Everything you need to know about going self-employed

In this piece, we discuss the process of going self-employed and speak to business owners about the lifestyle changes they experienced.

How do you feel when Sunday evening draws to a close? Do you feel a kernel of dread in the pit of your stomach when you think about going to work on Monday morning? Well, if so, you might want to consider doing something else. After all, the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives, is it not? It’d be a shame to waste yours doing anything other than what you really love. Going self-employed might be the answer.

That’s a sentiment that a growing number of people are beginning to latch on to, which could be why there are now 4.69 million self-employed people in the UK. Some 15 per cent of the workforce is self-employed, enjoying working for themselves on their own terms. The majority of these people report a high level of job satisfaction, and the overwhelming majority show no desire to want to return to traditional employment ever again. So, is it an option that could make you feel happier and more fulfilled than you currently are?

Well, that’s something to consider carefully. ‘Before going self-employed, you need to be armed with all the necessary information; analysing your market will help you build a successful business plan for your business. You will also need to think about insurance, opening a business account and managing your own financial records, keeping them up to date and accurate,’ says Andrew Johnson from the Money Advice Service.

But even with your finances in order, it’s not going to be a walk in the park.

That’s why we’ve spoken to a number of people who are self-employed right now, asking them what they desperately want you to know about self-employment before you take the plunge. Let’s start with some of the cold hard truths: the things that aren’t particularly enticing, but need to be talked about nonetheless…

Making an effort to connect

When we asked people what’s like going self-employed, one of the most talked-about things is isolation. ‘I find it incredibly lonely sometimes, especially because I’m such a sociable person,’ says Lizzy Millar, a freelance sketch reporter and PR plugger.

While it’s great to be your own boss, it’s can be quite hard spending so much time in your own company. If you feel energised by sharing a physical space with colleagues, or you enjoy the conversations you have a busy office environment, working for yourself might prove challenging.

But is this a reason to never take the plunge? No. You’ll just need to give some thought to how you’re going to stay connected to people, and make sure that you carve out enough time for yourself. Millar puts emphasis on ‘you’ time, explaining that she goes for a morning swim every day to prevent herself from working in pyjamas all day.

She also makes sure she gets away from her desk, spending time on her allotment. Also, she and her husband run a resident’ group so they can socialise with their neighbours. ‘I’m involved in lots of worthwhile causes as this helps me to feel like a person who isn’t the sum total of her job,’ she adds.

So, make sure you get out the house at regular intervals, take up hobbies and make an effort to put yourself in places where you can have a conversation.

You’ll need to be fastidious with your record keeping and tax returns

‘Taxes are no fun at all when you’re self-employed, especially when you’re combining self-employment and PAYE,’ says Louise, a freelance translator. In fact, working for yourself means you need to be disciplined enough to save money every time you’re paid by a client, as your taxes will not be automatically deducted. You’ll also need to file a tax return every year without error or delay.

But you can make it easier for yourself by keeping in touch with HMRC and appointing an accountant. This is what marketing and PR consultant Claire Elbrow did. After ten years of successful self-employment, she says that the best lesson she’s learnt is to ‘outsource the stuff you hate doing or cannot do. Otherwise, admin uses up your value earning time, and could be much better done by someone else.’ So, be honest about your limitations and pay an accountant to do your tax returns for you if you think you’ll struggle.

But what about the positives of going self employed?

You’ll learn from other self-employed professionals

Freelance social media consultant, Pippa Akram explains that being self-employed gives you the opportunity to build relationships with other people in a similar situation to you. That’s essential: it ensures you’re charging the right rates, managing your workload effectively and allows for hard-earned wisdom to be shared.

For several years, Akram made it up as she went along. ‘I just went for what I thought I should charge and advise,’ she explains. ‘But then a couple of years ago I found a contact: I bounced ideas and pricing off her.’ This helped Akram to understand what she really ought to be charging and how best to work. ‘As a freelancer, especially one starting out, it can be a big ‘unknown’. What you really need is someone to ask questions to, who isn’t a relative or a close friend, and ideally someone who’s in the same industry as you,’ Akram says.

So, follow in Akram’s footsteps and find yourself a contact you can trust and respect. Share your experiences with them and mutually support one another; it’s a great form of support and can be the difference between enjoying self-employment and regretting it.

Flexibility and freedom is a major plus when going self-employed

The buzzword we’ve heard time and time again about going self-employed? ‘Flexibility’. Namely, the ability to work the hours that suit your life is undoubtedly the best thing about being self-employed for many people. Time is such a valuable commodity, and for many of us with families, hobbies, relationships, passions and pastimes (which is pretty much everybody, isn’t it?), the ability to choose when you work and where you work from is priceless.

That said, it doesn’t mean you’ll work fewer hours than you would in employment. In fact, Sara Tasker, an iPhoneography and Instagram professional who also writes on a freelance basis, has been self-employed for a few years and says that being your own boss ‘takes so much more out of you than a 9 to 5’.

This is something we heard many respondents say, commenting that your work becomes something you think about around the clock. You (and your family) will find that you’re perpetually ‘on’ and checking your emails, and going self-employed often requires you to work on weekends, evenings and even during normal family time. However, as Tasker adds, ‘you won’t mind because you’re having so much fun!’.

Working for yourself is worth the extra hours you’ll need to put in if it means you can be around to pick your kids up from school, take the dog for a long walk or even just run an errand without needing to negotiate time off with an employer.

You’ll learn how to promote yourself

Finally, ‘selling’ ourselves and asking for so much attention isn’t something that most of us are comfortable with. But, self-employment demands that you’re good at marketing yourself and your services if you’re going to keep getting clients through the door. This is something that Miho has experience of, explaining that self-promotion was initially difficult for her. ‘It didn’t come naturally to me, and it’s still a work in progress,’ she admits. ‘But you do learn to sell yourself and become your own best ambassador. As a result, this grows your confidence, self-belief and self-worth. A nice bonus to an increased salary off the back of reaching out and putting your best self forward!’

So, with the heads up about the problematic aspects of working for yourself, as well as so much freedom, flexibility and personal reward, why wouldn’t you make the change to going self-employed?

Further reading on going self-employed

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

Related Topics