There are a great many reasons to become self-employed and also a great many reasons not to. There are already many articles out there promoting the ideal of self-employment. I want to add some reality checks too to make sure being self-employed doesn’t start to sound like magic faery land.
Don’t do it if…
1. You get very anxious not knowing how things will go, or what you need to do.
Some anxiety is normal. However, being self-employed comes with a lot of “what ifs”. There are a lot of open ended questions. There is no right way to do things. Even if you do your utter best, it may not work.
At heart, you – I believe – need to be someone who loves the adventure of not knowing what’s next. Of course a functional business is one that has a certain level of stability built in, but even then, there is a lot of not knowing. Are you someone who mostly loves that, or someone who mostly hates it?
Don’t do it if…
2. You want to escape your boss and do things your own way.
Reality check: if you struggle to get along with bosses at all, and you think being self-employed will fix that, I have bad news for you. Every client you have is your boss in a way. They don’t dictate what you should do per se, but they might be quite demanding, or not understand you, or only be willing to pay you if you do things their way.
Starting your own business doesn’t mean escaping authority figures. You’ll have a lot of different authority figures to deal with. Just like a boss controls your paycheck, your clients control your paycheck too. The government determines what is and isn’t allowed and what taxes you need to file etc. You may need particular licenses to do what you do or be bound by certification requirements. There’s plenty left to but heads with!
The only way out is through negotiating your needs, taking a stand (along with the consequences) and staying true to what you do and why. If you can do this in your job, you can do this in your business too. If you can’t do it in your job, you can be sure to face similar challenges in your business.
Don’t do it if…
3. You expect instant success and crave self-employment as a means to have a dream lifestyle
In being self-employed, sure, a lot is possible. Long-term that is. Short-term you’ll be investing a lot, trying out what does and doesn’t work and building a reputation. All of that takes time. If you are mainly motivated by outside rewards like money and success, then chances are that you either won’t get very far or you’ll create a “bloated” brand (looks pretty on the outside, but is essentially empty on the inside)
I believe being self-employed needs to be about the work you want to do. And if you can only do that work part-time for now, because you need to earn money a different way, then you need to be happy – or at least willing – to start there.
This is also to say: Don’t quit your job to start your own business. Not unless you can stay afloat for quite some time without your paycheck.
A business is like a bicycle. You start with the training wheels on. The training wheels are your income from a different source (like a regular job). When your biking skills are good enough to go it alone, you can take the training wheels off and ride solo.
Don’t do it if…
4. You don’t want to learn about marketing and sales and how to best position and present yourself
Being self-employed means that there is nobody out there tooting your horn and telling people why they should hire you. That means you need to be doing that in some shape or form. It also means you’ll need training that is specific to how to build your own business. In other words, you need to learn new skills. Even if you’re a marketing expert already in your current job, marketing yourself is still a totally different thing.
Getting good at what you do and hoping people will just somehow find you is not going to work (not even if you do a beautiful and inspired ceremony to set an intention of abundance).
Even if you rely on word of mouth and don’t think you need a website, you’ll still want to have some kind of system set up to make the most of that and not just let the chips fall where they may.
If you’re a teacher and you only want to teach, then don’t become self-employed. Find an employer who will hire you so that you only need to focus on teaching, while they take care of the business side of things: getting the word out and finding students.
Don’t do it if…
5. You want to leave your years of work experience behind and do something totally new and different that you feel passionate about
Whether you like it or not, you have a lot of work experience. There is a reason you have that work experience. Chances are, you’re good at it, even if it doesn’t make your heart skip a beat per se.
Throwing it all away to start on a new adventure is like throwing a part of yourself away. How about taking your old skillset with you? You can infuse it into your new work.
So if you’re an accountant who wants to be a coach… how about starting with coaching people on their finances?
You may be excited to do something radically new instead, but what are you going to say to new prospective clients? “Hi my name is Ann and I have 20 years of experience in a job I don’t like anymore, so now I am a lifecoach with zero experience in helping people with the things I feel passionate about, and I’m very excited about helping you!”
Sure, you can dress it up differently, but that’s not the point. The point is that in order to be self-employed and real there needs to be something you do that you already have relevant experience in. If not, why on earth would people hire you to help them?
You’d do the same when applying for a different job, right? If you wanted to switch from primary education to events management, then you would stress in your interview that you have a lot of experience organising events (in the classroom, parent-teacher days, school outings, school camp) and so, even though you come from a different field, you have relevant skills and experience.
When clients hire you, it’s because they believe you can help them, not because you are excited about starting a new chapter in your life.
Don’t do it if…
6. When the going gets tough, you quit
You are going to hit the inevitable rough patches in your business. The question is: are you committed enough to find a way through, or are you going to tell yourself that you should be doing something else entirely, something that “will be easier”?
To keep going, you need to be flexible enough to do things differently, but committed enough to not give up on the essence of your work.
If you’re flexible but not committed, then you’re going to end up changing direction a lot, whether in your business, or by quitting a business. I’ve seen people do this: they seem to be rebranding themselves and re-inventing themselves non-stop (accrueing debt meanwhile). Or they start something, quit, then start something else. Each new venture involving high financial investments. It’s the self-employed equivalent of job hopping, but without the regular paycheck.
Yet, if you’re very committed to your idea, but not flexible enough, you might persevere at trying to sell something nobody wants to buy. This can mean having to eventually quit your business. This can happen because you are stuck on delivering your services in a particular format, or the people who want to pay you for you work, are people you’ve decided you don’t want to work with under any circumstances. If this happens, something will need to give.
Being successfully self-employed means always looking for that overlap between what people want from you and what you want to provide for them. If you are open to exploring options, I believe there are plenty of ways to make this work. However, you don’t get to dictate to people what they should want from you. Your clients want what they want, not what you want them to want. You need to be both listening to prospective clients and also creating from the inside out.
Did you make it through the reality check? If you’re not sure, just give yourself some time to try things. Treat your business idea like a hobby: not a source of income (yet) but a fun thing to work on in your spare time. That way you can test the waters and see if the entrepreneurial lifestyle is really your thing or not.