What I wish I knew before becoming self employed | #take5

When I first started my business, I expected to be rolling out of bed with a spring in my step, working in a beautiful in-house office, sipping smoothies, hanging out in coffee shops and living my best life. The reality? Far from that.

Instagram makes everything in life look pretty dreamy right? Whether it’s peoples’ jobs, families, home or holidays, social media sure shows the highlights reel. Todays post is all about uncovering the ‘real life’ and taking the filter off of what it looks like to be self employed.

Prefer to listen rather than read? Check this post out on the podcast!

Let me start with a little insight into my story. I took on the title of ‘self employed’ at age 17 and being so young, naive and in-experienced, quickly realised that if my business (and I) were going to survive, a steep learning curve was in order. In true Alice style, I jumped into my new business with no consideration as to what that transition was going to look like, and part of me wishes I was better prepared for that change.

If you’re considering taking the leap into being self employed please continue reading, learn from my mistakes and better prepare yourself for the transition. Being self employed is an incredible thing and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it’s a world away from the Monday - Friday 9-5, so do your future self a favour and keep reading. 

YOU’RE YOUR OWN EVERYTHING

Sounds pretty odd right? But it definitely took me by surprise. When you work for yourself, you no longer have colleagues or managers just down the corridor, ready to give you support / encouragement / guidance / inspiration etc when you need it.

You’re officially alone (unless you have a team, which is pretty rare when you first start out). So if you’re going to work effectively, you need to actively seek out those things - support / encouragement / criticism / motivation / inspiration etc.

For me, I don’t struggle with motivating myself, but something I am no good at is looking at things from another angle. To combat this, I have systems in place to ensure that I’m regularly reviewing my work to see if it can be better / more effective / done in a different way. Whatever your weakness is - ensure that you’re taking initiative to seek it out, in yourself or others!

Don’t be afraid to seek out these things in other people! If you’re missing the community and support of colleagues, join a support group for people in the same position as you. If you’re no good at long term strategy, hire a business coach to walk you through it.

YOU WON’T BE DOING YOUR ‘WORK’ ALL THE TIME

This one was a total shock to me. In my head, if I was launching a ‘digital marketing’ business, I would spend all of my time doing digital marketing. But it’s just not like that.

Being a one girl band means that everything involved in the running of my business is done by me. Whether that’s editing podcasts, updating my website, closing deals with clients, chasing invoices or writing emails - if it needs to get done in my business, it’s done by me.

In reality, I probably spend 3 days a week doing all the faff that’s involved in running my business and the remaining 2 days are then spent doing what I really enjoy; educating people on using social media to grow their business’. This is something Cat touched on in episode #1.

Of course, the long term goal is to increase efficiency & outsource to a place where I’m purely doing what I love and am best at, but when you first start out - be prepared to be doing a whole lot less ‘work’ than you expected!

PEOPLE WON’T UNDERSTAND

When I first began working for myself, I was the first to correct people who mis-understood my job or had an opinion about being self employed which I thought was un-true. I clearly recall people at my old job (where I had worked a 9-5) mocking how easy my life was now that I was self employed, and although I am probably the least confrontational person you’ll meet, it really hit a nerve with me.

In my 18 months of running my business, I’ve had to learn to let peoples mic-conceptions about my job / lifestyle pass over my head. There really is no point getting caught up over mis-judged opinions or spending 20 minutes trying to explain what I do, because quite frankly, I’m still not sure my friends could tell you my job. As long as your clients understand who you are and what you do - you’re all good.

I’ve also learnt to give people a little grace! In the previous 6 years, the number of people in self-employment has grown by over 1.5 million, which makes being ‘self employed’ a fairly new and quick growing concept. Often, peoples mis-conceptions are down to a lack of understanding, so bite your tongue and assure yourself that everything is a-ok.

IT’S OK NOT TO WORK 8 HOURS A DAY, 9-5

Let’s be real here, an incredible benefit of being self employed is the flexibility. If your business is a digital one like mine, it’s true that you can work from anywhere at anytime, so long as you have a WiFi connection. However, what’s the point in having that flexibility if you’re not using it?

For the first 6 months of working for myself, I was still sat at a desk Mon-Fri 9-5 and had a very similar lifestyle to the one I had just walked out of. I did this because working flexibly made me feel guilty. Seeing the rest of my family leave the house to go for work at 8am, whilst I was still sat in bed on Instagram made me feel incredibly bad, like I was lazy or taking my job for granted.

But 18 months down the line, I cherish choosing working hours which work for me. If your business thrives on you working 5 hour days or just 3 days a week - go for it! Don’t let the ‘norms’ of how everyone else works make you feel unable to pursue your preferred schedule.

I’ve found that working from 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm is best for both my business and myself and when that wave of guilt comes from hearing how many hours a day my friends work, I just ignore it.

TIME IS YOUR BIGGEST COMMODITY, PROTECT IT

This lesson was a total game changer and is the final thing I wish I knew before becoming self employed. I work from home and can work pretty much anytime, from anywhere, which means that when people ask if I’m free for activities, favours or outings, I generally am.

Whether it’s picking them up from the airport, going for a walk, heading to IKEA (personal fave) or helping them out, I find it very hard to say no. Being so flexible can make you instantly available to everyone, which is all fun and games, until you realise your to-do list isn’t getting any shorter and you haven’t actually been at work all week.

As much as I adore spontaneous trips and sacking off work for ice cream, it’s important to protect your work and your time. I’ve come to recognise that everything I do has a knock on effect. If I take the afternoon off to binge watch Netflix with a friend or spontaneously take a trip to Belgium (real life story), the work I missed still has to get done. So unless you’re up for working through the night or emailing on the go, protect your time.

Don’t get me wrong, if a friend is free and it’s a Wednesday afternoon, I’m still pretty likely to say yes to a trip to IKEA, but before I respond, I carefully consider the impact it’ll have on my business.

Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

THAT’S IT!

That felt like a long post! Thank you for taking the time to read it, I sure hope you enjoyed having an insight into what it looks like to be self employed.

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy ‘self employed by 17 and the lessons it taught me’ check it out HERE.

alice-benham