Being self-employed has been a huge learning curve for me. My parents have been self-employed for around twenty years so I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for when I decided to make the leap. I absolutely love working for myself but there are a few things I have learnt that nobody warned me about. If you’re looking to become self-employed then here are a few things I think you should know:
It forces you to be self motivated
You don’t have a choice. In most businesses, if you don’t get out of bed that day you won’t make any money or make any progress towards any goals. Having a lie in is sometimes incredibly appealing but you can’t pull a sicky when you’re self employed. If you’re not a self starter and someone who just gets things done, being self employed isn’t for you.
Everyone tells you how they think you should be running your business and has an opinion on what you’re doing
This is surprisingly common. Some people genuinely care and want to share their knowledge with you (yes you guys rock, I appreciate it loads thanks so much for your pearls of wisdom) but some people are just arrogant and think because you’re a new business you don’t know what you’re doing. Please stop, being patronising isn’t helping. I’ve asked other business owners and they also experience this a lot, I know first hand that my parents do. “You should do children’s parties”, “You should open earlier/later”, “This is how I would do it”, “I know for a fact that won’t sell”, thanks for your feedback, it has been noted. This is something you just have to grin and bare in business as everyone thinks ‘their way’ is the best way. It’s definitely taken some getting used to but it seems unavoidable. My favourite comment was when my old boss told me “you won’t make as much money as you think you will selling ice cream” when I told him I was leaving to open an ice cream shop. I guess some people can’t help but ram their opinion down your throat.
Bills, bills and more bills
One thing I didn’t consider was the amount of bills and invoices I would have to juggle. The admin side of being self employed is quite hefty. I always try to be early when paying bills (to keep in everyone’s good books) but sometimes an unexpected turn in the business takes you by surprise and you have 4 outstanding bills to pay that will have to wait.
Filling in cashflow and profit/loss prediction sheets are a waste of time
You may have been taught it in your business class or read up about it on Google but I’ve found these absolutely useless in running a small cafe. Yeah they seem like a great idea, you can sit there and plan what you think and predict what will happen in the next year which will give you a feeling of security with all these big figures but realistically life isn’t like that. You can’t foresee your £2,000 ice cream machine breaking with a loss of £600-£800 worth of stock and having to find £2,000 for a new one overnight. Bearing in mind that was all on a sunny bank holiday Monday… Yup brilliant. Customers are also unpredictable, you can’t guess what they’re going to like and you can’t predict how many are going to walk through the door. You will make mistakes and order too many mince pies that you end up giving away (seriously if anyone wants any mince pies, hit me up). Unfortunately in my case, I also can’t control the weather either. All of these things aren’t considered in these mathematical calculations. My advice would be that you avoid wasting your time with these if you have a cafe/shop, they’ll give you unrealistic expectations.
Make sure you take a day off
Being self employed is stressful and it’s really easy to get into the mindset that if you take a day off, you may lose money or fall behind on your progress. It is so so so important to make sure you take a day off for your own wellbeing. I’m a total workaholic and I have no problem working 7 days a week but it’s not healthy to do it week in and out. Take a day off, relax, don’t talk about work- trust me, you’ll feel better for it.
It’s essential you’re organised
Invest in some files and keep everything, it’ll make your life a lot easier when doing the accounts. Buy an ‘invoice’ file, ‘outstanding bills’ file and a ‘general receipt file’. You can either organise it through dates or through supplier but I can’t stress this enough. Knowing exactly where you are in terms of outgoing payments will make you 100x less stressed. I have a memory like a fish but I’ve found the Reminders app really useful on my iPhone as it links to my Macbook also. Instead of writing to do lists and then losing those to do lists, this is so much more reliable and it means you’re always on top of things.
You need to learn how to say ‘no’
This is really hard when you want everyone to be happy. If you don’t learn how to say no then you’ll end up doing all sorts of things for people that aren’t very beneficial for yourself and are a bit of a pain in the arse. People try it on. I get asked all sorts of things from people being cheeky asking for discounts to people asking if I’ll do a party for their children or even employ their daughter/son. The first ‘no’ is the hardest; it gets easier.
It’s important to keep your social media clean
Oh my god, I can’t stress this one enough. Keep it clean, don’t slag off customers, try to stay away from posting anything negative- it will bite you on the butt. Sometimes I am so tempted to rant on Twitter about a nightmare customer or how bad my day has been but it’s not worth the repercussions. It’s not the end of the world if someone is rude, rise above it and don’t resort to social media (although sometimes I have had the cheeky indirect- OOPS!) Use the power of social media to promote yourself and your business.
People will try to bring you down
I believe there are two types of people in the world, pessimists and optimists. It’s best to avoid pessimistic people in my opinion as they will usually tell you not to bother trying and that you won’t succeed or emphasise all the reasons not to become self employed. You’ll find a lot of negative attitudes towards being self employed, it’s a ‘risky’ and ‘scary’ thing to do. Try and ignore those comments. If you have an idea or a dream, go for it. Even if you never achieve that dream, at least you tried. In 50 years time, would you rather be sat there thinking “I wish I hadn’t listened to my parents and tried to pursue my dream as a photographer/musician/actor/dancer/etc” or would you rather sit there thinking “I am so glad to have given it my all, look at what I’ve achieved”? Go for it! Surround yourself with people who support you, not people who will try and bring you down.
If you work for someone you have the security of getting a pay cheque, pension, worker’s rights etc. When you work for yourself, well… You have your business and whatever money that it makes. No one is really looking after you. If your business makes no money, you have no money, it’s as simple as that.
Being self employed is great. If you want to catch up on an episode at work- you can. You are your own boss and you can work at whatever pace you want. Although it can be tough, the benefits highly outweigh the negatives in my opinion. If you have a dream of starting up your own business, go out and do it. Don’t sit there wishing, make things happen.