Many find the idea of starting their own business to be pretty daunting, but the truth is that the recession has forced many of us to start working for ourselves; either by setting up our own ventures, or working as freelancers. Indeed, recent research predicts that 40% of America’s workforce will be “contingent” workers by 2020 - that’s 60 million people!
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Deciding to start your own business is a big choice - and it’s no easy task. At first, it can be hard to find work and earn a decent living. But once you get past these difficult beginnings, self-employment can be very rewarding, offering you the chance to develop a whole business.
The people who eventually made it on their own often wish they’d known certain things about running a business before they started. Steve Buskin, who runs a training and speaking business, said:
“I wish I’d known that it was going to be up and down. You never get used to the fact that your work, cash flow and even your self-esteem will fluctuate so much. You learn not to worry so much about it, but I wish I’d known from the word go that when work dries up, it doesn’t mean that everybody hates you and you won’t get work ever again. It’s just the nature of business - it ebbs and flows.”
Maintaining a steady flow of business is definitely one of the toughest challenges for a new company. Steve says that the best way to maximize your chances is to get exploring:
“You need to learn pretty quickly that, while you need to be self-sufficient and a self-starter, actually there are a lot of people out there and a lot of resources that can really help you run your business.
You don’t just have to sit on your own, like a Larry Loner, talking to your cat as your only source of contact every day - you can get out and have coffee! In fact, if there’s one thing I would have done more it would be going out and meeting new people. It’s easy to become very insular and inward-looking. Get out there, talk to people - it’s the best way to find work.”
So many professionals are now turning to self-employment that whole communities have sprung up, offering places to go for help and support.
Hannah Martin started out as a freelance copywriter and went on to use the skills she learned to found an online magazine that offers business tips for self-employed moms. What started out as a support group for her friends and fellow freelancers has blossomed into a successful business in its own right.
For Hannah, and for her readers, it was crucial when starting her business to maintain a good balance between her home and work life. She said:
“Know your boundaries and stick to them. There’s an expression called ring-fencing time, where you dedicate certain hours in the day to either work or home life and force yourself not to blur those lines.
“For me, I try to stop work when the kids come home and I spend the evening with them, cook them dinner and when they go to bed I can start work again, if I need to. However you do it, the most important thing is to be in balance - to really enjoy your work when you’re doing it, and also really enjoy the time when you’re not working.”
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Self-employment is an obvious choice for new moms who want the flexibility to work around their children, rather than parent around their work. With the competition for introductory jobs extremely high, many college graduates are being forced into self-employment. In fact, a recent survey showed that in 2014 the number of grads registering as freelancers increased by 97%.
Martine Warburton started freelancing as soon as she graduated and grew her company into a creative agency with several employees. She said the process, although intimidating, was the best thing she could have done to prepare her for the business world.
“For me, it was an amazing experience, because I learned very quickly how to manage a project and learn new skills on my own. It taught me how to be more self-sufficient and how to handle every aspect of running a business.”
Especially when Martine had just started out, managing her cash flow was always a difficult aspect of working for herself. Not only did she have to get used to setting aside money for tax, she found it hard when clients weren’t paying her on time.
“Having to chase invoices is one of the main things that puts people off being self-employed. Especially when you’re new, I think a lot of people can be incredibly lax about chasing them up when they’re due. But it’s important that you take a hard line from the very start, because if you show that you’re OK with being paid two months late, you make that more acceptable.”