The self-employment survival guide: what I’ve learnt in four years

This was the view from my bedside table four years ago.

It's been 4 years since I left my permanent job to become self-employed. Here is some advice I wish someone had given me when I started out. The self-employment survival guide. What I've learnt in four years.

Nothing extraordinary about having an alarm. Except that this would be the last time it would wake me up early for my commute to the office.

Four years ago this week, I worked my last day as a full time employee. At the end of that day, I packed up my belongings, gave back my keys and walked into the unknown world of self-employment.

For the last three years, I’ve written an annual post reflecting on my progress and what I’ve learnt. Looking back over those articles, I can almost feel the fear, frustration and uncertainty, along with the excitement of the new.

According to Recruitment International, eight out of ten companies fail in their first year. Reading about the potential pitfalls of going it alone, it’s a wonder any small businesses survive.

This year I’m feeling more settled. It’s taken four years to really know that self-employment is the right path for me. There are still months of financial stress, times when I feel I’m totally in over my head and days when motivation just eludes me. But overall I’m moving in the right direction.

I’ve made some critical discoveries this year, things I wish I’d read about earlier on. Here’s my advice for keeping your head above water and holding on to your sanity, which I hope might be helpful if you’re just starting out on your own.


In my first post about self-employment, I was clearly feeling overwhelmed having sole responsibility for developing the business, technology and website stuff, finances, marketing etc etc.

Whether you’re starting a blog which you want to monetise, opening a bricks and mortar business, or are offering a service or consultancy, you don’t have to do everything on your own. Even on a tiny budget, you can get help.

Here’s how:

On my first day as a self-employed person in 2014, I went to a networking event. I had to give a one minute presentation on my business. I obviously didn’t have a business on day one, but I set out my intentions and met a group of inspirational women, some of whom I’m still in contact with.

During that first year, when I didn’t have the money to pay suppliers, I bartered – trading my services in return for theirs. I went to all sorts of events, coffee mornings and talks, introduced myself to entrepreneurs and built my network.

Networking groups can be expensive, so check out Meetup, where you can find local events for like-minded people.

Although there is no substitute for meeting people face to face, online networking can also help. Facebook groups can be a great way to get support and advice if you’re a small business owner, with an issue you don’t know how to solve. Just make sure you choose wisely. Read through old comment threads to make sure there is genuine support there.

Networking should be part of your business strategy, not just for seeking out referrals for your business, but for helping you build a network of suppliers.

In my recruitment work, I can now share the responsibility with my three business partners. We are all still self-employed, but to the outside world we’re colleagues operating as one company. I do the marketing, my colleagues do the business development, IT and finances respectively.

Are there other people you can collaborate with in your business, on a barter basis?

It's been 4 years since I left my permanent job to become self-employed. Here is some advice I wish someone had given me when I started out. The self-employment survival guide. What I've learnt in four years.

2.Be in control of your money

Not having a regular income can be the most challenging element of self-employment. It takes up to four months for my invoices to be paid after I’ve completed a project. Like buses, you wait ages for a payment and then they all come at once. So I’ll have a really poor quarter, followed by an amazing one.

There is no consistency, so financial planning is tough. And not knowing when you’re next going to be paid is incredibly stressful.

Despite the fact that I keep a percentage of everything I earn in a separate bank account, to pay my tax bill at the end of the year, I received quite a shock in January’s post. I had miscalculated what I needed to put aside for tax by a few thousand pounds.

I think that was the wake up call I needed to get a better handle on my money. Now I know the amount HMRC is going to ask for next. Paying the bill will still hurt, but the money is ringfenced.

Get yourself a good accountant and ask for his/her advice on how you should manage your money throughout the year – not just when HMRC comes knocking on your door.

3.Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle

I heard this saying four years ago and it still resonates. Whatever stage your business is at, there will always be others who appear to be more successful than you.

But however similar their business might seem, they don’t have the same shit going on as you, and you don’t know what they’re going through either. You may be earning less money than the next entrepreneur, but perhaps you’re spending more time with your family. We all have different goals, timescales, commitments, setbacks. There are so many variables, there’s just no point comparing yourself to anyone else.

You do your thing as best you can, OR in whatever way makes you happy.

4.And if that doesn’t work, then change!

I have changed my focus several times since leaving that permanent job. I’ve gone from being a makeup artist (short lived) and having a skincare business (still going, but in the background), to starting the blog (you’re reading it) and going back into recruitment.

I imagine the balance will shift again several times before I hang up my boots.

Think back to why you left your permanent job and focus on your motivation. My motivation was to spend more time with the kids, to be in control of my own destiny and to be able to dictate when and where I worked.

All of my business reincarnations have met those needs, but the earlier versions weren’t going to keep a roof over my head. So I had to change direction.

It might take a few attempts to figure out what you want to be when you grow up (even at the age of 45). Don’t regret those attempts, they will have given you valuable skills and shown you where you can develop and improve. You needed to take those steps to get here, to this part of your career.

Self-employment gives you the independence to change your goals, as well as how you get there. Figure out why you’re doing it, and if what you’re doing isn’t working – change it.

Keep on keeping on.

All of this takes time and effort. Success seldom comes overnight. So many businesses and blogs close during the first year, simply because people give up.

The only certain way to fail is to quit.

Please have a read through my posts on this subject from 2016 and 2017, especially if you’re thinking about a career change. Hopefully you’ll see that perseverance pays off. As I’ve said before, it’s not for everyone. I don’t intend to sound smug or all-knowing. These are just my humble opinions. I know there will be more bumps along my professional path. But I’m willing to take the rough with the smooth.

I would really love to hear from you if you’re self employed. What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards?

Much love, Vx

It's been 4 years since I left my permanent job to become self-employed. Here is some advice I wish someone had given me when I started out. The self-employment survival guide. What I've learnt in four years.