I’ve been self-employed now for the best part of ten years. Is it the easy option?
Is it always a dream?
Do I love it?
Every single day.
However, it gives me a lot of freedom about the clients I take, the work I do, and how and when I do it. In the last few years, there has been a huge surge of Instagram photos of people on a beach, selling courses ‘so you too can make your millions.’ And, actually, it isn’t impossible to do really, really well money-wise – but it isn’t the reality for most freelancers. You can work from anywhere, it might be a coffee shop, not a beach – for a while at least.
But you have to walk before you can run. There are, of course, many people who landed in self-employment, worked hard and really made serious bank in a few short months. I love to see that. I love that someone turned their time and ideas into money. It is a passion for what you do. You have to love what you do when you go self-employed. But, like with everything, if you have bills to pay – then you have things to consider before you make the leap.
This is really important. If you have a partner, then you have to talk things through with them, because you might be going from full-time employment to self-employment and the money game is going to change. It also means that people around you will need to accept that sometimes you will be working evenings and weekends, but be totally free during the day – when they might be typically working. That you might need to cut back or stop lunches and coffee dates for a short while.
And freelancing can be a lonely world. Because it is you, your brain, your computer, and clients somewhere at the other end out in the universe.
In many cases, before going self-employed, you have a steady income from an employer. Your taxes and other insurances will typically come out of your wages before they hit your bank. When you go freelance, you’ll need to factor in taxes, VAT, pension, and insurances yourself. So learning some basic accounting before your first tax return date is going to be key in helping you manage your cash well. If you are working towards self-employment, then you have a bit of time to save up first. That nest egg will help you cover your ‘must-pay’ bills before you land your first client. It also pays to know where you can apply for self employed loans, depending on your business you might need to purchase materials, space, marketing, and so on – so keep that in mind.
You will no longer get sick days, leave, or paid holidays as you might be used to from full-time employment. You should try to make sure that you do still have time away from the work that you do. Those savings, or having a few income streams (some automated income streams are a good idea) will keep you ticking over if you need some time out.
Network & Clients
They say you have to network to get work. If you are going to be staying in the same field as your usually full-time job, then you have a network you can leverage (so long as you don’t breach contract). And while there are many people who will say – steer clear of Upwork, Fivver, People Per Hour and so on. I say two things:
You have to start building a personal portfolio – and we all start somewhere
Your reputation will need to be adjusted to your self-employed status and will grow over time in this new arena. Building credibility is par for the course. The more honed your skills, the more opportunities you’ll have. And, the pickier you can be. You will reach a point where the work will come to you because someone has recommended you – and that is a powerful thing.
As your skills become crystallized, you might find that you naturally fall into a niche, and that niche will be your superpower. Sure, you can take other work because you want to – but your superpower is going to be where the big bucks come in.
And, sadly, not all clients are created equal. There will be some that don’t pay on time, that change the project halfway through, and that gives you a rough ride. While at the time that can be disheartening, and frankly not worth the cash. You’ll still learn something, even if you can’t see it until months later.
I have been asked more than once how I keep my motivation. And the truth is, I work hard because I want to. I am motivated because I enjoy what I do. I look around me, at the freedom and joy that being freelance gives me, and the motivation is there. Do I get up every morning with a spring in my step? No, because I am not Mary Poppins. But I treat my work like something I should be proud of. It has taken years of bad clients, bad days, no money, lots of money, great clients, and trying a range of mediums to get to this point. And I can never stress enough – take your time, find your motivation.
And it should be something that isn’t fleeting. For example, you’re having a bad week at work, and you want to leave it behind. That is very ‘in the moment’ motivation. But if that bad week makes you realize you have a skill that you can use to your advantage, you can see growth – both professional and personal by going freelance – then you have got your magic.