Ditch the J.O.B. they say. Work for yourself. No more clocking in. No more answering to anyone else. Choose your own hours. Work from the beach. Embrace entrepreneurial freedom. Create the perfect work/life balance. It will be great.
Except it isn’t. Most of the time it actually sucks. But you won’t find many people who are honest about that. So I’m going to share the brutal truth…
More for less
The truth is that working for yourself usually means longer hours for considerably less pay. Oh yes, you can choose when you work those hours, but let me tell you unless you have the sleep pattern of an owl, you’ll end up doing at least 8-8 on a good day, and burning the midnight oil will soon become the rule not the exception. 9-5 will seem like a distant, pleasant memory just a few weeks in.
One is such a lonely number. In an independent report* on self employment, 25% of respondants stated that they missed having colleagues. Working alone all the time takes its toll. You end up with a version of cabin fever which turns you into an antisocial recluse – when you do have the opportunity to socialise you often pass it up because you have forgotten how to do it. Or you don’t have the time because, you know… work.
And weekends are for work.
The laptop always comes with and you pre-empt the trip by doing so much work to ‘cover the vacation’ that sometimes it’s a relief not to go at all.
You watch with envy as employed friends use their phones at weekends to merely check facebook instead of answering frantic emails and calls from clients.
When asked about the problems of being self-employed in the same survey, 30% cited not getting paid if they fall ill as a big problem. So you are never sick. If you actually allow yourself the indulgence of going to the doctor, you will merely laugh when she offers to sign you off work for a week or two. You will drag your laptop to your sickbed to attempt to keep your emails to a manageable level. Never show weakness.
Fear of Old Age
Giving up a secure pension contribution doesn’t usually factor onto the decision making of most wannabe entrepreneurs when they take the step into self-employment. Fair enough, its pretty dull stuff. But fast forward 20 or so years and suddenly that doesn’t seem like quite such a bland subject. An early or flexible retirement is actually one of the motivating factors many people choose to become a solopreneuer. But how to fund that island life when realistically your income is considerably lower than as an employee? 26% of entrepreneurs advised that not being able to save enough for the future was a problem for them. Reality bites.
Fear of no work
Starting up is easy. Staying up is what matters. So when your start up fund runs out, your new business has to stand and fall on its own merit. Cash flow is king when the safety net runs out. And this is when you stop being fussy and never say no. You are so scared of having no work that you end up with too much, and run yourself ragged trying to over service every client.
You can never go back
You become unemployable. It takes less than a year to realise that you can never again work for anyone else. The idea of going cap in hand to your boss or HR to plead for vacation times makes the bile rise in your stomach.
Self help & support
I’ve faced all of these hurdles, along with several bouts of self doubt, but I still love working for myself and wouldn’t ever change it.
It has taken a lot of resilience and I have discovered some creative self-support strategies to make it through the tough times. The most recent of which is to become more involved with online Facebook groups and arrange meet ups with like-minded people. So, after seven years of working by myself I now have an executive committee to provide support, whilst I still take the decisions. That’s been priceless.
The future might be bright
If you are still reading this article and it hasn’t sent you running for the security of a McJob, then there is every reason to believe that you have the minerals to make it. Being realistic about the challenges is half the battle. Forewarned is forearmed. Go you.
Success as a solopreneur is not a straight line. Embrace the challenges, find your own support network, and focus on your goals, whatever they may be: shaping your own financial future; enjoying your work; developing a company culture that you create; and yes… nailing the work/life balance, eventually. When you get to the point of turning away work because it’s just not floating your boat, then you know you have nailed it.
*Statistics taken from “Self-Employment Review – An independent report by Julie Deane OBE. February 2016”.
Self-Help for Small Business Owners
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Also published on Medium.