Why I decided to go self-employed.
Why did you decide to go self-employed?
It’s often tempting to respond to this question with a wry smile and a ‘Huh. Good question.’
The truth is though, I love what I do and have definitely made the right decision for me, despite some of the stresses you face.
Here I look at some of the most common reasons why people go self-employed and also evaluate whether any of this has turned out to be true.
Note: this isn’t specifically about choosing to be a freelance copywriter but rather the broader subject of being self-employed. After all, we don’t need to go down the slightly self-indulgent existential rabbit hole of answering ‘why do I write?’ or ‘what is writing?’
Reason no.1: Flexibility
Many of the other benefits of being self-employed flow from this one.
The flexibility to fit work to my own schedule and also pursue other things alongside it sounded like exactly what I wanted.
A goal of self-employment for me has always been the freedom to pursue other areas of creativity. I’m passionate about fiction and song writing particularly. So, if one day I’m feeling particularly inspired and I don’t have any pressing deadlines, I can maybe stop work early or start late and fit the other stuff around that.
There are also a few things outside of work which it’s great to be available for.
I volunteer at the soup kitchen run out of my church on a Monday morning once a month. This is something I did for a year when I was still a student and I thought I may as well continue if I can. I can afford to give up one morning a month to do this fulfilling and helpful activity so why not.
I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do any of this and I’m in nobody’s bad books for doing it. I can just do it.
Many self-employed people have other projects on the go or just want the freedom to start something in the future.
I’m also not productive at all hours of the day. Being self-employed means I can work at a time when I’m more likely to get stuff done.
Now it turns out for me, I am still better off working during the normal working day but the freedom to break away from that structure is very liberating. Other people work very differently and for them working late or at the crack of dawn may be what works.
Flexible working also seems to be catching on with many employers who are realising that it’s better to give their employees greater control over their time as it produces better results.
The only downside with all of this is that you’re not really accountable to anyone. You still have to do the work. Maybe using a co-working space or going out to work might help this. Ultimately though, the buck stops with you. Which brings me on nicely to the next reason…
No.2: Be your own boss
Now unlike a lot of freelancers, I don’t have that much experience of working for someone. And the little I have had was pretty positive.
It’s entirely possible to be quite fulfilled working for the right manager but I also hear it can be a bit of a lottery.
Even though I would never rule it out, I guess I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much. I had my own ideas, I knew pretty much what I wanted to do and I suppose I didn’t want to wait for someone else to tell me to do it.
I was also fed up of applying to jobs that I knew I was qualified for but didn’t even hear a peep out of after spending hours on an application form. How was I supposed to get this ideal job if I couldn’t even get a job doing something similar in the first place.
So I created my own job.
It is fun being your own boss. I’m proud of the accomplishments I’ve made so far and the brand I’ve created. I don’t answer to anyone so I only have my own goals to work towards and there is something very satisfying about making money entirely from your own efforts.
Obviously it would be nice to have the benefits of being employed, don’t get me wrong. Someone to sort out the payroll, HR etc. But you can’t have everything. And actually you can hire people to do a lot of these things, such as an accountant.
No. 3: Get paid to do what you love.
In theory you can get paid well too. I’d heard there was demand for the thing I’m good at and of course when you’re self-employed you decide how much you get paid.
Your fee is based on you being a specialist in your field (even if you do sometimes feel like a fraud saying that) and also being hired for specific jobs. You can charge more than what someone in-house would be paid because overall you’re going to be working a lot less hours for that company.
And it’s not necessarily just about getting paid loads. If you want to work less hours and get paid a certain amount for it, you can, within reason.
What they don’t tell you is that coming up with your rates isn’t the easiest decision in the world to make, particularly when you’re starting out. You don’t actually know how much what you do is worth and it’s very easy to undervalue yourself. I spoke a bit more about this here.
Deciding rates is partly tricky because you may not initially factor in the margin you need to leave for a lot of the things you would get, were you an employee of a company.
Pension, insurance, sick pay etc. It all needs to go into the pot and as such my rates have to reflect that. I’ve also learnt that valuing what I do and sticking up for my prices is incredibly important. This is key to being paid what you want to be paid.
There’s other big fish to fry like bad clients and cash flow but these are all challenges to overcome, not reasons to quit. There are steps you can take to ensure these things don’t get in the way of being paid for what you do.
Again, it’s a bit of trade-off. Yes, you can do what you love but you have to work for it. Starting a freelance business was never going to be a doddle.
An additional thought for any youngsters out there…
I’m glad I went into freelancing young!
Sure, some people might look down on you and you’ll make tons of mistakes but in the long run I think you’ll be glad you did it when you did (and you would have made those mistakes anyway). Also, in my experience, most people who have been in the game much longer have actually been really encouraging and are keen to help.
The main benefit though is that I’ve got very low overheads. No mortgage, babies, other expensive things… Hopefully by the time other people are relying on me I’ll have a fairly steady income. That’s the plan anyway.