Do you hear the clarion call of freedom and dream about taking the leap into self-employment? Attracted by promises of flexible hours, defining work on our own terms, pursuing exciting work and glamorous clients, and having the potential to earn far more, 12 per cent of employed people in Australia are self-employed, either as sole traders or employing others, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in April 2013.
And while the micro businesses which turn into international empires, such as Carmen’s Musesli, attract the most attention, there are million Australians whose work looks far differently – as sole traders, they may trade dollars for hours, in between school drop-offs and pick-ups and the thousand other drudgery that make up our busy lives.
Many business courses targeting entrepreneurs sell the sizzle while glossing over the far less glamorous stories. So, before you take the plunge into the refreshing pool of self-employed freedom, save yourself potential years of stress, angst and hassle, by asking yourself these essential questions.
This can be both over-estimated and under-estimated in its importance. Typically, if we are sufficiently enthused by our work and the satisfaction of working for ourselves, motivation is inevitable. Which brings us to question two –
To last the distance in self-employment, pride in what you do is essential. Your high standards in your work will differentiate help you from the rest. Further, when you’ve earned what you were aiming for, you’re far more likely to feel very satisfied about it and enthused to keep going.
How long do you need to recover from set-backs? Emotion is important in business, particularly in marketing and being empathetic about our clients. But it can be a serious hindrance to your productivity if you have trouble picking yourself off the floor after crises, problems, disagreements or disasters.
Regardless of who you are and what you do, everyone needs emotional support to debrief and de-stress from work, and this is particularly so for self-employed people. A sympathetic or supportive partner, parent, friend or mentor is essential to your mental health.
Through my years of experience as a business coach, I’ve witnessed time and again how clients who rely on their businesses to pay the bills fare far better than those whose businesses are being subsidised through other means. When you first start out, you’ll likely have a period of not earning very much so it’s a good idea to have a savings buffer. However, don’t underestimate the psychological influence of needing to earn a dollar to motivate you to get out there and do so.
Technology has disrupted the way work is being carried out, as well as work itself. The pace of change is accelerating and, as a self-employed person, you need to be willing to hold on tight and enjoy the ride. IF you don’t adapt well to change, self-employment can be incredibly stressful and frustrating, as you find yourself becoming obsolete.
If you are the kind of person that seeks validation from a wide variety of people before making a decision, self-employment may well be challenging. With no boss to answer to and no manager to direct your actions, you will need to make countless decision everyday – not only in your client work but also in your marketing and business development direction. In effect, working for yourself means you are backing your own talents to earn a crust, so if you continually seek external validation for your decisions nad opinions, self-employment might not be for you.
Good enough is no longer good enough in today’s business world. With so much choice accessible online, and sites such as ODesk, Elance and Airtasker offering cut-price service providers, you need to be memorable in order to last. Word-of-mouth recommendations still power business, so you need to be so good that people can’t help but talk about you.
Some people are always trying new things, volunteering for things they’re not 100 per cent confident they can do, and putting themselves outside their comfort zone. Others are creatures of habit, who thrive in safety and security. You don’t need to be a reckless daredevil who’s busy doing a thousand things, but having some interest in challenging yourself will put you at a distinct advantage in business.
You don’t need to tick each and every one of the above to take the leap into self-employment. You can, of course, work on developing these attributes and attitudes. In fact, working for yourself is one of the most accelerated forms of self-development you can do.
So perhaps this list could be reduced to just one – the last point. Working for yourself challenges old-school notions of security and certainty. It challenges the idea that work necessitates a regular income. It challenges ideas about modesty by making your work public and the marketing of your professional profile as imperative to your job. It challenges old-world notions that hard work and diligence pays off over publicity and disruption. Finally, it challenges the notion that self-employment is inherently risky. In our current financial climate, working for yourself could be the sanest decision of all.
Brook was an outspoken atheist at her Catholic school who became fascinated with religion, faith and persuasion. She completed a Bachelors majoring in Comparative Religious Studies at Sydney University, where she accidentally joined a cult. Brook ended up teaching kirtan meditation on behalf of the cult and was astonished to find herself being asked by people three times her age for existential advice. Clearly unqualified, she ran away to India to find her Guru (as you do). Some seven months later, disenchanted and broken, she returned home to lick her wounds and try again as a tour leader in south-east Asia.
In between adventures and misadventures, Brook worked in public relations, specialising in internal communications, and as a yoga teacher. Since 2008, she's been self-employed as a digital marketing consultant and writer, and then a trainer and business coach.
Brook's flagship program, Hustle & Heart, helps passionate business owners become more business and marketing savvy without compromising their values or integrity. Brook is somewhat obsessed with the intersection of passion, enterprise and social change. She still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She’s trying very hard to be an atheist (again).
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