Two years ago this month, I quit my job of 11 years and walked away from two decades of full time employment, to start up my own business. That means that I’ve already been self-employed for 10% of my working life and feel like I’ve achieved so much, and so yet so little.
I’ve learned several new skills which would have remained on a seldom-visited wish list, had I not taken the leap. For example, I can take my camera off ‘A for automatic’ and take decent photos for the first time; I have learned how to build a social media presence and have been hired to give lectures to undergraduates on blogging; I can give salon-grade facials and apply makeup to a professional standard.
And yet, for all this self-development which I’m hugely proud of, I feel guilt, frustration and am yet to achieve anywhere near a regular income. There are weeks when I’m chasing my tail, writing sponsored posts, attending events, working on the day job of recruitment… and then nothing. Weeks go by with no new opportunities, I spend the previous month’s earnings (and then some), and the sense of doom increases.
I’ve read so many books and articles about the benefits of self-employment. The gurus say we should quit our day jobs and just do what we love. Apparently I only have to take the next e-course, follow the formula and I’ll be rich beyond my wildest dreams.
I would place myself at the glass-half-full end of the optimism scale, but I don’t think there are enough people talking honestly about how difficult it is to be self-employed.
The thing is, all of the benefits of self-employment can be just as easily described as drawbacks. Here are just eight of them:
8 reasons to love and hate being self-employed:
1.I love working from home
I have a lovely home office, overlooking our willow tree. I can hear birdsong and a distant cricket match. I don’t have to commute. I can go to work in my slippers. I practice yoga in the hallway during my lunch hour, in my pants. I can make tea without asking a room full of people if they take sugar. I’m beginning to sound smug, but you get the picture.
I’ve also been able to keep a close eye on our building project over the last couple of months, saving so many potential wrong turns.
1.I hate working from home
So much goes on here that I was oblivious to when I commuted to an office every day. If one more delivery man asks me to take in a parcel for a neighbour, I will scream! No caller, I have not recently been in a traffic accident that wasn’t my fault! Yeah, sure I’ll get the car serviced and pick up the dry cleaning. It’s not like I have anything better to do!!
And as for the building work. Some days there have been 11 builders on site simultaneously and I’ve felt more like a foreman than a business woman.
2.I love the independence
I can choose the direction my business takes. Two years ago, I described myself as a makeup artist; then I had a virtual skincare shop; now I’m a lifestyle blogger/recruitment consultant – two career paths that might not naturally fit, but somehow work together.
I could decide to take a completely different direction tomorrow if I feel like it. I’ve already taken the scariest decision, leaving permanent employment. I don’t have anything to lose.
2.I hate the independence
With independence comes insecurity. It’s all well and good going in all these different directions, it’s fun, interesting and makes me a more well-rounded person. But where’s the next pay-cheque coming from and when am I going to be able to afford to put money into my pension again?
I can spend days procrastinating and postponing a project and no one’s going to take me to task over it. Which is not good for business and makes me feel guilty. No one is telling me what direction to take, so am I making the wrong decisions? Would it be better for my family and our finances if I went back to “work”? What am I contributing exactly?
3.I do everything myself
I am Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Marketing Officer in my own little world. I’ve had to learn to do all of these things, with a lot of help from friends and experts. How liberating and satisfying to be in control of every part of my working life.
3.I do everything myself
God, how I hate sorting out my receipts at the end of the month. That hour I spent trying to sort out the paper jam in my printer? I’ll never get that back. And chasing invoices… I just can’t.
4.I love being in control of my diary
Despite being a director and being told I had autonomy by my last employer, I know that my diary was scrutinized when I wasn’t in the office and every hour had to be accounted for. Now, I take the kids to school every day, so if someone wants to speak to me before 9am, they’ll just have to wait. I’m also at the school gates to pick them up in the afternoon. The next couple of hours are spent with them and preparing dinner for the family. I can pick up work where I left off after dinner, or over the weekend.
We’re saving a small fortune on childcare and I’m there to see my kids grow up.
4.I hate being in control of my diary
Being at school twice a day gives me a comparatively short working day. When clients want to see me at pick-up time, I have to call on friends for childcare favours. In reality, if I need to work once the kids are back from school, I just have to plonk them in front of the TV and hope they don’t interrupt that client call. I’m not giving 100% to either my work, or my family.
Here comes the guilt again…
5.I love being in control of my annual leave
I don’t have to check with colleagues if I can take a day off or go on holiday. As long as the hubster and kids are available, we can just go.
5.I hate being in control of my annual leave
I never take a day off. I haven’t earned it yet. We’re going on holiday for ten days in the summer and I have no one to send my handover notes to.
6.I love the responsibility
If I have a great month, that’s all down to me.
6.I hate the responsibility
If I have a crap month, that’s all down to me.
7.I love the unlimited earning potential
When a client pays their invoice, I pay it straight into my bank account. I don’t have to give 90% of it to my boss. The only limit on my earning potential is my time (see point 4) and my ability (see point 3).
7.I hate the unlimited earning potential
Oh yeah, when’s that going to happen?
8.I love solitude
When I’m not out at meetings, I’m on my own at home. I enjoy my own company. I don’t miss the endless requests for help from everyone in the office. I like the absence of music that isn’t to my taste. I was never very good at the water-cooler chat and, being relieved of any management responsibility means I’ll never have to do another appraisal. Yay!
8.I hate solitude
For 11 years my social life revolved around my work colleagues. I still see many of them, but it takes effort and planning. If I didn’t have a recruitment business for which networking is essential, I could easily become a recluse.
This isn’t meant to be a one woman pity-party. It’s just very easy, given the propaganda about self-employment, to believe that leaving a permanent job is a no-brainer. Every benefit of self-employment has a flip-side.
As it happens, I’m enjoying being independent much more than being employed and my love of solitude and structure have probably rendered me unemployable now anyway.
It’s just not for everyone.
What do you think? Do my experiences sound familiar to you? Please leave me a comment below. Vx