The self-employment survival guide

Five years ago this week, I dragged myself onto the London Underground and into my corporate job as a recruitment consultant for the last time. Twenty years working in consultancies was coming to an end and I was ready to burst forth as a fully fledged makeup artist.

More on how that worked out later.

Each year, for the last four years I’ve written a blog about what I’ve learned as a self-employed person (in whatever guise that may be). I’ve just had a read through the previous posts. Year two was obviously a challenge and if you’re considering becoming self-employed I really urge you to read this ‘warts and all’ look at self-employment.

Here are my latest musings on plowing your own furrow.

Failure is the opportunity to begin again

I left permanent employment without much of a plan. I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do, but not much else.

Soon after I launched my makeup business in 2014, I received a call from an agent, asking if I could work at a fashion show in Paris. I would be flown there, put up in a nice hotel, all expenses paid and would be backstage, creating various makeup looks for a succession of catwalk models.

Every budding makeup artist’s dream, yes?

I panicked. I wasn’t who they thought I was. Yes, I had done some training and created an online portfolio, but I had only been in business for about two months and this was totally beyond my ability. I’m not talking about my imposter syndrome pulling me down, it was real. I could not do this job.

I pulled the plug on my makeup business that very day. If I wasn’t able to take on a dream assignment like that, what was the point of continuing?

I had failed

Failure was humiliating and knocked the wind out of me. But I had chosen the wrong path, acted decisively and saved myself from years of flogging a dead horse.

Closing that business didn’t kill me. I admitted defeat and the world kept turning. People didn’t laugh at me. They might have been saying some rather unsavoury things behind my back, but that’s none of my business. 

So said Henry Ford , “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Pivot!

I took another look at my skills and experience, read the wonderful book Be a Free Range Human and began again.

The timing of my failure couldn’t have been better. An old colleague called to ask if I could help him with a couple of recruitment projects, and the rest is history. Our recruitment business is now in its fourth year and busier than ever.

And then there’s this blog, weird thing that it is. Five years ago I would not have imagined I’d be involved in campaigns ranging from menopause, to the under-representation of older women in the media.

Being given a brand new Vauxhall Grandland X to swan around town in for a few days was another highlight of this year.

I'm clearly not going to win any awards for Car Journalist of the Year, but I can demonstrate how Vauxhall's Grandland X kept a busy woman comfortable and calm during a most hectic week.

It’s a long game

Developing a blog or a business takes time. Most businesses fail in their first year, because people have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they can make money. If you’re thinking about leaving permanent employment to grow your side-hustle or start something afresh, you will need a significant financial buffer.

It took around 15 months for our recruitment business to reach a tipping point, where we had a regular client base and knew we would make our targets.

During that time I found other ways to make money. I bought and sold on eBay, I guest lectured at a University and during quiet times I took courses to arm myself with new skills. There are plenty of free resources online. Pinterest is a good place to start. If you’re learning, you’re using your time productively.

Learning to deal with rejection

“Every no brings us closer to a yes,” my old boss used to say every time a recruitment deal fell through. It sounds like nonsense, but I get it. When something doesn’t go your way, you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

That’s easier said than done with everyone around you seems to be smashing it.

Over the last year, I’ve had crippling self doubt. I had a quiet start to the year financially, when nothing seemed to go my way. I didn’t know when or from where the next paycheque was coming. On top of which, I had a few snarky comments from friends about my ‘little lifestyle business’ which REALLY pissed me off.

It’s never really like this:

Five years in, this is my honest, warts-and-all opinion of self-employment. It's a hard slog. I've failed hard along the way. But I wouldn't change a thing.

Appearances can be deceiving

I appreciate that the outside world (ie Instagram) sees me strolling through the woods and taking photos of my lunch, but in between I’m working my arse off from morning until night.

I thought about closing the blog. I had comparisonitis. Social media wasn’t helping. So I picked up my journal and took a few days off. I needed to focus on the day job and get my head down. Slowly things started falling back into place. A couple of big campaigns came my way and I got my mojo back.

By the way, I’m terrible at all this ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ stuff. I understand all the theory, but it’s not so easy to put it into practice. It doesn’t do any harm to have a couple of days of reflection. Take a break, get some fresh air, read a self-development book, then put on your big pants and push through it. Keep on keeping on. The only guaranteed way to fail is to quit.

If I can do it, you can do it.

Self employment is unpredictable

If you enjoyed doing exactly the same thing day in, day out, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Self employed life is unpredictable, a bit scary and also a lot of fun. I’m able to fit my work around dog walks and taking the kids to their after school activities. I don’t know any permanent jobs that offer such variety.

With unpredictability comes uncertainty of course, but that’s the pay off. I reckon it’s worth it.

I would love to hear about your experiences. Have you taken the plunge yourself or are you thinking about it? What do you love and hate about self-employment, or what concerns do you have about making the leap? Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: nothing to disclose.]

Five years in, this is my honest, warts-and-all opinion of self-employment. It's a hard slog. I've failed hard along the way. But I wouldn't change a thing.