“How’s unemployment going?” my friends ask.
“I’m not unemployed,” I reply, “I’m self-employed.”
“Yes, yes, but it’s all working in your pyjamas and taking photos showing how you’re trying to work hard but oh dear your cat keeps getting in the way, right?”
I’ve been self-employed for just over a month now and all preconceptions that this freelance gig was an easy ride have been blown out of the window. And so, for the purposes of posterity, and to help out anyone else who finds themselves in the same boat…
5 things I’ve learnt about becoming self-employed
(and yes, I realise listicles are so 2014)
1. The hardest part is taking the first step
OK, OK, forgive me a little artistic license here. Obviously, there will be things much harder than this – finding clients, paying the bills, the hours and hours of work for no gain, the “oh my god what have I done?” moments etc but that’s for later. The hardest thing you have to do now is make that first step. You have an idea, you think it will work, you’ve done the sums. Now you just have to… do it.
Leaving a steady job with steady pay and steady benefits is hard. It’s horrible. But it’s also one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. And that satisfaction is just going to grow as my business does.
2. Set a routine early on
…but also don’t be scared to break your routine. I think in order to work for yourself, you need to know yourself. You need to know whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. You need to know whether you’re prone to eating the entire contents of your fridge if something goes wrong (which it will). When I decided to start out on my own, I knew that I’d have to establish quite a rigid routine early on, otherwise days would be sucked into endless Jeremy Kyle reruns (we all have our guilty pleasures, ok?) This means I’m up at 6.30 each morning. It means I try and do some exercise. It means that I’m at my desk by 8.30.
And sometimes the routine fails. (This morning, for example, the thought of running made me want to cry. So I didn’t go. But at least I still managed to get out of bed.)
It may be that a solid structure won’t work for you. Maybe you’re more disciplined than I am. Maybe you are happy working until 2am.
You have the freedom now – find something that works for you.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Sometimes you will have off days. Sometimes you won’t have any work to do and all that’s awaiting you is piles and piles of admin. Sometimes you just don’t want to do anything. This is ok. It’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to be flexible. After all, isn’t this one of the reasons you wanted to be your own boss?
It’s tempting, when you’re first starting out, to spend wads of cash on beautiful things. A shiny new website, stunning business cards, decor for your new office (“being surrounded by beautiful things will help me work!”). Don’t. Don’t do it.
The majority of your first commissions will probably come from existing contacts – old work colleagues, friends, consultants you’ve worked with before. They already know you, you will have already contacted them (I hope?). Don’t spend all your hard earned savings on an all-singing, all-dancing website. A simple website outlining what it is you do and how you can be contacted is all that’s required at the start.
Wait until you start making some money before spending it all, eh?
4. Be shameless
Do you remember that guy you used to work with about 6 years ago who left and set up his own business? What about that consultant who came and pitched to you a couple of months ago? And that person who gave you their business card the other day?
Call them. Email them. Get in touch.
Old contacts, new contacts, contacts who aren’t really contacts – they are all important. Everyone you meet may be able to help you. They may have a new project that isn’t public yet which you’d be perfect for. They may know someone who knows someone. They could just be good for advice.
Don’t be afraid of staying in touch with people. Whether it’s a simple hello email to catch up on news, an invite out for coffee, or an interesting article (like this one!) you’ve seen and want to share.
The mantra I live by? If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
(also, there is no such thing as a bad pizza, but that’s another story)
5. Get out and about
There can be a lot of waiting about, especially in the beginning stages – you’ve sent all your admin off but you’re waiting for some piece of paper, you’ve done the work and you’re waiting for feedback, that webinar doesn’t start for another 2 hours. Lots of waiting.
Yes, you can use this time to do admin (Hoorah! Admin!) but also take this time to get away from your workspace (whether at home or in a shared office) and interact with some fellow human beings. You could go to a local coffee shop and take advantage of their free wifi to do some writing or internet research. You could go to a specific networking meet up (and, if there aren’t any such groups in your area, take the first step and make one – that’s what I did!). You could just get out and take a walk.
Get out, see the real world, get some inspiration. Have fun.
Beaumont is a communications agency based in Lausanne, Switzerland. We work with clients all around the world to change the way they talk about themselves – helping them create engaging stories that motivate action. Are you a freelancer? Need some advice on where to start? We’ve been there. Get in touch.