I've been self employed since March 2001 and have, no doubt like most people working for themselves, gone through a wide range of ups and downs relating to my business activities.
On the whole things have been very good. When I started, I came from a position where I was able to draw on a good selection of contacts, built up over almost twenty years in design, photography and studio management.
I was aware that providing freelance services to businesses could present some cash flow problems. Certainly a sole trader, trying to build a client list; working for businesses with a 90 day payment policy doesn't have a great deal of power when it comes to demanding 30 days maximum.
I got used to the 3 month delay and managed to find a few smaller customers who paid more quickly.
The downside to freelancing as a designer, and, I suppose in many other fields, is the lack of day to day contact with real people. There would be the occasional face to face briefing or presentation to make, but on the whole a lot of my contact with my customers was via phone or email. Many times I didn't even get to meet my customers. I did a fair amount of work with manufacturing companies in Portugal, Spain and Turkey. I never met any of my contacts from these companies. Even when I was working for businesses in the UK I often dealt with them through an agent based in the South of England, with whom I had contact in person about every six weeks.
I increasingly found myself working late at night and using the daytime to do other things. Even so, I felt a little guilty spending a couple of hours in the middle of the day, out cycling or walking or sitting in the local library reading. On a positive note, I was fitter, and the maintenance tasks on my home were gradually getting completed, something I never really had time for when working, often six or seven days a week for an employer.
A change in personal circumstances and a house move in 2004 led me to take a break from my work for several months. When I was ready to return to work, I certainly didn't relish the thought of all those lonely days in the home office, so I took a chance and set up another business, drawing on skills which I had continued to develop since my school days.
I didn't have any particularly high hopes for the business, but felt that I could always fall back on building up my design client list again, or, as an absolute last resort, apply for a job. Anyone who has been self employed with any level of success will know that this thought is one that has little or no appeal.
The new business was something quite different for me. Instead of working for corporate customers, I was going to be working for the general public, in their own homes. I designed and printed 200 flyers and spent a couple of days with my partner, (now my wife) delivering them around the local area.
Within a few days I had several enquiry calls and work started to pick up.
Now, almost eight years later, I have a client list of over a hundred, mostly individuals and families, but also some businesses. I currently have ongoing work for thirteen customers and work in the pipeline for at least the next four months. I continue to receive regular calls from potential new customers. Getting paid is far easier than it was. Most people are happy to pay on completion of the work. Since I started the business I have only had three problem payers. One actually emigrated to Australia before settling his account. In all three cases, the money owed was recovered.
I have met some wonderful people and many of my customers have become friends.
The one regret I have about self employment is that I didn’t take the plunge and do it earlier. I seriously considered it in 1997, but eventually, the (false) ‘security’ of a job in a large company won.
To anyone considering taking the huge step into the unknown that is self employment, I can only recommend it.
You certainly need saleable skills, confidence in what you do, an organised and methodical way of working, both in what you do and the associated and very much necessary office work. Finally; and this will vary depending upon your financial and family commitments, you really do need to be absolutely sure that you can afford to step away from a regular income.
I’m not saying it is easy - it isn’t... always. But the satisfaction and pride you get from working for just yourself is enormous.