On 12th September 2001 the world changed forever. Or at least my world changed. Because of a decision made that day I would never go to work again.
I decided to work for myself.
Having a boss. Commuting to work. Being late. Being early. Having to be somewhere at the same time each day. Looking forward to lunchbreaks. Getting stuck in traffic on the way home. Office politics. Feeling naughty or odd to be in town during the week. Having to make do with out-of-date equipment. Naff coffee. Poor seating and lighting. Head aches. Bad back. Having to cope with co-workings odd habits. Watching the clock and noticing time slowing down in the afternoon.
These are the things I certainly don’t miss.
But it’s not quite as simple as that. There may not be office politics but there’s plenty of relationships with clients and suppliers that need careful handling. I have plenty of meetings, conferences and seminars to get to on time and often that means coping with traffic.
I don’t have a boss, but by having hundreds of clients I have hundreds of bosses. ‘Working for yourself’ is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more accurate to say I’m actually working for everyone, or anyone.
The fact that anyone could be a prospect, lead, supplier or advisor is an interesting concept. It means that the self-employed/entrepreneur is always ‘networking’. There’s never really a time when I’m not ‘on’. I always carry my business card and notebook (you never know when ideas may come) and I’m always dressed appropriately as my personal brand has to be consistent, you never know who you’ll meet.
Working for yourself or setting up your own business gives you freedoms you couldn’t have imagined when being an employee. (I’m writing this is in my favourite coffee shop on my MacbookPro at 11.30am on a Thursday). But some are taken away. There is no scheduled lunch or coffee breaks. Sometimes I don’t bother with them at all. There is no scheduled start or finish time: the division between work and home life becomes blurred.
Some people say, ‘Oh, I could never work for myself. I’d stay in bed or watch TV all the time’. The opposite is often true: early mornings, late nights, sometimes are taken up by work projects. You have to learn your own time management and project management methods fast. After all, up until you choose to work for yourself, timetables have always been provided, by parents, at school and colleges and then by companies.
There’s the knowledge that if I don’t perform well, there’s no money coming in. A salary is not guaranteed. This is the main difference in attitude that I’ve noticed over the years. Employees can usually afford to be complacent, ignorant or snobbish towards money, after-all it arrives in their bank every month. That pay cheque becomes a divine right and a pay-rise is thought to be compulsory. A lot of people feel that their pay is just for showing up and gracing the company with their presence. This leads to a disgruntlement if they feel they’re not being paid enough or appreciated enough to why not take a few pencils and envelopes from the stationary cupboard? After all, you deserve it.
There’s no such luxury when you own the business. It’s all your money. You’re suddenly responsible for every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out. You become aware very quickly that your job is to provide value. The more value you add, the more money you can charge. Doing a good job is not good enough, it has to be exemplary.
There have been ups and down over the past decade but one thing is certainly clear: I wouldn’t change it. I would never go back to employee status. In fact many people who do work for themselves feel that they become in many ways ‘unemployable’ due to the attitude changes that have to take place to be successful working for yourself.
I think they’ll come a time when almost everyone is working for themselves, or at least realise that that is actually what they’ve been doing all along.
When more people realise that they are responsible for their performance, training and education and that they can decide when their pay rise will be, we amy see a paradigm shift from victim and blame culture to empowerment and positivity that would not only benefit individuals but the economy and country as a whole.
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