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Ditching office politics, spending more time surfing and benefiting from improved mental health have all contributed to Software Development Consultant Tadas Tamosauskas’ route to self-employment.
OK Do! is a small software development consultancy (it’s just me most of the time) focused on web development. Most of the time it helps companies deliver software projects when they don’t have enough in-house capacity or expertise, but I’ve also run hands-on workshops, helped hire and train development teams and advised startups on their tech strategy.
It was one of my hobbies – surfing. I’ve tried surfing on one of my holidays and I immediately knew I wanted to do a lot more of that. I was a full-time employee, an immigrant, which meant that the majority of my limited annual holiday allowance was spent visiting my family abroad, leaving me with only a week or two to go somewhere where I can surf. In order to enjoy both the career opportunities in London and prolonged beach holidays, I have decided to become self-employed.
With some budgeting skills I’ve picked up on the way, it has worked really well so far. I’ve managed to have numerous 2-3 month long surf retreats in-between clients and a lot more short holidays while on projects.
The biggest challenge by far is a mental one: I’ve heard people referring to becoming self-employed as “stepping into the unknown” or “making the leap”. It did feel scary when I was considering the switch, but if I look back now – it’s a lot simpler than I had anticipated.
I was lucky enough to work alongside some brilliant self-employed people at my last full-time position. Being able to talk to them about self-employment and their journeys has been a huge boost in my confidence. That’s when I decided to switch.
The next big challenge was understanding the technicalities of switching – incorporating a limited company, getting an accountant, registering for VAT and so on. Once again, my brilliant peers have patiently answered all of my questions. This knowledge seemed too valuable to be stashed at the back of my head, so I decided to make it easier for anyone considering the switch and wrote an opinionated, but simple to follow guide to becoming a contractor. Thousands of people have read it and I often receive emails thanking me for it. It feels really good to have been able to help people overcome their fears and making the switch.
Apart from more time for my hobbies, the biggest positive impact of self-employment has been improvements to my mental health. I remember the nights I couldn’t sleep, stressing about issues at work or some silly office politics. Ever since I’ve switched to self-employment, I see myself as an independent service provider and care a lot more about the quality of work I deliver, but I don’t personally identify as part of the client organisation, and I don’t stress about things that are out of my control.
Having a contract with an end date helps a lot too. Software development projects can be very stressful, so knowing there is an end date to the project allows me to do the absolute best I can, without the fear of this dragging on forever until I burn out. And hey, if it is really bad, I can always take off as much time as I want to wind down at the end of the project.
Being a freelancer also means you’re limited to working with companies that consider freelancers. While it’s not a big problem in London and my industry, long-term career progression is one thing to seriously consider before becoming self-employed.
Another issue might be uncertainty at finding work – you need to do it a lot more frequently, and the freelancing market is a lot more sensitive to economic and even seasonal shifts. However, learning the basics of personal finance and keeping tabs on your expenses and emergency savings goes a long way here. Worst case scenario – you can always go back to full-time employment.
I’ve mentioned some technicalities that you need to learn about when becoming self-employed. Unfortunately, accounting is one of these technicalities that doesn’t go away. However, the good news is you don’t have to know all the minutia, because Crunch does. Everything from setting up VAT, to keeping up-to-date with ever-changing rules of how much tax you owe HMRC and how to pay it, I outsource to Crunch.
I have considered hiring a face-to-face accountant, but I like the transparency that the Crunch software gives you – I can see the current or past state of my accounts any time I want. I also prefer the asynchronous, written type of communication via the Crunch app and email instead of phone calls or face-to-face meetings. This allows me to sort out my accounting whenever I have a spare moment, and leaves a written trail of record in case I need to look something up later.
I have become a lot happier with what I do professionally, and I’ve gained some very valuable experience from diverse business domains. I hope this experience will help me transition from providing services to building a product company one day. Also: more holidays 🙂
Focus on building a financial safety net and plan-B (e.g. going back full-time with the former employer) before switching to self-employment, if your situation allows it. Most likely you won’t need any of this, but going in with confidence and no fear makes a huge difference.