There are many blogs, posts and articles on working for yourself – the do’s and don’ts and how to make a success of it. At the risk of adding to the plethora, after 21 years of almost continuous self-employment and loving (almost) every minute of it, I feel compelled to share why I love it and what’s worked for me.
I started in business with a business partner in 1995 and continued on my own after our partnership ended (on a very good note, I might add) 3 years later. Other than a couple of short contract roles and one 2-year permanent role most recently, I have been able to generate a very comfortable income being totally self-employed.
What do I love about it? It’s the freedom and autonomy, first and foremost, secondly, being able to concentrate on the work at hand without the distractions of office politics or the side issues that one inevitably has to deal with or is impacted by in an organisation, and thirdly, the thrill of winning a job! That probably sums it up. One thing I found very quickly when I started working for myself is how much I dislike and feel constrained by routine – the grind of working regular set hours, going to a place of work (I’ve always worked from a home office), the routine of sitting in traffic or public transport, has always killed my spirit whereas for me, the freedom of being able to do my work when and wherever I choose is very empowering.
I love the type of work I do (broadly, it’s in the organisational development space and is HR-type work) – I believe it adds value to both people and organisations, and can have a positive impact on both – and so being able to focus on the actual work and give it my full attention without the distractions of what is going on inside an organisation, is again very satisfying. I like exploring new approaches, theories, techniques and concepts and to be entrusted to do that by a client for them is, for me, very fulfilling work – I’m being paid to do what I really enjoy. And there is no disputing the thrill of being asked to provide a proposal for a piece of work and then winning that work! It’s not the thrill of the chase for me (although I am quietly competitive!) but more the feeling of achievement when you know you have won the work on your own merits. It’s like applying for a job and being successful every time you pitch for a piece of work. That piece of work has a beginning and an end too, which for me, because I do like doing new and different things, also keeps me very interested – I never really know what I’ll be working on next! I’m not much of a maintainer of processes and procedures – one thing I’ve definitely learnt about myself is that I like to change or adjust (or even ignore, which has occasionally got me into strife!) a procedure if it doesn’t achieve a purpose. I love a good process that works!
So, after 21 years, when I reflect back the things that have made it work for me would be:
Find and know your niche – know what you love to do because you will do this well, possibly better than others in the market. As well as the technical skills, I also mean the way you work and relate to your clients. If you are good technically, and people like the way you work with them, the word will get around and that’s the best way to generate work, by word of mouth.
Be a business partner to your clients – I’ve never had a big client base, but I’ve been fortunate to have a very consistent client base. When it’s just you, there’s no need to take on the world – find the clients who you resonate with, who ‘get’ what you do, and value the relationship. You’ll find yourself going the extra mile without even realising it and they will be loyal to you.
Have a strong professional network – when it’s just you, you won’t be able to do every job that comes your way, nor possibly should you. So having a circle of colleagues who have the same set of values, are good at what they do, and who you can trust, is invaluable. You can partner with them to do bigger jobs, comfortably refer work their way if they have skills or capacity that you don’t, and your clients will love you for it. They will know that they can rely on you to do a great job for them, whether it’s you doing it or being able to quickly ramp up with extra capability, or connect them with someone who can solve their problem for them.
The downsides of self-employment? There are a few –
it’s a 24/7 thing first and foremost - yes, you can take breaks but the business is always on your mind and you are always ‘online’ – that personally doesn’t bother me because of all of the above points, but it’s not for everyone. Even though I’m always connected, I have a lot of flexibility and free time – it’s just not always at a regular time!
Things can get hairy when there’s a lot of work on – you never knock work back and so it can get very very busy, but you know that it won’t be like that forever and when you get a break, it’s well-earned. You have to be prepared for the peaks and troughs as that is a constant.
Keep an eagle eye on the income and expenses – make sure you can budget well, estimate realistically how many earning days you’ll have so you know what your hourly or daily rate is, put your GST and tax aside when every invoice is paid, and keep good records, it will save you enormous headaches at the end of the financial year.
Other people may have their own take on the pluses and minuses, but for me being the master of my own destiny is extremely fulfilling.