Working for yourself is becoming increasingly popular - and commonplace. As employment becomes less secure, being self-employed looks like an opportunity to have more of what you want from your life and work.
There’s still a lot to think about before you set up your business and start working for yourself. Planning ahead isn’t just about putting in place the logistics of working for yourself. It’s also about understanding your own motivation and what you want from working for yourself.
There are many benefits to working for yourself including the freedom to work when, where and how it suits you, and also the potential to increase your income, reduce your hours and stay excited about what you do.
But working for yourself isn’t all roses and unicorns. Although you’ll have more freedom, you can’t entirely by-pass the needs of your clients because you need to consider customer satisfaction. You may be able to work the hours that suit you, but you could easily end up working more hours rather than less – especially as you get started. And then there’s the insecurity around your income too.
When it comes down to it, working for yourself is easy – it’s making money that’s difficult.
Your biggest challenge is likely to be around branding, marketing and selling. You also may have no idea how to put together packages and proposals for clients, price your services and manage the legal responsibilities or the technical and administrative requirement of being your own boss.
If you come from any background other than sales, the biggest issue you’re likely to face is finding potential customers and selling to them.
That's because if you can’t sell, you’re going to limit your income and how fast you can grow your business. You may have some negative ideas about selling and see selling as being pushy and bit slimy. But with that attitude, you’ll never learn to sell and you’ll always misunderstand the purpose of sales, which is to help your prospect make a decision about whether to hire you or not.
There are many different ways to sell, and they’re not all about getting the sale “no matter what”. Look for an approach that feels congruent with your own attitudes, market and customers. Practice your selling technique with friends and family until you feel confident about your process. You don’t have to be perfect to start as you’ll naturally get better as time goes on.
Remember that sales is a two-way process. It’s as much about you deciding whether your prospect is someone you want to work with as much as it’s about your prospect deciding whether they want to work with you. Nothing will ruin your dream of working for yourself faster than having clients you hate. Choose carefully.
The best way to gain the skills you need to run your business is to find a business coach, join your local Chamber of Commerce, join a professional association and make the most of appropriate government-sponsored training.
Before you spend money on courses and mentors, get a broad idea of what you need. Free courses can help a lot with this. They allow you to see the big picture so you can start to put in place the essentials, such as an accounting system, business insurance, a business plan and IT support.
From here, you'll discover the gaps in your knowledge and what you’re naturally good at. Everyone is different, so the help you need is going to be different to the help someone else needs.
If you need to hire help, get recommendations and talk through your needs with the supplier. Think about what's on your ‘must have’ list, what's on the ‘nice to have’ list and what's on the ‘something for later’ list so you can spend accordingly.
We’re living in a digital age so unless it’s your goal to set up a shop, café or other kind of business that needs premises, you can work from home. That means you no longer need capital for stock, property leases and staff.
If you’re selling your skills and services, all you need is a computer, an email account and a simple business card. You don’t even need a website – though you'll probably want one. Even so, you can set up a website relatively cheaply. There’s no longer a need to spend thousands when you can use web page templates to create what you need.
In the early stages, it’s not a good idea to invest much in marketing tools like websites, logos and glossy brochures. Your ideas are going to be changing fast as you learn, grow and develop your business. Even if you’re simply self-employed, you may be tempted to set up complex and expensive systems only to find they don’t fit your needs or are superfluous. Test out automated services before investing in them.
Setting up in business requires you to identify your products and services, how you’re going to find prospects and how you’re going to sell to them. You’ll also need tools like bank accounts, payment systems, invoicing systems, accountancy systems and client on-boarding systems. Consider every aspect of your business and what you need to trade legally and what you need to manage your clients and make money.
A key aspect of being able to perform well in your business will be your mindset. You'll need to switch your thinking from that of an employee to that of a business owner. This won’t happen overnight, but you'll start to think and behave differently as you become more familiar with what you need to do to run your business and make money.
Of course, setting up in business either as a limited company or a sole trader is going to feel alien when you first start. You’ll be very aware of the risks (no clients, legal issues, getting paid on time, costs) and they’re likely to feel scary.
You may need to work through a range of fears, from failing to make money to failing to deliver the service or product you’re promising before you begin to thrive in your new role. It’s important that you know this is normal and that every business owner experiences fear as they stretch themselves and grow both personally and professionally.
As you become familiar with your new working life, you’ll begin to enjoy the freedom from having a boss and the joy of being able to choose how and when you work. As you get more in demand and get great testimonials, you’ll be able to set the terms around the way you work with others.
Make sure you remember that you’re running your business and that it isn’t running you. If something isn’t working, change it. If you have clients who are making your life a misery, find clients you enjoy working with. It’s your choice alone.
Support comes in many forms when you work for yourself. You’ll need peer support from other business owners in the same situation and professional support. You may decide to hire a business coach to guide and mentor you through the start-up phase of your business.
The other kind of support you’ll need is practical. This includes accountancy, bookkeeping, VA (Virtual Assistant), web and IT expertise, for example. You may also need ongoing support or one-off support to set up new systems and technology.
We all have our own unique skills and natural abilities, so there will be work that's easy for you to do. Choose what you want or need to learn and what you want or need to outsource. However, there are certain skills you’ll need to learn even if they don’t come naturally to you, so avoid saying, “I’m not going to do that.”
The support you’re able to put in place will depend on what you most need and what you can afford. Try to do as much as you can yourself in the beginning. But as your business and income grow, the more tasks you can delegate to your team (virtual or otherwise).
Being able to successfully work for yourself involves bringing together a lot of different tasks, skills and knowledge. Sometimes you’re not fully aware of these until you get started. That’s why it will help you enormously if you can start you business while you still have a job.
It’ll involve some long hours and weekend working, but if you’re going to rely on the money you bring in as a self-employed worker, the investment of time and energy will be very worthwhile.
It’s important to make plans to work for yourself before you leave your job. This will save you a lot of time and ensure you have work in the pipeline as soon as possible. If nothing else, use the time before you leave your job to educate yourself about how to run a business and put in place some essentials, like a business bank account, an accountant and business insurance.
It would also be worth hiring a business coach who can help you create a clear idea of what you’re selling, who and where your market is and how you’re going to go about attracting your first clients. This part of starting a business can take a lot of trial and error. So it’s worth having some bread and butter work to sustain you while you decide the details.
It’s also a good idea to have at least three months’ (and preferable six months’) salary in the bank before you leave your job.
And if you get the opportunity, arrange to work from home one or two days a week so you can cut out the commute and gain some extra hours to work on your business. Alternatively, you may choose to work part-time and even work for your current employer as a contractor.
Transitioning from being employed to being self-employed isn’t always possible. If you lose your job unexpectedly you may decide to take the leap into working for yourself without having much preparation time. In this instance, it’s important to go for the low-hanging fruit. In other words, do work that it’s easy for you to get – even if it’s not your favourite kind of work - while you build towards winning the work you enjoy.
Although some businesses take off from the beginning, be prepared for your business to grow gradually. This will make it easier to learn and adapt as you gain experience. Try to pace yourself so you don’t burn out.
Above all, believe in yourself and your ability. Be willing to be flexible and adaptable so you can survive the challenging early stages and succeed in working for yourself and making money.
Do reach out to us if you need any help or support. We have lots of business starter packages to help you go from employed to self-employed in a few easy steps. Often you need the support of a qualified team of experts behind you in the early days of branching out on your own.
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