8 Things I've Learnt About Being Self-Employed
Every morning, I wake up at around 3.30am, come down, feed the cats, make a coffee and sit down at my computer. After sorting stuff out, flicking through the news (never a particularly good idea), and answering emails, I start work. I have to say - I love it. I love running it, I love getting a new batch of books ready to put up; I love the interactions with users; I love being my own boss and I love that I get to work from home. Having said that, there are also slight downsides to running your own not-very-successful-yet-but-hopefully-this-year-things-will-pick-up business. So here's a list which covers just some of the things I have learnt in this past couple of years.
1. Becoming Self Employed Is Surprisingly Easy
By the time my last job ended in 2013, I had already begun to search up about how to become self-employed. From everything I read, it sounded pretty easy, but I still didn't completely trust what I was reading. It couldn't be that easy, could it? What about HMRC; Limited companies; taxes; surely it can't be that simple?
Despite my misgivings, I called HMRC one day and explained what I wanted to do, they said they would send a letter with my business number, and log in details for the online stuff, and that was pretty much it.
I was suddenly self-employed. It was really exciting but also, as I'm sure you can imagine, quite scary. No more monthly pay check being deposited like clockwork into my bank account. No stability. No sick or holiday pay. Just me.
I got my first tax return form in about August 2014, and after noting it wasn't due until the end of January 2015, I decided I had plenty of time. And then all of a sudden it was the beginning of January and I was panicking. I didn't even open the online form for a couple of weeks after that, dreading what I would find. All accountancy stuff that would be way beyond my comprehension.
Then, finally, I took a deep breath and logged on. Cautiously started working my way through it, and I have to say, it was pretty easy. I suppose it will get harder when I actually start making enough money to pay any tax, but that's what accountants are for, right?
2. Your Financial Situation Changes Radically
I never earned that much while being employed by someone else. I only ever got just above minimum wage. But once you start the journey to self-employment, minimum wage sounds like a pretty good deal. I went from budgeting with a monthly wage, to living from day to day with whatever kind people had donated into my PayPal account. Some days in the beginning, I would earn nothing for 4 days, then maybe get £50 in a day. Some days are definitely better than others.
I've had people tell me that I should get rid of the donations and start charging because donations are not guaranteed. Well, I tried that once and found out that neither are sales. I found that out at my last job too, which closed down due to it being the home furnishing equivalent of a graveyard - because you can't force people to buy any more than you can force people to give.
3. Working From Home Is Great
I think most people imagine that working from home is the holy grail of employment. You can, after all, do what you want; get up late, stay in your pyjamas all day, and if you see something particularly good on the TV, then you can simply transfer yourself from the pc chair, to the sofa without anyone giving you dirty looks or a verbal warning. And it is fantastic, no doubt. As someone who used to suffer from panic and anxiety attacks at work, working from home has given me a sense of comfort and peace that I really appreciate. I know how blessed I am to be able to do this; to have found something that allows me to avoid the daily commute.
I don't get up late, ever (if I wake up at 6am, I consider it a wasted morning), and my inner lingering anxiety prevents me from staying in my pyjamas all day (what if I'm needed elsewhere? what if there's an emergency?, etc, etc), but apart from that...yeah, pretty great. It's nice to be able to get the housework done in the short 10 minute computer breaks I tend to take at various times throughout the working day. Me personally, I try to keep as structured a day as possible, but it's great to be able not to have to stick to that as rigorously as you would if you were employed by someone else. I usually work throughout the entire week, but it's also good that on days when you're not really feeling it, you can take a day off. On the other hand...
4. Working From Home Takes Discipline
Working from home requires a certain amount of self-discipline and motivation. After all, you're under no-one's clock but your own, so no-one's going to complain if you spend all day looking at Reddit or practising your dancing skills in the living room. Luckily for me, I have an extreme amount of self-discipline and an almost military like approach to when I should and shouldn't be doing something.
Except I don't.
Which is why I have to constantly stay ahead of myself and make sure I don't spend the whole day mindlessly browsing through cat gifs. Every day is like a battle of wills between the me that wants to get down and work and the me who wants to not do that at all really. I'm not even kidding when I say, if I had the money, I would pay for someone to stand around me all day, barking orders at me to get the hell on with what I'm supposed to be doing.
