Top tips from me to you - self employment

A couple of things happened this week to make me think it was about time I did a little musing about my experiences of being self employed.

Firstly on Tuesday I listened to You and Yours as they had a call-in about the pros and cons of going it alone and I was also approached about a cracking job opportunity, a real 9 - 5 salaried job which both made me think back 18 months and what I wish I had known at the start. No one can do it for you as your own experience is unique to you but below is a top ten and a collection of useful links that have helped me in the early hours as I tried to grapple with forecasting or National Insurance.

  1. If at all possible have some rainy day money set aside. If, like me, you go self employed after redundancy this might not be possible but consider what grants or loans you can access and what Government support there might be. I was advised to try and build-up three months money.
  2. Three seems to be the magic number as it is always good to look three months ahead at cash-flow. Which of your clients or customers might not be with you in three months? Do seasons affect your business?
  3. Do the legal stuff. It is important to have time to work ON your business as well as IN it. Make sure you are registered for National Insurance, Tax and VAT if applicable. Also consider if you need public liability insurance or professional indemnity. I found Simply Business really helpful.
  4. Get a team around you. I found leaving over 15 years employment to being queen of my own castle really strange, I still do at times. Management structures, colleagues to bounce ideas off day-to-day have been replaced with the feeling that I am the boss and the office junior all at the same time. I have a mentor, I meet fellow PRs regularly and I set myself targets. Oh and I have an accountant - I have an aversion to spreadsheets and it would take me three times as long to do and get right so I pay someone and I use the time I save to do what I do well. Being self employed means being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Office or home? It might be appealing to think of working at home in your PJs and many people can do it - I can't. I would spend my time baking and going out for coffee. If you don't want to take a big office lease straight away look at hot-desking in a Regus or seeing what local desk rentals are like. I rent office space at Aardman Animations and it is one of the best decisions I made as I still 'go' to work and leave it behind at the end of the day, I have colleagues to go to lunch with and we even have an office Christmas party!
  6. Have one eye on the long term. When setting your pricing structure or modeling how many days you will work consider things like pensions and holidays or lean times, try and avoid the temptation early on to go low on price as it devalues not only you but your marketplace. Research the competition and be proud of your net worth. Negotiate yes but don't set yourself up for a fall in desperation to get money in, consider a part-time job instead.
  7. Self employed or limited? It is hard not to get bamboozled by all the decisions to begin with, the safety net of a regular amount of cold hard cash disappears over night and you have to consider what might be best in 6 or 12 months time but you don't know what you will earn. There is lots of help out there, from the job centre to bizcrowd. If you think you are going to generate over £40k in profit then it is worth considering starting as a limited company, or at least registering and having one in dormancy, there is more protection  if things go wrong as a limited company too. It is fairly straight forward to do, but you can also pay someone to do it for you.
  8. Have a marketing plan. You can call it a sales plan, prospecting plan or PR plan but what ever you need to have one. Who is your customer? Why should they use you or buy from you? How are you going to find and retain customers? There are start-up sessions on how to use Twitter and network run by local agencies across the country, speak to your job centre or council. Here in Bristol I was supported by BRAVE.
  9. Plan holiday. Having a holiday might be a pipe-dream but be creative, go camping or go and stay with relatives or staycation. Holidays will feel different, especially if you have to have one eye on your business and check the emails but you will make a better freelancer or newbie business owner if you take time away. In my first year trading I took several long weekends rather than a week which worked for me.
  10. Have fun! It is a blast, like learning to ride a bike, it is a whole new experience that is unique because you are doing it yourself. Make mistakes, learn from them and remember to make the best of the flexibility being self employed should offer.

PS: I said no to the 9 - 5 Monday to Friday - I am having too much fun doing this and I think I am a better PR because of it! But I did offer a creative solution instead as it was a dream job, just a shame it was that three letter word.