You’ve done it — you got out of the rat race. No more 9 to 5, long commutes, making small talk with colleagues you don’t like. Breath a sigh of relief that pointless meetings, queuing for the photocopier, and cranked up air-con are a thing of the past. You’ve been dreaming about working for yourself for years; the freedom, fortune, and flexibility to be who you want to be. That side hustle has now become your main hustle, and you’re now the big boss, a bloody amazing boss at that (if you do say so yourself). If only you’d done it sooner.
But when you take off the rose-tinted glasses, the true picture is revealed — being self-employed is much harder than you thought it would be. You focused so much on the good stuff that you forgot all about the things you’d be giving up. Perhaps the ‘employee’ status you left behind isn’t looking quite so bad now?
If going self-employed is to be successful, you have to get out of your ‘employee’ mindset. The quickest way to do that is to unlearn these 5 habits.
1. No Work = Money
Gone are the days you could stroll into work late with a hangover, push around some paper, leave early, and still get paid whatever you used to earn for a day’s‘ work.’
Being self-employed is a hard hustle. Now, if you’re not working, then you’re not earning. Remember that the next time you want a lie-in.
It will be necessary for most people to earn money as quickly as possible, and therefore, spending days lounging in bed won’t be an option. To stay motivated, it’s important to have a target in mind of precisely what you need to earn and how many hours you need to put in to achieve this. To do this, consider how much you need to earn to pay for essentials (rent, bills, food, business costs), and then calculate how many hours you will need to work to make that money.
For example, if your outgoings are $1000 per month, and your new business involves selling handmade candles at $10 each, and one candle takes you 1 hour to make, you need to work for 100 hours per month or roughly 25 hours per week. Add to this the time spent selling, shipping and doing additional paperwork, let’s say another 10 hours per week, then your total hours equal 35 per week. This number will motivate you on any days that you don’t feel like working.
2. Starbucks is a necessity
Ah, sweet, sweet coffee. Your morning trip to Starbucks for a flat white (cough) salted caramel mocha was perhaps the best part of the day. Drinking Folgers at home isn’t quite cutting it, and just two days into your new life, you’ve had to find a Starbucks.
You stand in the queue, smug in the knowledge that you don’t have to go into an office anymore; you get to hang out with the freelancers in the coffee shop all day. You’re so happy you’ve already decided you’ll bring your laptop with you tomorrow so you can do the same.
“This new life is awesome.”
Stop! Starbucks is not a necessity; it’s a luxury when you’re not earning any money. Go back home and have a Folgers. When drawing up your budget, remember to look at a recent checking account statement as this will highlight all the little expenses that you easily forget about.
Sometimes small expenses like coffee seem unimportant when looking at the big picture, but if you’re spending $4 per day on coffee, that adds up to $124 per month or $1,488 every year.
Make a detailed budget of everything you spend in a month and exactly what you can afford. This can (and should) be revised every month when income and outgoings change depending on your situation and business needs. Now that your income is potentially irregular/unstable, you will have to re-assess whether coffee is a necessity you can’t live without or a luxury you just can’t afford.
3. Work ends at 5 pm
You’ll be lucky. Work ends when it ends, which means it doesn’t end. Don’t you remember point number one — if you’re not working, you’re not earning?
Stop thinking about your day as work and your evening as leisure. It’s all work from now on, baby. Day and night now merge into one. Forget about evenings in front of the TV, that’s a concept only for employees. And weekends? Best to pretend they never existed. You’ll miss them less that way.
Time management is essential when starting on your own. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of working erratic hours late into the night and on weekends. I use the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks your day up into 30-minute chunks (25 minutes work and 5 minutes rest) and will help you balance work and leisure time. Try to set ‘normal’ working hours, as this will give your day added structure. Even if you can’t stick to it initially, it will give you a good idea of what you can achieve in a ‘normal’ working day and will help you plan your future schedule.
Also, look at other habits and routines that make it hard to get out of the 9–5 mentality. For example, when I became self-employed, I struggled to keep up with my routine of cooking dinner at 6 pm because I was still working. I fell into the habit of ordering take-out, which did nothing for my health, or bank account. I soon realized that if I had my main meal at lunch-time when I would always allow myself an hour break, if I ended up working until 9 pm, it would be much easier to prepare (and digest) a salad at that time.
4. Someone else is in charge
Do you remember when you used to hate your boss? If only you were in charge, you’d show them how it was done. But then there were days when you were quite happy letting someone else manage it all and take the flack when things went wrong. You could sit there happy in the knowledge that you didn’t have any real responsibility.
But you’re in charge now, and there’s no blaming anyone else. Mistakes mean losses, and that’s coming out of your pocket. There’s no one to sort out the marketing or accounts, and there’s no IT department to fix your slow computer; it’s all down to you.
You are seven people in one now, and you need to know everything.
Maybe you already have all the skills you need, which is great, but if you do need to learn about finances or marketing, for example, then consider whether outsourcing is an option. If not, then prioritize what you have to know now to make your business work and what can wait until a later date. If you need training, consider whether this is something you can learn for free or whether you will have to spend money on a relevant course.
Remember, everyone makes mistakes when they are their own boss. Learn from it and move on.
5. Workload is manageable
Okay, maybe the workload wasn’t always manageable when you were employed. But there was at least was some semblance of order. Work flowed in, and work flowed out. You knew what you were doing from one day to the next, at least most of the time anyway.
Workload is now just your unpredictable friend. Maybe it will show up, maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll get a call at 2 am, or maybe you won’t hear anything for two weeks. You’ll have to learn to love it. Say goodbye to routine, order, and predictability. You probably didn’t like them that much anyway. Embrace uncertainty; it’s the only way to live.
You can’t always control business flow when first starting out. Some weeks a heavy workload will mean that you will have to work long hours, and other weeks you may not have much work at all. It’s important not to become overwhelmed, and using time-management techniques, as mentioned above, will definitely help.
When you have a lot of work, organize what is important and what is urgent. In the beginning, it may seem like everything is urgent and important, and sometimes only experience will show you otherwise. Managing expectations will help in the short-term — managing customer expectations of the time-frame they can expect will reduce pressure on you to commit to something you can’t achieve. Managing your own expectations of how much work you will have based on your research of the type of work you do and the demand for it will help you plan for workload fluctuations as much as possible.
On a more serious note, if you are self-employed, you’ve achieved what most of us can only dream about. You’ve joined the 28% of Americans that call themselves their own boss.
Yes, being self-employed is challenging, but it’s also pretty amazing. You’re carving out your own future and making your own way in the world. Gone are the days when you used to answer to someone else. This is freedom, baby.