May 2017 marks the end of my first year as officially ‘self-employed’.
I’ve been tattoo writing since 2014 but for the first couple of years this was always alongside a full-time job. Since 2008 I’ve worked in arts marketing and PR here in the UK and worked in roles for a variety of different theatres and events venues up and down the country.
In May 2016 I made the decision to go self-employed. In the last 12 months I’ve worked from my home-office in Warwickshire on a variety of different marketing and digital projects, whilst at the same time running this blog and writing for other tattoo magazines and non-tattoo publications.
I guess I’ve kind of lied in the title of this blog – there haven’t actually been any huge revelations or life-lessons for me, personally. All of the below points… I already knew that they would be a huge part of freelancing and were the reason I made this career decision in the first place.
These 8 truths sit comfortably with my own personality, as I thought they would. When I decided to go freelance, I was confident that I wouldn’t regret it and damn, I was so right.
If the statements below sound like they match your own way of working too (and you’re still employed by a third party), maybe the time has come to make the same step for yourself?!
1. Never under-estimate the importance of a smile
When I was employed in an environment with others and having a bad day, I could show it and (hopefully) not get the sack! Working for companies I found that support network combination of the colleagues and the organisation to be so valuable. If I had a personal emergency or was just feeling a bit down and the dumps, I was always truly honest, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be judged or penalised as a result.
As a self-employed consultant, however, I always try to maintain a constant level of professionalism, especially with one-off clients who don’t know me well. Their relationship with (and how their perceive) me is so important. It can be a difficult juggling act at the time, but if I’m feeling the stress of a particular project, the client doesn’t need to see that. I’m much more careful not to jeopardise my relationship with them by being a bit grumpy or under the weather. I don’t want them to take their business elsewhere if I’ve got bills to pay!
If you’re working for an organisation and have always prided yourself on developing positive relationships with those around you… if you’re the guy that arrives at work with a huge smile every day, happy to greet everyone and ask them how their weekend was… you could be the perfect freelancer!
2. Bank holidays and weekends are not a thing
Even when working in a structured environment, my passions for the job always extended outside of the nine to five (staying late, attending ‘out-of-hours’ events, etc.).
Similarly, as a freelancer running my own business, I often work before 9, after 5, on bank holidays, ‘on-and-off’ most weekends and throughout public holidays. If you, too, are the sort of person that checks their work email on Christmas day (but isn’t being paid to do so), a self-employed status could really suit you.
Depending on what you do, you may find it easier to regulate your time than others, but most freelancers I know (myself included) made the move so that we can enjoy that dedication to our business 7 days a week.
Don’t get me wrong – breaks and rests are vital, but if you’re working on a project for an important client that’s going to pay your mortgage, being able to work on it whenever you want, with no time constraints, is great!
3. Expect the unexpected
Being self-employed means you are taking a huge risk every single day. You may have no contracts with clients, fulfil work on a very casual and short-term basis, and not know what money is coming in one week to the next. Some months, you’ll have lots going on, others… your income can total at zero.
This can be stressful to begin with as it takes time to adjust to. Eventually, however, you will settle into some sort of routine, learning when to save money at busier times of the year, and actually thrive on the challenge of seeking new work during quiet periods.
As most of your work isn’t guaranteed, you have to expect the unexpected. Whether that’s a customer not turning up or a long-term client pulling out of regular custom… you have to brush it off and move onto the next endeavour. This most certainly encourages you to be positive, determined and move forward in ways you may never imagined.
Whilst we’re on the topic of the unexpected, remember that you’ll also have to deal single-handedly with all of the shit thrown at you – WiFi going down, equipment breaking, sudden necessary expenses… everything is your own responsibility to fix and sort, and quickly.
4. Embrace a changing relationship with money
Not being part of a regular pay-roll system has completely changed my attitude towards money. I’m extremely lucky and blessed to have a partner that supports me and pays our mortgage (amongst other things!) but in terms of me contributing to life’s other necessities, it’s amazing how I’ve been able to make a little go a long way in those ‘dry periods’.
When you have a guaranteed income each month, it’s easy to spend everything you earn! As a freelancer, when payments come into your hand in much smaller and regular quantities, you see that money in a very different way…
Say £60 reaches my account today (I deduct and save a percentage of that for tax / loan payments but)… what’s left over will have a concrete, often single, usage in my head, for example, “oh, that can be the £40 for dinner with my friend on Friday night”. I never thought about money in that way before.
We can actually become quite detached from money when we get used to it. When it becomes much more of a challenge to acquire, we definitely value each penny more, and acknowledge a definitive relationship between the incoming and the outgoing.
5. Switching off is easier said than done
I already spoke about this in point 2 but it’s almost impossible to switch off when you run your own business… but that can be a good thing.
If you have a passion and dedication to your craft, you are more than happy to check your emails just before you go to bed or spend Sunday getting your admin in-check. Finding a happy balance is tough, and it takes a few months to get into the swing of things. Once adjusted, you’re able to embrace the busy when it’s busy, and enjoy the quiet when it’s quiet.
6. Your new boss rocks, and so do your colleagues
Do you like to make decisions in the workplace? Come up with creative ideas and try new things outside of your job description? Do you find it difficult to take orders from ‘the man at the top’? Then you might love working for yourself!
Being your own boss has it’s challenges. For a start, you’re playing every single role in the company – from accountant to HR manager, to marketing yourself and building your own website – but for me, the pros most certainly outweigh the cons.
Spontaneous days off, doctor’s appointments, quick trips to the shops, extended lunch-breaks, flexible working hours, ‘knocking-off’ early… you’re in control of every single element of your working day and there’s no need to ask anyone but yourself for permission! This requires discipline, too, of course.
In terms of colleagues, I really enjoy and suit working alone but also make an effort to interact with other humans as regularly as I can! Whether that’s popping to see clients in person or just running business ideas past my friends, I’ve found a happy medium. See my day-to-day colleague, Marty, above? He NEVER does a brew run. Lazy.
7. Ain’t no out-of-office
When your a small fish in a big pond, and you’re about to take annual leave, it’s an amazing feeling setting those automatic ‘out of office’ replies, isn’t it? You can enjoy your holiday knowing that the company won’t fold (and the world will not end) if you don’t check your emails. Like I said before, the support network of your colleagues will keep things afloat while you’re gone.
As a freelancer, I’m very reluctant to ever appear as officially ‘out of the office’. As mentioned, every penny counts, and I’d hate to miss an opportunity from someone because I was unavailable. This may mean checking-in on things regularly while I am away, but again, I find that the pros of doing this do outweigh the cons!
8. The world is your oyster
Bored of your home office and need some inspiration? Head off to anywhere in the world and (depending on what you do, of course), you may be able to fulfil your day-to-day tasks from literally any location. The line between holidays and work-time may become blurred but I personally find this enjoyable and embrace this geographical flexibility.
The world is also your oyster in terms of potential projects. Over the last few years I have come to realise that I love risks, variation, change and new challenges. Being self-employed suits me as I am able to pick up and drop different tasks as and when I please, work on short-term projects and if I decide tomorrow that I want to try something completely different and new – hell, why not! Life is short and there’s so much for us to try and experience on this earth.
For me, the life of a self-employed person is extremely rewarding and fulfilling.
It doesn’t suit everyone, of course, but if you’ve always leaned towards a work-hard-play-hard attitude, find it hard to ‘switch off’ and enjoy taking a gamble in life – it may suit you just right.
Are you a freelancer in your field and what do you think is the biggest reward or lesson? Comment below!