There are 5 million Self-Employed individuals working in the UK. 5 million-strong, hard-working self-starters in the UK, choosing to build their own business instead of just doing all the hard graft for somebody else.
Self-employment in Britain has hit its highest level for 40 years, according to the Office of National Statistics, boosted by a rise in freelancing white collar workers, such as accountants and management consultants.
But being self-employed can be quite different to ‘working for the man’ as an employee and can come as a shock to those used to drawing a regular income and enjoying paid holidays and other benefits.
The following points are the highs and lows of being self-employed, and if you work for yourself, they will be all too familiar:
1. You are the envy of all your peers
The fact that you are your own boss and don’t necessarily subscribe to the 9 to 5 grind means that all your employed friends envy you. When they moan about their boss, annoying work colleagues or that promotion they got passed over for, you sympathise but feel smug in the knowledge that you no longer have those problems.
2. You are master of your own destiny
Hopefully you have chosen to be self-employed because you are creating the job of your dreams or have set up a business you really care about. Yes, it’s hard graft, but instead of spending all your working life toiling for somebody else or having them take the credit for your achievements, you get to keep the profits and it’s all about you.
3. You are master of your own schedule
Fancy a day off? Forget those tedious holiday forms and the managers you need to check with. If you work for yourself, you are freed from all that annoying paperwork. Got a doctor’s appointment or need to wait in for a delivery? No problem. You can just rearrange your schedule to allow yourself the necessary time off. But more than that, the joy of self-employment is being able to spend time doing exactly what YOU want to do – while employees are stuck at work doing only what their bosses want them to do. It’s the luxury of being able to arrange your working hours around other commitments, like caring for family members or even engaging in hobbies, like painting, studying for a degree or maybe even writing a novel. As long as you can earn enough to pay the bills, the world is your oyster and your time is your own. The only downside is that you might have to work late or at the weekends to catch up. But another truth about self-employment is that it’s hard work.
4. As well as the MD, you are also the accounts department.
Unfortunately, working for yourself also has its downsides. Unless you work for an umbrella company – in which case technically you’re not self-employed anyway – you won’t be earning a regular salary and you’ll soon find out that some clients are better at paying than others. Unless you’re a plumber or taxi driver and your clients pay immediately on receipt of goods, it could mean waiting a month to get paid or six months if your clients are lousy payers. Cash flow is king and if the money isn’t coming in, you could struggle to pay your bills. The wasted hours spent chasing invoices and the pathetic attempts to become ‘besties’ with Maria the accounts clerk just to get paid soon rack up. You could even have to take your clients to court if they insist on not paying you. Eventually – assuming you have the luxury – you’ll learn only to work for the clients that pay on time and to give those that expect you to live on air a miss…
5. How hard it is to switch off
If you’re an employee, the lines between work and play are usually clear. If you’re in the office, you’re at work, if you’re at home you’re off duty. OK, smartphones may have blurred the lines but in practice this is still generally the case. But if you’re working for yourself, when do you stop being at work? If you’re building up your business, it can often be difficult to switch off and relax, especially if you are home-based. Working for yourself can be feast or famine – sometimes there is so much work around that it’s hard to say no but you can stretch yourself too thinly. Other times it will be quiet, so you could be tempted to work long hours in the busy times to compensate. When you’re self-employed, every hour you’re not working is unpaid. Holidays can be a bind. You’re effectively paying for them twice – you’re not earning while you’re away and on top of that, you’ve also got the expense of paying for the holiday. Then there’s the risk you might miss an important opportunity while you’re away. But you’ll need to find a way of switching off from work mode so that you don’t make yourself ill or – equally – drive your loved ones nuts.
6. How lonely it can be
Nobody tells you how lonely working for yourself can be, if you are your only employee. If you’re a loner this might not be an issue for you and you may be happy with your own company, but if you’re gregarious, working alone all day can be tough. If this is a problem then you’ll need to find ways of coping. It could be meeting up with friends who are at home during the day for a coffee or even working in a shared premises with other self-employed people. When even the double-glazing salesmen are running away from your front door, it’s time to get out of the house.
7. You can run but you can’t hide from the tax man
There is no escape from the tax man, but filling in a self-assessment form often fills self-employed people with horror. Knowing what to claim as a taxable expense can be confusing. But, despite what you might have heard, no, you can’t claim for that chocolate muffin you had at lunchtime and the onesie you wear all day does not count for tax purposes as a ‘uniform’ you can expense. No matter how experienced you might be at filling in your form – or even if you pay for an accountant – there is always that fear that if you get something wrong the tax man will swoop. Other problems employees don’t realise we grapple with are how to persuade mortgage lenders and other financial institutions to lend us money. Getting a mortgage or loan can be tough these days if you work for yourself and you’ll need three years tax returns before you can even think about buying a property. One mortgage advisor even suggested I get a full-time job for six months just to make it easier.
8. There’s always that chilling fear you’ll never work again
All of us to some extent fear losing our jobs but losing work as a freelancer is far more scary. When your work comes to an end there’s no redundancy payments to tide you over. Worse of all, depending on your circumstances you might not be able to claim the Jobseeker’s Allowance. Being ill or having an accident is equally stressful. The fear of knowing that, unless you have savings, you have no financial safety net, coupled with the irrational fear that you might never work again can keep you awake at night. But it also works as a double incentive to get right back out there in search of work.
9. That despite the downsides it’s all worth it
Despite all the worries and concerns, nothing beats the satisfaction of working for yourself. It’s not right for everyone – you have to be a grafter, self-motivated and above all, entrepreneurial – and you will experience difficult times. But it still beats working for someone else…….