A journey to self-employment

By ‘Anonymous’

I probably need to explain why this post is by ‘Anonymous’;  it should become clear as you read through my first blog post , but I’m currently writing this anonymously as I’m still employed as a director of a global organisation and my colleagues don’t yet know my plans.

I’ve been an employee in a corporate setting for over 25 years now and it’s fair to say that, for most of that time, I’ve enjoyed that sense of belonging to an organisation.  By that I mean a sense of having the following:

  • the safety net of having someone else being accountable for making those decisions that ultimately impact my salary and contract
  • the security (or reassurance) that comes from infrastructure, processes and policies that mean I (generally) get paid correctly and on time, have support when I’m ill and can go on holiday without losing income
  • the sense of being part of a bigger organisation, almost that hive mentality of a group of people working together towards a single goal, which is often but not always profit
  • the opportunity to create lasting and sustainable friendships, which often go beyond your time with one employer; in fact I have a number of good friends who have outlived our corporate relationships
  • the access to resources that can support me in my short-, medium- and long-term goals which have included funding for my Masters and continuing professional development
  • the ability to travel and live overseas as part of my job, and in this regard I’ve been really lucky (probably more than most), and it has, up until now, been a real driver to determine the organisations I’ve worked for and the roles I’ve undertaken

However, over the last few years, possibly driven by my age and changing sense of perspective, I’ve started to think more about self-employment and setting up my own business.  I’m not sure that there has been one single trigger point that’s made me consider this step but possibly a number of smaller, sometimes (but not always) interrelated events that have brought this thought process to more prominence.

As an over-thinker (a trait I need really need to learn to control – so any hints and tips would be welcome!), I’ve probably spent too long thinking about the pros and cons of taking what feels like a huge step in my career.  It’s interesting that I’m seeing this as a career step rather than a complete change of emphasis.

It’s taken a number of conversations with friends and colleagues who have taken similar steps to understand that it’s not a one-way process; if it doesn’t work or quite meet my expectations, there’s nothing to stop me going back to being an employee. In fact a number of friends have gone from employee to self-employed and then back to employee, taking advantage of a specific opportunity such as accessing a unique role or working overseas and reflecting their specific needs at the time e.g. the security of a regular income.

So what are these pros and cons I’ve been (over-) thinking about?

Well I suppose the cons are easier to describe, and they partially link back to the points I’ve already listed: that fear around not having a steady, regular income; the potential lack of resources to support my development; having to make some of those really tough decisions (such as ‘do I accept or turn down this piece of work?’) and not being part of the collective hive of the organisation i.e. that sense of belonging.

However there are also those additional cons which come from taking this step:

  • So how much do I charge? Am I really worth that? And will someone pay me that rate for my advice and knowledge? – the power of self-doubt
  • I don’t feel comfortable with self-promotion or marketing myself. Do I have a good enough proposition that stacks up and would interest an organisation enough for them to engage me for specific issues?
  • Having a wide network of contacts is a must; many people I’ve spoken to say that they generate business through word-of-mouth, which is great as it partly mitigates the self-promotion, however for us introverts, networking can be hard!
  • Oh and the worst one: do I have the right and relevant technical knowledge? Am I really good enough?

The pros have felt harder to quantify, partly because they are more emotional in nature but also the cons are so significant – such as not having a regular income to cover the mortgage – that they really dominate the over-thinker’s mind. However for the sake of this post, and to help you, the reader, I’ve tried to call out those that have felt more relevant to me, but could help you in your thinking:

  • Over the last 25 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing consultants and interims. However just lately I’ve felt more confident that I actually do have the answers to the questions we’ve often posed to these consultants, and therefore that sense of ‘well I could do that’ has become stronger
  • I’ve had some really good bosses and some not so good ones, and therefore that sense of being my own boss has become stronger – this is something many people who go self-employed reference i.e. being their own boss
  • I’ve dabbled in photography on and off over the years but recently I’ve found that it’s actually a good way for me to relax and provide my mind with a different set of challenges. However my employed roles haven’t given me the time to explore and develop my skills further. Therefore, by going self-employed, I’m hoping to be more in control of my time – who knows it may become another source of income?
  • I have to admit to getting bored with routine, and looking back over my career I’ve generally changed roles every 18 to 24 months. By going self-employed I hope to have greater opportunity to undertake a wider variety of roles, with different organisations; having more fulfilling work is a real driver for me now

So, where does this leave me now?

Well, I fully understand both the pros and cons – trust me, I’ve worked them through in my mind so many times.  I also seriously considered self-employment when I took redundancy back in 2014, but I took the safe option and went down the employed route again when a good opportunity at my current organisation came along.

But this time, it’s different; I’ve just resigned and I finish on Friday…

This is the first of four posts ‘Anonymous’ will be writing as they venture into self-employment. He or she will be writing about their journey as it happens, sharing tips, insight and first-hand experience (don’t worry, they’ll be revealing their identity at the end – it’s all very suspenseful and mysterious).