- It is not what you imagine
Even if you are the most prepared person in the world, there is no way you would ever be prepared to start your own business. I pride myself on being organised and planned but holy hell when you start a business all planning flies out the window. You cannot predict anything from clients, pricing, schedules and well, everything. It is VERY different, and you have to step off the plank into the unknown waters of self-employment to see it, and it is different for everyone.
- You can’t structure it like a full-time job
When I started my business, I maintained my full-time work mindset and my full-time work mindset included a lot of pointless meetings, because frankly when you are getting a salary, and everyone loves to have meetings for meetings sake you just think that is what happens across the board. So, I started scheduling lots of meetings and very quickly learnt that I didn’t have the time to give to this way of working. When you work for yourself every minute counts and every minute you are often doing something productive.
- Some people just don’t get it
This was one of the most interesting things for me. There was suddenly a very big disconnect between me and lots of my employed colleagues. Probably because like me in Number 1, they think self-employment is something very different than what it is. Even if you tell them how the struggle is very much real, they still think you are swanning about in your PJs and enjoying the free life. The disconnect works both ways of course, you struggle to understand why they don’t leave if they hate their 9-5pm. This of course is not just about full-time versus the self-employed, a lot of people who are self-employed might not get your business either because they are doing something totally different from you.
Which leads me onto….
- You very rarely stay in your PJs
Sometimes you do, and it is LOVELY! But most of the time you get up and get on with stuff. Sorry to smash the dream.
5. It is really lonely
I am not the only one playing my tiny violin here. The majority of people I speak to who are self-employed are lonely. Particularly those who are still micro-businesses. You can chat to others, to your partner, family, business contacts but your business is YOUR business and you can share your thoughts about it, but it is YOUR responsibility, and this is very isolating. The way to get through this is to network and build a group of trusted advocates.
- Everyone feels the same
It doesn’t matter which sector you are in or what services you offer. Everyone thinks business start-up is insane! It is total rollercoaster, twisting and turning, changing and challenging. Both wonderful and terrifying at the same time. Everyone agrees, and whilst everyone has different journeys there is a fundamental comradery between the business community. A rite of passage has been completed, you have taken your seat on the business bucking bronco and earned some sort of stripe. There is togetherness in that, even if there is competition in the marketplace.
- Some people will always compete
It is the nature of business to compete with one another, but you notice quite quickly the difference between the companies and individuals who are happy to collaborate and those who are definitely not. For me business is a combination of making money (of course) and doing something rewarding. As such I build my business on a mixture of revenue generation and give back. It is a shame when you come across those who are so keen to make money that they are totally closed off to opportunities which often expand into other forms of revenue.
- Being able to call people who aren’t your “colleagues” but who will always answer and chat is the best feeling!
I think I was a pretty annoying work colleague and possibly an annoying manager, a little bit demanding on occasion and my work colleagues had to give a sh*t because we were employed in the same play-pen. So, without a team and without a corporation holding me to anyone or anyone to me, it is truly the most wonderful feeling when you start to develop business advocates, business-sisters and mentors. Those people who take your call because they are invested in your journey, not for any reason, and you can in turn give a sh*t for them too.
- It is hard to make decisions for yourself
You need the people you can chat to because it is really tough making decisions for yourself. When you work for a big company decision is often out of your hands. You have a number of excuses as to why you might not be able to work with someone or another company, such as budget, red tape, outside of scope, off the strategic plan etc… But when it is little old you and you have to make decisions based on just you, it can get weirdly personal. You have to maintain a mindset of being a “business” not a person. You have to translate decisions as though they are the business decisions, even if it is just you. It is a weird thing to get your head around.
- It is so much more fast-paced that you ever imagined
Good god! Where do days go? I would sometimes feel bored in my 9-5, waiting on colleagues to complete their side of the bargain or else waiting for the process to catch up. When you have your own business, your only limit is you and if you need to sleep. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want and when surrounded with other businesses operating in the same way it becomes incredibly fast-paced. I both love and hate this, of course. Because when you are a resource of one, it can be challenging to fit it all in. But that said it is exhilarating!
- You don’t have to call in sick! What a revelation!
The first time I was sick I almost wrote a LinkedIn post about how magical it was not to call my manager and feel guilty about not going into work! This, for me, was the most significant nod to not feeling “owned” by an employer. Interestingly I have hardly been sick at all since starting my business, perhaps because I am not surrounded by people who come into work even though they are sick because they feel guilty and then infect me. Another plus!
- You don’t have to do anything anyone else’s way!
Whilst this is scary it is also very liberating. If I want to make the most disastrous business decision ever and tank my company then that is on me. As long as it doesn’t screw my clients, I am happy to take that learning and try again. I own it and every decision I make. Likewise, if I make decisions for my company based on my preferences, it means my company continues to be aligned to me and my vision and how satisfying is that?!
