open relationship, became secretive as I didn’t want to tell my partner what was really happening. And then I began to worry about the worry and the secrecy. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look rationally at it, but unless you have some type of system in place, it’ll bite you on the arse quicker than a dog vs. a postman.
12) You can go with the flow. Understand this about self-employment – when it rains it pours, and then there are stretches of drought. Five fabulous clients will call you at once, and then no one will call for weeks. You must be able to adapt and have the ability to balance stressful, busy work periods with slower times. Or at least be doing the right thing to be an optimist.
13) You are resourceful. As your own boss and only employee, you are responsible for sales, financials, taxes, legal issues, accounting, technology problems, and everything in between. The ability to juggle multiple demands on your time is key for a self-starter. Either that or have a great web of contacts that can do things for you.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe that everyone should go out on their own or quit their day jobs. Some people need to work for somebody else, others will blossom, thrive and become brilliant working for themselves, and still others will do a little bit of both things. That said, if the list above speaks to you, don’t wait for the “perfect time”. There is no such thing. You’re either brilliant or not. There’s no shame in it. But when you’re 100 years old and on your death bed, what would you like people to say about you? That you had a brilliant idea and did ‘diddly squat’ with it? Or made a big success of it? Just remember one of the oldest Entrepreneurs on the planet to taste ‘success’ was Harland Sanders, best known as Colonel Sanders of KFC fame. He didn’t start up in the Fried Chicken business until he was in his 50’s. Not done too bad has he?