5. Most People Are Lovely
I get a lot of emails from people telling me how fantastic the site is; how they found a rare book on there; how they couldn't possibly have been able to afford it if they had had to buy it. That's a pretty great feeling. Some of the people who come to my site, live in less developed countries, and it's obvious that they wouldn't have access to these books, if it weren't for the internet.
Then there are the lovely people who donate money to support the site. Sometimes they will donate and I will send a thank you email and that will be that. But other times, they will leave a message with the donation and reply back to my email. I appreciate that.
I worked in retail all my life so I'm used to dealing with 'customers', but never before has it been so satisfying. In retail, or hospitality, or really anywhere where you are dealing with the general public, your job is to make sure the customer is happy, and for 99% of the time, you do that without getting any positive feedback. So when I get an email telling me the site is amazing - it definitely brings a smile to my face and a warm glow to my heart.
6. Some People Are Not Lovely
Whilst the vast majority of people I come across in the process of running the site are absolute darlings; there are some who aren't.
When the site changed at one point to a membership system, I received an extraordinary rant from a man who believed he was absolutely entitled to my hard work for free and how dare I be so presumptuous as to think I could get paid for what I do. He threatened never to come to the site again and prophesized that the site would fail because I was being 'greedy'. Meh. I mean, to be fair to him, it's not been hugely successful.
There was the woman who got angry at me because I was saying the books were free, yet I was (apparently) 'demanding' a payment of £1. She went into great detail about how I was deceiving people and that what I should do, was let people download the book first and then see if they wanted to give the £1. Basically, what I was doing anyway.
Then there was the guy who swore at me and called me a Capitalist because I was asking for donations. And the woman who sent what seemed to be a drunk, very angry, sweary email, telling me that my books weren't 'free' (they were), and that she hated the site anyway.
7. You Should Have Some Sort Of Plan
I have never bothered to write out a full business plan, with forecasts and competitor analysis and all that. There didn't seem much point, seeing as I was the only one who would have seen it. However, I do make plans of a sort. I think it's a good idea to have some outline of what you want to achieve in the next month, the next six months, the next 2 years, etc. Whilst my main aim has never changed (make the most awesome ebook website ever), there are little goals that change frequently.
So every so often, I will make a list (and who doesn't love making lists?), and jot down priority things that need doing, things I might want to add to the site in the near future, things that I might want to add in the far future and things that I think might be a good idea, but will come back to later.
8. You Have To Learn To Say No
I say that, but I still have a problem with saying 'no'. I'm better than I was though. Back when I first started, I would say 'yes' to every request that came through my email, much to my own detriment, because the things requested either took me away from what I was doing for far too long, or I realised I couldn't actually do it in the first place.
I tried to please everyone who wrote to me, because it was such a novel thing. Although there were a few times I did just say no without hesitation (albeit kindly). Like when I was asked to take down certain books because they didn't conform to the beliefs of the person emailing me. As I mentioned previously, I love it when people get in touch with me, and so it's quite hard when they are lovely and then ask for something I can't do or get for them.
When you work for someone else, the boundaries between what you are allowed to say 'yes' or 'no' to, are pretty much drawn in the sand. And if you do come across something which you're not sure about, you check with your boss. When you are your boss, at times, it can be daunting to have all these people asking you for things. You're trying to build a business, and more importantly, a reputation, and at first glance, saying 'no', just seems like a bad thing to do.
But for your own sanity, you must do it. It's one thing being attentive to your user's needs and another completely to give into every demand until it feels like you are no longer in charge.
Learning to say 'no' also comes in very handy for people around me who assume that because I work from home, it's not 'real work', and therefore I must be available at all times because...what else am I doing?....working?
Yes. That's exactly what I'm doing.
The word 'no' is something you definitely need when you're self employed and/or working from home. Keep it next to you at all times; in fact, keep several, and throw them like ninja stars at people who are asking for things which you know is going to take you away from what's important.
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