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I’m in favour of people starting their own business, but I also recognise it’s not for everyone. I’ve become tired of the anti-job rhetoric on social media not giving a balanced view.
Should you quit your job to be self-employed? Maybe, but think it through. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve seen people do it and it work out amazingly and seen it not work out for others.
I recently read Choose Yourself by James Altucher. In the book he directly addresses those in employment, telling them how easily they could replace their salary by working for themselves. He said a salary was the minimum someone could buy your time for and employers knew this, so paid the lowest they could get away with.
The anti-job rhetoric over social media seems stronger than ever, with constant memes stating: “You can do better! Take back control, quit your job!”. There are others, about building other people’s dreams when you could build your own, 9-5s being a form of modern slave labour, and so on. It’s a very one-sided argument.
Who’s behind these messages? Some are by self-employed people who have been successful and want to tell others. There’s a genuine reason there, albeit a very self-congratulatory one. But, more often, it’s someone selling a course on how to access an amazing lifestyle based on working freelance. A course that’s worth $15,000, available for the one-time-only price of $997. Or they are posts written by companies selling products for freelancers. It’s in their best interests that more of them exist.
Whatever you decide, self-employment must be a decision that’s right for you, and definitely not made on a whim from your last conversation or after seeing a meme on Instagram. Here are the most important considerations to help your decision:
How do I want to spend my time at work?
What are you really good at doing and is this what you are leaving your job to do? If you’re a journalist leaving to become a freelance copywriter, you might love the writing itself and be the best person in your company at it. When you’re self-employed, it’s not enough to be good at the work; you need to be good at finding it. That means the 100% that was spent on writing might now be 75%, the rest of your time is spent winning the work, self-promoting, networking, providing case studies, meetings, chasing payments and … yes… selling. How much of your time do you want to spend finding ways to market yourself and your services?
A good friend called Lee now runs his own office fit-out and interior design company. Previously, he was working as a sales person for a firm doing something similar, but Lee’s background was furniture making, he had a passion for every aspect of the work – from the networking to the sale right through to the design of a workspace. Just selling wasn’t enough and the move from employment to self-employment suited him perfectly. He’s risk-averse, so he talked through the best and worse-case scenario and knew what he was getting himself into. It paid off.
What is success?
If self-employment goes well, what do your life and business look like? What does your day-to-day involve? How much do you work? What kind of clients are you working with, how much are you invoicing each month? What happens next?
A year after I started being a freelance social media manager I had more than a full-time job’s worth of work, I loved working with my clients, but it was hard switching between being creative and transactional, so my question to myself was do I do this forever, or do I start hiring? Do I only work with clients in a specific industry? Do I try and charge more and work less? Do I charge more and work more?! What would you do in that situation?
Each step brings different opportunities and challenges. Play your decision forward three, six and twelve months. What happens next and does it excite you? Do you want to start hiring people, or do you want to create yourself a job? Or do you only want to work three days a week? How feasible does your dream timeline look and what do you need to do to get there?
How hard will it be?
The Instagram posts and the “become a freelancer” courses rarely tell you about the hard work required to win and manage clients. Nor do they explain how much work you’ll be doing on a daily basis. They give you a speculative sum of money to dream about whilst showing you the sports car they’ve bought with their winnings.
Everybody wanna be a bodybuilder, but don’t nobody wanna lift no heavy-ass weight.
– Ronnie Coleman
If you switch to being freelance or self-employed, you must be willing to do those tasks and keep doing them until they get you somewhere. You must have an uncompromising belief in yourself the whole time, because it won’t always be obvious when you’re getting somewhere.
The course of true success never runs smooth; don’t expect it to. If other people have been able to do it, you can too, just don’t underestimate the time and effort it took and don’t let their Instagram fool you that it was all straightforward.
What happens if it goes wrong?
It’s easy to think of it succeeding. It’s harder, but necessary, to think about the difficulties. It’s far easier to prepare now than when you’re under pressure to pay bills and sign clients. Imagine you replace 100% of your salary within six months. Great. Imagine you replace 75% or 50%, what happens then? Do you have reserves set aside to live on? Can you afford to make nothing for six months? Can you stay motivated to keep banging on doors of people who aren’t ready to buy your services yet? What happens when that client you were looking forward to (and banking on) working with changes their strategy?
If you’re employed, your employer takes all the risks. They’re taking a calculated gamble on you and on the ability of their company. Do you have the same confidence in yourself? What would you gamble on your own ability to smash it where many others haven’t managed to?
Where will my clients come from?
If you’re embarking on work different to your current role, can you have clients lined up for when you leave? Ask potential clients about working with you before you quit. Don’t go ahead without doing your research. If you’re leaving your current role to become a competitor, tread carefully. There may be legal implications as well as moral and reputational ones. It’s a small world and burning bridges is not advisable, you never know what you might need in the future, plus no one likes a snake.
Someone in my team gave freelancing a go a few years ago. We put a lot of work his way because he was reliable and trustworthy, and he left on good terms. However, it turned out he wasn’t keen on taking on this risk himself and didn’t enjoy being under constant pressure to find work. His passion was doing the work, not looking for it. Because he’d impressed us so much, we re-hired him.
Where will your first customers come from and what about the leads after that? Have a plan and make sure it’s based on what is likely to happen. Have you seen actual, real work you could take on as a freelancer? How many proposals will you need to submit before you secure one piece of work? It might be more than you expect.
What haven’t I considered?
If you become self-employed you will need to replace your computer, every piece of software you use and the professional indemnity insurance your employer has for you. If you work in a nice office with a team of people you enjoy engaging with, how will you replace this experience and work environment?
How will you take holidays? Will you always be ‘on’ for clients, or will you build holidays into your contracts? Or will you only accept project-based work so you can take regular breaks?
One benefit of freelance work is you choose where you do it from. A good friend, Aimee, had started out as a life and business coach in London when she realised most of her coaching was carried out via Skype. She won her clients through referral and her website, she rarely met with people in person; Aimee decided to relocate to Spain, halve her living costs, reduce the pressure and allow her to focus on serving her clients well rather than feeling she had to sign new ones. Doing better work for her clients meant the referrals came in faster and her business grew as a result.
Have you considered changing more than just your job? If relocating is the real problem you’re trying to solve, it might be possible in your current role. Make sure you have correctly identified your problem before you create a plan to solve it.
Evaluate the pros and cons
I used to rent a house and dreamt of buying one. I thought about all the good things it would bring, being able to redecorate how I wanted and not feeling I was wasting money on rent. What I took for granted were the benefits of renting. If the boiler breaks it’s someone else’s problem. Moving requires one month’s notice, not a lengthy selling process, so I’m more flexible. A fall in house prices won’t affect me. When I was trapped in a ‘grass is always greener’ mindset I forgot what I was already taking for granted. Employment versus self-employment brings similar trade-offs, and its own pros and cons, but don’t forget that you might already have a good situation.
Whatever you choose to do, I wish you all the best. Making the decision and going self-employed might be exactly the right thing for you, it might not be. Don’t go in blind, go in prepared. Good luck!
March 12, 2019 at 06:44AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs