What I’ve learned about self-employment

Right back at the beginning of my freelancing adventure, I wrote a blog post about the weird and wonderful things about freelancing and self-employment in general.

For the last 18 months I’ve been working from home doing freelance work for communications agencies and I have been doing some consultancy with small/micro business clients as well. I’ve had “traditional” freelance work ie ad hoc tasks ranging from 1 day to 1 week, and longer-term part-time project management contracts. So quite a mixture, covering a range of different types of self-employment.

But what have I learned from this experience?

1. Self-employment is not an easy option

Being self-employed requires passion, discipline and perseverance.

If you don’t love what you do, or have a strong reason why you’re doing it (eg making a difference to a particular group of people, or because you want a certain lifestyle), you will find it hard to motivate yourself.

Once you’re out of the 9 to 5 office environment, you are the only one responsible for making things happen. And you will spend a fair bit of time on your own, wondering whether you’ve done the right thing.

You might not succeed at the first thing you try, or you might need to adjust the way you do things to really attract the right clients. You need to have determination and be resilient enough to pick yourself after disappointments and keep going.

2. Self-employment increases your self-awareness

MeerkatWhen you’re self-employed, you have the responsibility for making money. But you also have the opportunity to do it in a way that suits your unique personality and way of working.

This means that you need to know yourself well to get the most out of your time.

Understanding what things you prefer working on, knowing your best times of the day for certain tasks, realising what types of people you work best with – these are all things that self-employment teaches you more intensely that you learn in the 9 to 5 workplace.

Not to mention the art of self-care. If you’re the only one in your business (or even in a small business with others), you need to look after yourself! That means knowing what to do to cheer yourself up, how to motivate yourself, making time to relax and do nice things, taking time to notice little details and not get caught up in a treadmill of being busy.

3. Self-employment teaches you new things

As a self-employed person, you need to do some kind of accounting, whether you have help or not, whether you have a limited company or work as a sole trader. At the end of the day it’s just admin, but learning the things you must do and the things you can outsource is crucial.

You also have to promote your business or services, and that takes bravery. It gets easier each time you send an e-mail to a prospective client, and it’s less scary the more networking events you go to. But particularly if you’re promoting yourself as a consultant or freelancer rather than promoting a product, it’s not easy.

Because you have to do a lot of things yourself, especially if you’re working on your own with no budget, you might have to teach yourself how to set up a website using WordPress, or how to get the most out of social media to tell people about your business or your services. But these are valuable skills to learn, even if you eventually outsource them.

Being self-employed relies on having clients, so you learn a lot about dealing with them and managing their expectations. If you’ve never worked in a client-facing role, that can come as a shock. I was lucky that I had some experience in the agency world, dealing with corporate clients, as well as my customer service work early on in my career.

And in conclusion?

I read an interesting article recently – 5 signs it’s time for a new job. And I think this applies equally to self-employment. When you’ve learned all you need to learn from an experience, when you’re not enthusiastic about the work, and/or when you need a new challenge, that’s the time to move on to something new.

I’ve gained a lot from being self-employed, and I don’t regret the experience at all. But now it’s time for me to go back to being an employee for my next adventure, and to do so knowing that I’ve found a job where I can do the things I am best at doing, and where those skills and talents are needed and will be valued within the team.

And all the things I learned from being self-employed have either contributed to that decision or will come with me to be incorporated into the next phase of my working life.

Further reading

You might also want to read these articles:

What I’ve learned about designing your own way of working

The strange world of being freelance

5 signs it’s time for a new job (from the Huffington Post)

What is meaningful work?

How personality profiles have changed my work focus

5 thoughts on “What I’ve learned about self-employment

  1. Love this post Nina! I want to open my own tearoom in the future but have no business or self-employment experience. It’s good to know what to expect from being self-employed.

    • Thanks Marteen, I’m pleased it was useful. And when you do embark on your plans, at least you know plenty of people through CBWM who are self-employed and can point you in the direction of information and inspiration 🙂

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