A personal review of what it’s like to be self-employed during a pandemic, a phrase I hope we will never need to google in future. Will work/life ever be the same again?
My back story
Every year at around this time I write about the pros and cons of self-employment. On 22 May 2014, I left my last permanent job, where I had worked for 11 years, with only the flimsiest plan for the next six months. My parents used to say I always managed to land on my feet, so with blind faith in that theory I assumed everything would fall into place.
It wasn’t the linear path to success I’d anticipated. Starting a business as a makeup artist in your 40s isn’t easy, especially when you suffer from imposter syndrome. Landing the dream job – a well-paid assignment making up models at Paris Fashion Week – had me running for the hills!
Within a year I was back in the comfortable bosom of recruitment, working with ex-colleagues and setting up our own business.
2020 seemed a very long way off then.
Five years on from then and only Dominic Cummings could have predicted that we’d be in the middle of a pandemic*. (When I say predicted, I mean edited his blog a year after writing it, to make it look like a prediction.)
*If you’re reading this in your nuclear bunker from the distant future, firstly well done for surviving ‘the event’ and secondly, you can read several blogs from the coronavirus diary archives here.
So, this year’s instalment is a personal review of being self-employed during a pandemic. I hope this is a phrase we will never need to google in future.
Working from home vs learning from home
My lovely office has been requisitioned by Mr Maven, so my desk is the kitchen table, which I currently share with The Teen and The Tween. Look closely and in the background, you’ll see a pile of washing up, a dog scratching at the back door, and a husband loudly making a cup of tea.
We’re all working on screens in various states of disrepair. The Teen is using a knackered PC which refuses to communicate with the ethernet cable snaking along the floor from the living room. The Tween is using an iPad which isn’t up to the job of home learning.
I’m not letting anyone touch my MacBook.
Work/life balance is all off-kilter
Like so many others, I’m juggling the multiple responsibilities of home-working, housework, home-schooling and feeding four people instead of one.
If there is a silver lining here, it is that the lockdown has opened up a conversation about work/life balance and flexibility, which businesses have paid lip service to for too long. It has now become non-negotiable. Most of us can not physically do a 10 hour a day job and manage all of our other responsibilities.
Business is more personal during a pandemic
My virtual meetings with clients and candidates start with much more than just small talk. There is empathy in our conversations and a yearning to swap war stories. While there may be no immediate financial incentive to do so, we want to help, advise and connect like never before.
We’re all getting to know the human beings behind the suits. There’s no need to wear make-up and it’s fine with me if you haven’t shaved for a while (or both). We don’t need to apologise for family members popping into view, or for the doorbell ringing. I’m not visiting clients in their beautiful modern offices. Instead, they’re coming ‘round to mine for a virtual cuppa.
Cost-cutting and prudent spending
At the beginning of lockdown, Mr Maven and I went through all our direct debits, cancelled all non-essential subscriptions and budgeted for the worst-case scenario. My business costs are low so I can keep my head down and get through this.
I know we’re lucky. My husband hasn’t been furloughed or made redundant and I have clients at the moment. For the last couple of months, the only non-essential items I have bought have been second hand through eBay or Depop, and I’ve sold a few items through those channels too. Our holidays have been cancelled and all the money refunded.
I don’t earn a salary and as I’m not employed, I can’t be furloughed. The government is supporting eligible self-employed people with grants. There will be a further payment through this scheme in August. You can check if you’re eligible here.
Ongoing personal development
No one is going to send me on a training course to develop new skills or keep in step with new technology. I have to motivate myself to keep learning. This year, I thought I’d have time on my hands during the lockdown (I don’t), so I signed up for a ten-week social media marketing course.
I talk to people every day who are desperate to find work – I know how tough it is out there. I hope this course will help me develop skills to use in my current business, but could also form part of a potential plan B. It’s more useful than the Reiki course I did a few years ago anyway!
What has being self-employed during a pandemic taught me, apart from ‘don’t go into lockdown with a houseful of boys’?
It’s made me realise that I don’t want to give up my independence. Many of my employed friends are on furlough at the moment and their futures look no more certain than mine, but the decision is out of their hands. My business might have to adapt to new market conditions, but I want to and need to work.
The new normal
Mr Maven came up with the portmanteau ‘newmal’, a mash-up of ‘the new normal’ which everyone keeps banging on about. I’m going to leave that here until other people start using it.
What will the new normal be like for any working parents? Until our kids all return to school, can any of us return to the way we were? Now that everyone has had a taste of working from home, do we need those big corporate offices and the long, arduous commute to get there?
I wonder if our routines will ever be the same. Will I be expected to travel into town to meet clients again, or will Zooming become so ubiquitous that it becomes part of the lexicon, like Hoovering or Googling? Or newmal.
I don’t have the answers. Time will tell. I can always come back to this blog in a year and edit the shit out of it.
If you’re self-employed, does any of this ring true, or is your experience of the pandemic entirely different? If you’re employed, what have your challenges been? And if you’ve become unemployed, could self-employment be your next opportunity? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment.
Take care of yourself and each other.
Much love, Vx