Has it really been three years?!

Has it really been three years since I decided to leave the world of full-time employment and go it alone? Apparently so! I regularly have people asking me how I went about it, so I decided to write up my own experiences – along with a few hints and tips.

The advice offered to me in the very last meeting I had with a senior manager at the last company I worked PAYE for frequently chime in my head.

We sat down together and I let him know my plans for leaving my job and my hometown of Bristol, and setting up on my own. He was very supportive and told me:

 “There is no reason this won’t work for you. You are good at your job and you have great experience. All it takes is grit and determination. Make a plan of what you want to achieve but don’t be too rigorous at sticking to it. Adapt it to fit with your findings. You will find your niche and you will also find out what you enjoy doing and what you don’t. Go to it!”

Although I didn’t work with this particular manager very closely, his words really stuck in my mind. “There is no reason this won’t work.” It sounds a very simplistic view, but he was right. I was good at my marketing job, although it had taken me a while to realise that after falling into a couple of unsuitable roles, which knocked my confidence.

I decided to take it slowly at first. I really wanted to make sure I was making the right decision and working in an area that I enjoyed. My circumstances at the time meant I had the luxury of being able to go at it cold turkey without having to worry about my bills, but I would always say that if you are planning to go self-employed and you have to, like most, keep paying your mortgage, phase it in. Start putting your business together in the evenings after your day job, then explore cutting down your hours so maybe you can work at it one day a week.

In my experience some people take to being self-employed, are very self-motivated and can manage their time well, while others find it daunting and overwhelming. Having worked in a sales job on the road for a number of years, I was used to managing my own time effectively and I took to it very well. I know others that have taken the same step and suddenly find they feel lost and don’t enjoy working solo.

I believe this is something to really think carefully about. Do long hours by yourself, being your own self-motivator and critic really suit your personality? There are days when I miss the company of co-workers and being able to chat a task over with the person next to me, but on balance this way of working suits me. You just have to make more of an effort to get out and about, so you don’t turn into a hermit!

I really enjoy my job, and I have to say I’ve learned so much more both personally and professionally than I did in years at a ‘regular’ work place. Every day presents a fun challenge (usually!) and because I work with a very diverse range of clients, which I love, I’m always learning about different industries and coming up with solutions for their individual requirements.

My top 10 tips for going it alone:

1)    Have a plan. It doesn’t need to be a complex document with your predicted 5-year deliverables but do get onto one side of A4 what your business is, who your clients are, what services you will offer and what your customers will gain from working with you.

2)    Start talking. You may be able to write down what your business is all about but being able to succinctly encapsulate your business and objectives in a few clear sentences is a skill. This is your elevator pitch and it takes practice! Chat to your friends and family first, then branch out to folk who don’t know you as well. It will help you hone it down and work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a matter of saying it out loud which can be scary!

3)    Be clear and open. When working with clients, problems can occur when a plan hasn’t been put in place to manage their expectations. Are they on your back about delivering a project when you are nowhere near getting the first draft over to them? This is most likely down to you not managing their expectations from the start. Create a time line and let them know about each stage of the project. Drop them an occasional email to reassure them that you are working away and that you are on track to deliver. If possible, overestimate how long a project may take and deliver it early!

4)  Be kind to yourself. Realise that what you are doing is new and you will make mistakes. Hopefully they will just be small, but you’ll always be able to learn from them!

5)   You can’t be an expert at all elements of running a small business. Understand what you are good at and what services or support you will need to outsource. As Jessica Clifton's analogy goes, I could buy the tiles and equipment to redo my bathroom, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to do a good job. I’d have a much better bathroom if I got an expert in to do it! When running your own business time is precious and you need to concentrate on what you are good at and outsource what you aren’t, there is no shame in it. Sometimes you need to invest to move forward.

6)   Keep learning. Now that you work for yourself you aren’t going to have the luxury of being sent on training courses to keep yourself up-skilled. There are plenty of free resources out there to take advantage of. You may need to pay for a few elements to get you off the ground, but don’t rush into it. Consider what value they will bring, and whether they’re worth the investment.

 7)   Work hard and don’t expect handouts. Remember, it has been your choice to become self-employed. There may have been circumstances that forced your hand, but that will never be a reason to feel that you deserve any special treatment. All too often I speak to despondent folk who are self-employed who feel they deserve a handout because business isn’t going well. I get requests for discounts from my services because they are a startup. Sure, there are funding bodies out there that might be able to support you, but it’s not always the case.

 8)   Number seven but in reverse! Because you’re new to being self-employed doesn’t mean you should charge your customers less than what you’re worth – and it doesn’t mean you should give out freebies either. Figure out your pricing and why you charge that much, and don’t devalue your product or service.

 9)   Keep adapting. Hard work and constant evaluation and adaptation of your business is key. It’s the only way your business will grow and develop. Don’t feel that you have to rigorously stick to your initial plans, if you have tried it and it isn’t producing the results you need, move on!

10)  Be kind and polite. It sounds simple but remember your manners! Reply to emails in a timely fashion, be on time for meetings (even Skype calls!), don’t make excuses as to why you haven’t met expectation e.g. “I’ve been really busy with other clients...”, manage expectations and support your peers – your small business network can be a life line.

11)   And a last sneaky, extra point – have fun! I love being self-employed. As long as you manage your time well and work had you can really make the most of the time you have and be flexible. Go on dog walks, spontaneous trips to the beach, a lunch time bike ride and meet with friends. You are your own boss so make the most of it!