Breaking “free” from the rat race and going the self employment route can feel like you’ve hit the jackpot of life. No more micro-managing bosses to answer to, no more petty office politics, and for most – no more bumper-to-bumper traffic or parking nightmares… Hallalooya!
BUT (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) – there’s a little more to becoming self employed than that. Otherwise just about everyone would be jumping onto this band wagon, wouldn’t they?
And contrary to what a lot of people (who’ve never ventured out on their own) might believe, freelancers and new entrepreneurs DON’T snooze away the morning, or sit in their pajamas all day long. Being your own boss is tough. It will bring out the bitch in you; it will make you want to pull the curtains shut and hide in a little corner away from the world. But, it will also bring out the best in you, and make you do things you never imagined you could do.
I started my own gift business in 2009, and became a full time freelance writer in 2012. As fun as these two jobs might sound, believe you me, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than meets the eye. So I’m going to share a few realities of things I’ve learnt over the years working for myself; the good, the bad, and the damned near ugly…
RUNNING A HOME-BASED BUSINESS
I’ll admit that I was VERY naive when I started this home business. I thought it would be super easy – that I’d have orders for Africa every month. I didn’t do too badly, but I made some silly mistakes too. Things like…
- Not having a solid, realistic plan. I had a pie-in-the-sky idea that I thought would just “take off.”
- Not having start-up capital. Even if you’re not selling products, you need to register your company, you need a website, and you need business cards before you even begin trading.
- Relying too much on others for my business. Your friends and family are NOT your customers. Yes, some of them will support you in the beginning, but don’t rely on them to spread the word of your business. Marketing is your baby.
- Not doing proper market research. I thought because there weren’t many gift hamper companies in my area, I would fill a much-needed gap in the market. I was wrong.
I kept the business going for almost two years. My biggest problem (and major rookie mistake) was not charging for things like travel (I did a ton of free deliveries) and labour. I only marked up my hampers by a fraction and made a huge loss, and that’s when I decided it was better to cut my losses, admit defeat, and close up shop.
What I took away from owning my own business
So I didn’t make a huge success and set up the family business I’d been fantasising about. But you know what? The experience I walked away with and what I’d learnt in those 22 months is absolutely priceless. It made me push myself into new uncharted waters…
- I landed a ton of interviews just for owning my own business. A lot of employers see this as a huge asset to their own business.
- I stepped out of my comfort zone more times than I can remember. As an introvert, talking to people is not my strong point, but I was forced to do cold calling and meet new people. I was forced to get over my fear of driving on the highway to take sample gift hampers to a hotel chain in the middle of town.
- I was the accountant, marketer, social media manager, gift designer, shopper, driver, customer service agent, receptionist, and CEO. When you run your own business, you learn so much more than any other job could ever teach you.
BEING A FULL TIME FREELANCER
Being a freelance writer today isn’t easy. You hear that all the time – there’s so much competition, blah, blah, blah. The thing is, with the internet and anyone who’s written a single article claiming to be a writer, tough is an understatement. Some days I don’t know what I was thinking to be honest. But, there’s a certain soul-fulfillment and sheer joy to be doing what you love, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile – most days!
Thinking about becoming a freelance writer? Here are a few things you should probably keep in mind…
- Everyone and their mother has a blog, so if you’re thinking about quitting your job and making money with a blog, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high. Rather do it as a side hobby and see how it grows with engagement first.
- Writing today isn’t just writing. It’s sourcing high quality legal images for your articles or posts. It’s marketing your writing through social media without becoming invisible to the hundreds of other things flooding everyone’s timelines, or annoying people with your constant self promotion.
- You need to let go of your writing. I’m very passionate about what I write, so when I’d get edits back on some of the things I’d written for clients or editors, I’d want to burst into tears. (I think I did more than once in the beginning). I took it SO personally. Now I don’t. I see it as a business service I’m providing. You need to learn to separate your passion for your job, to the service you’re providing.
- Not everyone is going to love what you do. Some will be jealous, some will be envious, some will think you’re following some childhood hobby. Ignore them, because at the end of the day what you do to make a living has very little to do with how they feel about it.
- You will want to give up – at least once a week. This is what I’ve found anyway. Some days things will be great and people will read what you’ve written, or your content will be published, or you’ll land a great client. And other days it will be dead quiet and you’ll feel like the loneliest person on earth. Or the most negative. You’ll question why you left the stability of a full time job. I call these my “testing” days. These are when you really need to dig deep and fight for your dream job. Because really, that’s what going self employed is all about. Living the dream. As the saying goes, “Nothing worth having is ever easy or free.”
What I love about freelance writing
There are still days when I question my sanity for leaving a full day job and becoming yet another writer – one of the millions all over the world. But then I think about all the awesome things it’s brought to my life. Things like…
- Having time to get in a good workout every day.
- Saving money on lunch, petrol, and an office wardrobe.
- Being able to listen to what I want while I’m working.
- Scheduling my own work hours.
- Being accountable. If I mess up, miss a deadline, or slack off – the buck stops with me.
- Connecting with other writers from all over the world.
- Having an online portfolio of published articles for any employer to view at any time.
GOING SELF EMPLOYED? MY TOP 8 TIPS
Those are a few things I’ve learned during my time being self employed. It’s not easy, but then again – it’s not supposed to be. It’s challenging, and that’s what I love about it. If you’re thinking about quitting your job and going this route, here are my top tips for you…
- Ready to jump ship? Wait six months. At least. This will give you time to save some money every month, make contacts with people already in the industry, and start building your brand on the side.
- Make sure you’ve got space to work at home. You’ll need a good internet connection, stationery, a desk and chair, and a telephone (not your cellphone – if you’re selling products, for example. It will make your business seem more legit).
- Do your market research properly.
- Network, talk to family and friends, get the word out there, and get feedback on what you’re planning on doing.
- Register your business and set up a business bank account.
- Treat your job like an office job. That means working 8am to 5pm (you can be flexible every now and then, but don’t make it a habit). It also means telling family or friends not to phone you during those hours. Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you’re not working.
- Spend some time researching exactly what you should be charging for your product or services. You don’t want to undercharge, but you don’t want to overcharge and chase away potential business either.
- Find your work-life balance. It’s easy to blur work life and home life when you’re working from home, but it’s important to separate the two. Make it a habit to stop work at 5pm and workout, walk the dog, run an errand, take a shower, or start supper, for example. That way you’ll train yourself to stop work at a certain time and focus on home life and family. It might be hard at first, but once you get into the habit, it will become second nature.
So there you have it; my tips for going the self employment route. I hope you found them helpful, and if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, good luck! It’s one of the hardest things imaginable, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
Image credit source: J. Hempel via Flickr