Thursday, 27 February 2014

Self-employment Stories: Part Two

We have been spared the worst of the wind and rain that have buffeted other parts of the UK here in Rutland, though it has not been the pleasantest of months in terms of weather! I was lucky enough to be able to distract myself from the wet by attending a few choice events: a Society of Authors event with two of my favourite childhood authors, Judith Kerr and Shirley Hughes, and the 2014 Sebald lecture held by the British Centre for Literary Translation, which this year was given by another one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood. I was delighted to hear all three of them, learning that Shirley Hughes started to draw and make up stories “because there simply was nothing else to do” in wartime Merseyside, that Judith Kerr’s Mog was actually based on her real cats, and that Margaret Atwood regarded herself as “a nightmare for my translators”!

Self-employment Stories: Part Two

In my last blog post, I wrote about the story of my own path into self-employment, and promised to continue the theme this month by sharing the stories of some other self-employed professionals from a range of different businesses. These kind individuals told me about their experiences in a short survey I designed to gather some interesting anecdotes and advice for a presentation on self-employment I gave at the University of Exeter last year, and I’m really pleased to be able to share them with you here as well.

Setting up a business – why and how
So why do people become self-employed? Among the things that “pushed” people into self-employment were the end of university, redundancy, they were fed up of working for others, they were unhappy with their jobs or simply unable to find employment; and among the things “pulling” them were the desire to achieve a better work-life balance (working with young children), a passion for specific field or industry, and their desire to be their own boss. They used a range of means to fund their start-ups; among those mentioned were redundancy packages, savings, bank loans, remortgages, family support, government grants and even credit cards! They found their first clients through telesales, leaflet drops, by buying an existing business, networking, through their website, newspaper ads, agencies, social media, word of mouth, referrals, university tutors, local events, and online profiles – once again showing a range of different strategies.

Things people value about self-employment
What is it that people value most about self-employment? The answers speak for themselves:
  • “Time and Money are what I wanted from it and have achieved, but the other key benefit is developing a culture within the company that stems from my own business management views and style.” (Quality Water & Fruit Distribution Company)
  • “It creates far greater potential to generate real 'wealth' than virtually any employed position.” (Consultant)
  • “Being able to decide what I want to take on or not, choose when I want to be on holiday, the flexibility.” (Subtitling and translation provider)
  • “No limitations to what I can take on or what direction I go in next - no one says no other than me!” (Interior and garden design specialist)
  • “Not being badgered by management or having to put up with colleagues talking behind my back.” (Translator)
The challenges of self-employment
However, of course there are downsides to self-employment too! Here are some of the things that respondents struggled with the most:
  • “Sometimes feeling a bit isolated. Uncertainty about where the next job will one from. “ (Freelance editor and writer)
  • “Growing through a recession. Confronting my fears.” (Accountant)
  • “There are no employer benefits (i.e.: sick pay) unless you pay for them yourself.” (Independent Financial Adviser)
  • “It is an emotional roller-coaster.” (Language agency)
  • “Never being able to shut down.” (Nutrition consultant)
  • “Realising that every time you finish a job you’re technically out of work until the next one starts.” (Document management expert)
  • “Actually buckling down and doing the work! I enjoy being out talking to people, doing presentations and training courses, but I often lack the discipline to get on with the preparation.” (Welfare Benefits Consultant)
Advice from business owners
I also asked respondents what advice they would give to a young person (or indeed any person!) thinking of setting up their own business. Their responses certainly gave me food for thought!
  • “Turnover is vanity, profit is reality and cashflow is sanity - it's too easy to underestimate the importance of financial planning.” (Property developer)
  • “Don't undercharge or accept dumping prices.” (Translator & editor)
  • “Put by one third of everything you earn as soon as someone pays you to pay tax bill with surplus used to cover any extra investment needed, e.g. a new computer.” (Writer and editor)
  • “Don't fear failure (learn and bounce back from it) and have a mentor.” (Career turnaround coach)
  • “Get some employment experience first. That way you will learn your trade and make contacts.” (Translator)
  • “Do your market research before you start. Too many businesses fail because they thought their business was a good idea but there was no market for their products and services.” (Business mentor & coach)
  • “Determine if you have the self-discipline and drive to continue and make difficult decisions without a safety net.” (IT consultant)
  • “Your working life is a marathon, not a sprint and so you can build on a range of skills, not just what you learn at college/uni.” (Language service provider)

For me, reading others’ thoughts, experiences and advice was really enlightening; I found it fascinating how peoples’ experiences across so many different sectors and professions were similar, and how the best advice was applicable to any kind of self-employment. Perhaps my favourite piece of advice came from a people development consultant, whose message to those considering self-employment was: “Don't let anyone tell you you can't make it work! YOU CAN!”
Have you got any advice you’d like to add to this list and share with other readers? Any comments on the issues raised here or things that you would do differently? Do leave a post below – I’d love to read what you have to say!