I wouldn’t necessarily call myself ruthless, but others would probably call me a bit different. I think ambitious is more apt, alongside restless too. I’ve always been in the mindset that if you’re going to go somewhere five days a week, it needs to be for good reason, and not just to pay the bills. As I get older, I start to understand more why people stay in jobs they don’t like – simply because it gives you a wage and lets you buy those important things in life.
But for me, even though having a steady income is tempting, the idea of having to keep going somewhere day in and day out, with the same results, isn’t for me. You could say I’ve chosen the wrong career path or worked at the wrong type of company, but I would disagree.
I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve created this personal guide to going self-employed and setting up your own business, just so you can get some real-life insight and experience into the world of self-employment.
1. Why I chose to start my own business
I haven’t invented anything amazing and I’m certainly not the next Steve Jobs, but I knew that something didn’t feel quite right in my career and I wasn’t exactly sure how to change that.
I knew I’d started to resent making money for other people, when I could do it myself. I certainly wasn’t saying it would be easy to do that, I just knew it would be something I could do.
After a frustrating job move and feeling a little more than deflated, I decided that I had to bite the bullet and do my own thing. I knew I wanted to sell copywriting and digital marketing services and I knew I wanted to undercut the larger agency prices, so smaller companies could take advantage, as well as offer an arm to those agencies, who needed to outsource some overflow work.
It’s not the most exciting business plan in the world, but I also know it works, and going off my experience, I was confident I could build something that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by, and meant I became my own boss.
The logistics of the business weren’t that complicated either, with overheads being low and the ability to work from home. I decided I would take the risk of resigning, as I had only just started my new job and didn’t have a notice period. It was a scary move, but I was confident that I would be able to achieve the results we wanted.
I decided I didn’t want the business to escalate and that the thought of having to employ staff was a scary one and something I could focus on in the future.
My goal for now was to build my client base and hit the larger agencies, developing those crucial relationships. I would spend my time doing the work and drumming up new business.
This will be my plan. It’s exciting and stressful, but once you’ve made the decision, you actually feel some element of relief, that this is what you’re supposed to be doing.
2. Handing in my notice
Then ‘The Write Women’ was born. Nothing over the top, nothing too fancy, just a brand that epitomises who we are and what we do; we’re women (and people) and we write. I made it plural as I knew at some point I would have to outsource work to freelancers, in order to get those bigger jobs in.
Telling my friends and family was full of mixed reactions. From the supportive to the worried, it was obvious that although people want me to do well, they have their reservations on how successful it will actually be. And I appreciate people’s honesty; my dad used to own his own builders’ business back in the day, so I’m aware of how hard this will be.
That being said, I couldn’t wait to hand my notice in. I wasn’t happy in my current role, having made the move only a month before. I know when something doesn’t feel right however, so I had an amicable chat with the MD, handed my notice in, and left that day.
It was an exhilarating feeling and I felt equal amounts of fear and excitement at the same time. All I kept reassuring myself with was that if it all went tits up, I had a solid amount of experience behind me and I could easily go and get another full-time role, then potentially return to running my own business in the future, if that’s what I really wanted.
You need to be able to back yourself in business and having this mentality that I know I can go and get another full-time job if necessary, gives me a small amount of reassurance on those days when I’m struggling to chase up clients, or received another rejection email. Although I’m confident I can bring the work in, I’m not saying this will be forever, as the stress of running your own business is different to any kind of stress I’ve felt before. And I thought my Master’s degree was difficult!
Handing in your notice is one of the biggest steps to starting your own business, taking away that security blanket of a solid wage packet each month, perhaps even a decent pension scheme, work friends, and the reassurance from reviews and appraisals that you’re doing a good job. I’m not saying I’ll never have these things again, but I don’t think I’ll have this security for the foreseeable future, whilst I build the business up. And that can be a scary thought and it’s certainly a stressful time for myself and my partner, but the aim is to be rewarded with the benefits of running your own business in the long-run.
3. Getting set up
The actual logistics of setting up a business aren’t that difficult if you do your reading, get informed, and have a solid accountant. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know anything about corporation tax or VAT or tax returns etc, but luckily, I’ve got a good working relationship with my accountant, which means I can ask any questions I need to, as well as manage my finances. Of course, if you feel confident enough to handle the financial side of things, as well as file tax returns, then an accountant might not be necessary. I just know that I feel far more at ease with having that professional eye cast over my money.
A great accountancy system is a must too. Something like Xero or QuickBooks or FreeAgent gives you that freedom to see exactly where everything is up to, what’s coming in, what’s going out, and most importantly, who owes you money. You don’t need to be a business expert in order to set a business up – believe me. As long as you know enough about what you’re trying to sell and are confident you can put out a high level of work, whether that’s copywriting, brick-laying, or hairdressing, the business knowledge will come later on (at least, that’s what I keep telling myself).
