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Working for yourself - top tips on becoming self-employed

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In the UK, we seem to be at a cultural crossroad when it comes to our jobs. Many people are finding that the inflexible nature of nine-to-five isn’t working for them and are looking for new and inventive ways to make their work suit their lives better.

From problems with accessing childcare to rising commuter costs, to lack of artistic freedom, there are many reasons why people are choosing to become self-employed.

(The debut episode of our jargon-free ‘Take The Leap’ video series take you through a bunch of important things you’ll have to think about first!)

We spoke to some small business owners about the tips they’d give to those thinking about going it alone.

Make your passions work

If you want to love what you do, you need to find what you love. Jeremy Evans, co-founder of the jargon-busting news service Explaain, says “find something you care about deeply… you might end up changing the world”. Starting your own business is the perfect opportunity to invest in the thing you’re passionate about and make it your job.

Write your ideas down, away from the computer

Jim Callendar, a web designer and developer, decided to write his ideas down while he was travelling: “I had a notebook full of ideas, so when I returned home I was ready to execute each and every one of them”. Keep a notebook in your bag or next to your bed for those 3am inspirations. You never know how much it might change your outlook.

Get experience

Jim suggests getting contract work at agencies to build your portfolio and CV. This way, you’ll be earning as you learn and gaining great clients for your portfolio. If contracting isn’t an option for your business, you could always try getting experience and building connections by providing your service for free, or at a discounted rate, as Jeremy advises – “whatever you’re doing, give it away for free for now, and beg people to just try it”.

While this is one way of building your profile, it might not be feasible for you to work for free,  you’ll want to make sure your work is valued, and rightly so. You also need to bear in mind that you will need to start convincing people to pay for your skills and talents eventually. Some businesses are certainly out to exploit those looking to branch out, so set very clear boundaries for yourself from the beginning.

Is your idea good?

Finding something you’re passionate about is great, but that doesn’t mean you should jump in without any research. Alice Maplesden from Shoreham Pottery suggests that you need to “think carefully about whether there’s a market for what you want to do”.

Honestly asking yourself “is my idea any good?” will save you from venturing into something that could be doomed from the start. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t think big, but find a way to make it work before you commit to a life of it.

Make sure you’re money-savvy

It might seem obvious but when you become self-employed, you sacrifice the regular salary or wage that you might be used to. For this reason, it’s important that you prepare for this. “Always have a financial backup and never go down to the wire with your money” advises Suzanne Lindfors, a freelance writer. Working part-time or moonlighting alongside your existing position gives you the chance to build connections and experience before you dive in.

Ask yourself honestly, what do you need to start?

When you start your business, you’ll need to know about several responsibilities, such as registering your company and whether you’ll need business insurance. Knowing exactly how to start a business is the first hurdle.

But there are other things to consider, too. When Alice opened Shoreham Pottery, she knew that she needed equipment and materials but found it “difficult to navigate the business essentials such as insurance and registering the business”. In fact, many of our clients recommend seeking extra financial assistance from the very beginning. Freelance writer, Melissa McClement says, with hindsight “If I was starting now, I’d make sure to get myself some proper financial advice”.

Networking

From banishing some of the predictable loneliness of solo-working to building your client base, networking serves many purposes for the self-employed. Sound engineer Phil Hutchins’ top tip on going self-employed is to “join unions, small business communities, and groups on social media that can help with advice, technical learning and support”.

Considering many self-employed businesses rely on word-of-mouth, it’s a really good idea to build some strong connections. Many freelancers rely on one another to share work in the event of life-issues getting in the way of projects, so knowing one or two fellow freelancers you could ask to help out can really help you professionally.

Set your working day

Self-employment isn’t the standard Monday-to-Friday and the working days might start to look and feel different to what you’re used to.

Lauren Bravo, a freelance writer, suggests that you need to have a routine to your days in order to ensure your work gets done properly- “getting up at the normal time, showering and getting dressed can be really helpful putting you in the mindset for work”, however, she suggests that you need to “understand your own rhythm”.

If you’re struggling to motivate yourself in the regular working day, going for a walk and picking up where you left off in the evening is one of the beautiful things about self-employment. Some self-employed people can work all night, others need a structured working day. You’ll find what works for you, just as long as you actually do the work.

Get organised

Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean your inbox and workflow needs to descend into chaos. Jim Callender gives this tip: “Write down a list of items you need to achieve each day and have a project flow of ‘live’, ‘pending’ and ‘archived’. This way your day is organised and you don’t find yourself drowning in projects at the last minute.

Create a working space for yourself

It doesn’t matter if you’re planning on working at home, in a co-working space or on-site, it’s important to have space specifically for your work- away from the distractions of life.

Lauren Bravo uses this tip from her mother, who is also self-employed- “never put the tv on before 6pm”. In the age of the digital box set, it’s easy to put off work and watch another episode when you don’t have the physical presence of a boss breathing down your neck. But you do have a boss – your clients are your boss.

Self-discipline is important, and Jeremy Evans suggests making yourself accountable to others is a strong way of ensuring your work gets done- “ I’ll go to a cafe, buy a nice coffee, plug in the headphones, tell a friend (for accountability sake) that I’m going to have it done in an hour.

Thinking of going self-employed?

Join Crunch Chorus and you’ll have a wealth of resources to use when starting your own business – from invoice templates to articles. You’ll also be invited to meetups and events, where you can meet like-minded professionals and build your network.

Next steps

If you’re going to take the leap then we’ve got plenty more help for you whether that’s how to register as self-employed, what small business taxes you need to think about, or whether to start out as a sole trader or a limited company. Our Becoming self-employed section is a great place to start.

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Ross Bramble
Content Executive
Updated on
April 9, 2021

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