- Office banter becomes communal
There is a real sense of community in business, particularly if you are somewhere like Hampshire where the start-up community is strong. According to the Portsmouth News, in 2017 “Portsmouth formed the most new businesses (2,264), followed by Southampton (1,934) and Winchester (1,248).” Through networking you become part of a business eco-system that essentially is your virtual office. People share information about one another, each other’s progress and initiatives. Information travels and this includes the unusual quirks of some people or businesses. It might include notable activities or conversation from networking events for example. Eventually between the collective you have a lot of information about your “virtual peers” from a hive network. It is really fascinating and acts as a replacement from your daily conversations in the office.
- You realise what business BS really is
Similarly, to above, when you attend a lot of networking you learn that business BS is rife, and it is not always a bad thing. You know the term “fake it til you make it”? Well that exists! And the business community discuss openly the keeping up appearances online through social media. When you are aware that we are all a little more extravert or confident in appearances than we often feel, it is OK. The funny addition to this and the above, is the use of similar phrases and sayings that frequently get banded about, “authentic”, “silver-bullet”, “big data strategy”, “moving forward”, “human being not human doing”, etc, etc, etc. It is funny but can become a bit of a snore sometimes.
- You often feel like you might lose your marbles
I read recently that 78% of people who start-up a new business suffer from some form of mental health issue. Now in a moment of being “authentic” I am going to tell you that this is me. Since starting my company around 6 months ago I have suffered from bouts of anxiety, the mental health practitioner called it an “acute stress response.” It is very unusual for me to suffer from this but the combination of all of the above eventually does take its toll and actually dealing with this has made me more focused and more accepting of myself and my limitations. Thankfully I am surrounded by some very strong people, especially strong business women who have stepped in and pulled me out of myself. I have also taken up reading and could not recommend Matt Haig enough!
- You forget to book holidays
You work harder, take fewer sick days and forget to book holidays. Business ownership sounds crap right? Wrong. I used to schedule my entire year’s holiday allocation and then work down the months in-between. Now I totally forget to take holiday at all. Why? Because I am are too busy doing the stuff I love and find challenging to feel like I need a break from it. However, it is very important to take holiday. I have forced myself to book time off and recently had the best week off ever. And what was even better, was coming back to my business and not dreading Monday morning.
- You forget what day it is
Like time goes out of the window, so too do days. After my stint of booking non-stop meetings my diary became much more flexible, but this did not take much stock of the days. If I am free and the feeling takes me I will work at midnight on a Sunday or randomly wake up early and crack on, it is only when my diary is punctuated with events I must attend that I remember I need to be places to do certain activities on specific days. This can wreak absolute havoc when your family all work 9-5.
- Everyone has an opinion
You go into business start-up with eyes and ears wide open and hope for the best. Both a gift and a curse are the opinion of others, particularly in the beginning. You can easily get absorbed into discussions about what you should do, but like in Number 3, not everyone will fully understand your business and the advice might be duff. Because no two people are the same and no two businesses are the same either. Take everything with a pinch of salt and try to focus on your vision until you establish whose advice is good and whose is not so good.
- It really isn’t personal
The old adage is true! But when you are working alone and sometimes quite isolated it can make things seem personal, often because you have too much time to think about it. But the same as remembering to think like a business when you are making decisions, you need to adopt this strategy if people don’t choose to work with you or choose to collaborate with others. Whatever the example, there is often a business decision not a personal one behind it so try not to overthink it.
- You know much less about everything
When working you are the specialist expert in your field and you don’t have to worry about all the other stuff. You get paid, you take leave, someone knows about PAYE and accounting, marketing and sales etc. When you step out of the comfort of the employment nest you suddenly realise you need to learn a lot VERY quickly. For me it was accounting, invoicing, setting accurate timelines for client projects amongst other things. But you will learn, and do you know what? It is also OK to say you are not sure and ask others what the hell you should be doing. In front of clients, take your time, make notes, smile, nod, and then go and ask people. Don’t sweat it.
- You will drink much more wine than you should
People said I should get a hobby when I started my business and I loved the advice but in reality, I don’t have time for a hobby, (at the moment anyway). Speaking to a number of entrepreneurs (men and women), drinking wine seems to be the way a LOT of business owners relax. Now I must admit I do this probably much more regularly than I should but rather than frame it as another thing to worry about I realise that everything is scalable and changeable in business and so too are habits. So, enjoy if needed and if you have time for a hobby do that instead.
- You will love it more than you hate it
Finally, when all is said and done, when you have weighed up all your days, the stress, uncertainty, clients and such you will more than likely love the situation you are in, definitely more than you hate it. You will of course have days when you think what the hell! But actually, you will appreciate the freedom, enjoy living your “authentic” self, you will get a buzz from the community, feel the satisfaction of delivering results to your clients and love that the outcome is reflective of YOUR best work. You will enjoy your glass of wine on your “Friday” night, which is actually a Tuesday, you won’t have to commute or sit in traffic at “normal” times and you will wonder how you ever did the full-time rat race.
So, if you are thinking about self-employment I hope the above helps! If you are already on this magical rollercoaster I would love to know if you agree with any of these points!
Don’t forget to check out Colleagues Getting Coffee where other business people share their business journeys.