The internet is a wonderful source of answers, and there’s certainly no shame in having a look around at all the information available – but be cautious; a lot of information on the internet is out of date, so try and run it past a trusted advisor if you can. For me, it was getting at least an understanding on what VAT scheme I needed to be on (flat rate, if you’re interested) and knowing that everything my accountant tells me is right (it is). Make sure the information you’re digesting comes from a reputable source – plus start-up business forums are a great way to see other questions being answered, as well as your own.
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice either. I have a good friend who has owned a couple of successful businesses in the past and his knowledge has been paramount to helping me get set up, as well as encouraging me to take the leap. Even if you approach people you don’t know, even if you approach competitors, usually people are always willing to lend an ear and offer you some advice. And ultimately, you’re forging a relationship with someone that could help you out in the future.
LinkedIn is probably one of the best platforms for this, if you can sift through all the inspirational business quotes and ‘hustlers’ that is. Just concentrate on what you’re doing and ask for help if you need it. The worst thing I’ve found myself doing over the past few months is comparing myself to others. There’s absolutely no way you can tell how successful a business is from its social media profiles or website. Regardless of their client base (or supposed client base…), a business might be failing miserably, chasing invoices, and losing staff left, right, and centre.
Of course, keep an eye out for your competition, but don’t obsess over what someone else might be or could be doing. Just do you.
4. Working from home
I’ve never worked from home before. I’m a social human being and I do enjoy a bit of office banter, so it’s been strange adjusting to simply listening to the sound of my fingers on the keyboard. However, I invested in a comfortable office chair, as well as a desk, and those all-important office accessories (such as flowers and colourful calendars), so I could get myself into the mindset of work. I would strongly advise you ensure you have a separate office at home or at least go to a co-working space, as I can’t see how anyone can get any work done in bed or lazing on the sofa! This is obviously if you’re a desk worker like me.
One bonus point of working from home is that I save a lot of time getting ready in the morning i.e. I don’t. Hair and make up are neglected, I don a lovely pair of joggers and a hoody, and unless I have a meeting to go to, I rarely put on a bra. Some people find that getting dressed properly puts them in the mindset for work, but it’s however best you find it. For me, saving time on doing my hair and make-up, as well as being comfortable, is key to getting my best work done.
Working from home also means you get to choose your own working hours – something else I advise you set. For me, I prefer starting earlier, so I can finish and go to the gym or get dinner prepared. However, be warned, that client deadlines wait for no-one, so the goalposts may change time after time. I think one thing I’ve picked up almost immediately after starting my own business is that you need to set yourself boundaries and goals for the day. During a normal 9-5 job, you’re expected to complete certain tasks, as they’ve usually been assigned to you; being your own boss means you have to set yourself those tasks and ensure they’re completed. Oh, and please make sure you take a lunch break, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. I fell into the cycle of not having one and then finding I was starving hungry by 3pm. Eating and having a break is just as important as answering that client email. Keep yourself nourished.
My mindset is that if I don’t complete the work, no one else will and that means the money doesn’t come in. A great way I’ve found to ensure I hit deadlines and meet objectives is to set aside time for certain tasks throughout the day. I work better in the mornings, so this is when I get the majority of my client work completed, and afternoons will be for my own marketing, finding new business, sorting my finances, or answering emails. However you choose to work, making time for the admin tasks and your own marketing is vital – without ticking off the basics and making a presence for yourself, business won’t continue and work can dry up. Again, I still need to make more time for my own marketing, but little and often seems to be working for me at the moment. It’s all about balance.
5. What the future holds
I’m not sure what the future holds. Things haven’t started the way I would have hoped (because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect almost immediately – big mistake) and I’m not in the same financial position as other business owners. I want to carry on pursuing new clients and keep my current ones happy, but I know that this will be hard in the first few months, even the first year, and I have to keep asking myself if this is what I really want. I know it will be worth it in the end, when our business is flourishing and we have some regular work coming in, but for now, I’m taking each day as it comes and setting myself monthly business goals – as well as monthly business ‘feelings’ too. For example, was the stress worth it this month? Have you managed to shake that feeling of anxiety yet? I think mental health and well-being are just as important as having a thriving business, and the only way I’ll have a thriving business, is if I’m happy in what I’m doing and feel confident in myself.
One of my biggest fears throughout this whole self-employment process has been the thought of not being able to cover my bills. Although this hasn’t happened, and I doubt it will, the security of a full-time job was comforting, and you can take that for granted a little bit. However, the exhilaration and freedom of running your own business can’t even compare – and at least the stress I experience is because I’m building something for myself and not for someone else.
For now, I hope to keep digging away and eventually feel some relief that I’m in a position where I can breathe normally! Building your own business is hard work and I wouldn’t want to tell you otherwise. However, it is rewarding, and it is satisfying – and hopefully this guide has provided you with an honest insight into what it’s like to set up your own business.