Why Be Self Employed?

Please accept this bit of wallowing (c) Paul McGee. It won’t last long – just the first paragraph. You can skip to the next one if you want to. That way you don’t have to read my whinging. But, it may strike a chord, it may help you to make the decision?

Fact is, I worked for the same company for twelve years. At first, I though that they were great – after all said and done, they were the only company that had ever offered me a job and they still are! However, once my skills and knowledge started to develop and I acquired specialities I soon realised that this was a company where you didn’t necessarily get on just because you were good at your job. In fact, quite the opposite was true. It was the gobby ones, those with self-confidence and a high profile, those people with the ability to get up and speak to a crowd, to portray knowledge of their subject under pressure who got on. I’ve also got a few words for so-called positive discrimination. Basically, this is a myth, and a dangerous one. This is because for every instance of positive discrimination, there is always someone affected in a negative way. Coupled with my lack of self-confidence, lack of profile and a lack of the, ahem, attributes required to have positive discrimination work in my favour, I was holed beneath the water, waiting to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Of course this might just be paranoid nonsense, and in fact I should have been looking a little closer to home in order to find out why I wasn’t cutting it. But hey, I did say that I was going to spend a few moments wallowing (thanks Paul).

What to do as a self-employed person?

Ok, you can start reading again… There are many jobs that you could do as a self employed person, and it’s not for me to tell you what you should do. Choose an occupation that you are comfortable with. You need to be able to make you living from it, so don’t do anything that you don’t feel at home with. HOWEVER, please remember that self-development is only possible by placing yourself in a series of situations of which each one challenges you to move on and improve on the previous one. You can stay in your comfort bubble for the rest of your life, e.g. by remaining in employment, having your training organised, your tax and NI paid by PAYE and ultimately your salary and other rewards decided by someone else. Or, you can set yourself a series of goals, each one building upon the previous one, by putting yourself in ever more challenging situations. Once you are comfortable with a task, it’s time to move on and take on another challenge. This is called EXPANDING YOUR COMFORT ZONE.


No daily grind.

M62, M25, M6, M40, M whatever. A1, A14, A5, A-now-hang-on-a-minute. I hear about these roads and many others on the radio in the morning as my wife and I are preparing the kids for school. We hear them all again in the afternoon when the kids are having their after-school snack. It can’t be right can it? All this stress, this sitting in a queue of traffic just to get to your place of work, and more importantly to get back home again when your day’s labours are done.

Now I’m not advocating that we all give up our well-paid job just to avoid sitting in traffic. Think about Lynne Bowles and Sally Boazman. If you all give up our jobs they’d lose theirs. But my point is, why do it, if you don’t have to? There are plenty of people with vocations to be engineers, lawyers, bankers, teachers, journalists etc, but if you’re not one of them, than why on earth are you joining them day after day in all of this traffic. Just think, if the really driven, career minded people were left to get on with going out to work and keeping the country running, there would be so much less traffic on the roads that their drive to work would be so much more pleasurable, and Lynne and Sally would be able to offer a much more positive message to their listeners. Well it’s just a thought.

You choose your hours.

Just to go back to my previous point for a minute, there are many responsible employers out there who do encourage their employees to stagger their working hours in order to help with their childcare commitments or to avoid the really ugly traffic queues. To be fair, when the going got tough for us for a while, mine was one of these employers. But there are just as many who demand that their employees arrive at nine on the dot and don’t leave until five, with a half an hour break for lunch. Ask yourself, what hours would you keep if you were your own boss? Obviously, you will have to fit them in around your clients, but this can be done by negotiation. If you are say, a plumber, you can discuss with your client, when you are going to arrive and when you are going to leave their premises. You may have to pick up tools and equipment, parts and the like. This can all be fitted in around your actual time commitment to complete the work for which you’re being paid.

You choose your salary.

This is closely allied to choosing your own hours. Seems strange I know, but when I was going out to work, I knew that for every hour extra I put in, my financial reward was negligible. Now I accept that putting in the extra time to do the job quicker is a good thing in the grand scheme of things, in order to get yourself noticed by your employer and move your career on. But think on this, if your employer is a large company with a large workforce, the only person likely to notice is your immediate boss.

This then begs the following question:

Q. In how many large companies does this person have the power to give you a pay-rise?

A. Not very many.

If this person were indeed highly enamoured with your performance, how many hoops would they have to jump through in order for you to be recognised with more pay? From my own experience the likely upshot of such a request would be that personnel would respond saying that you already get paid as much as your current job is worth under the Hayes scale, so if you want to earn any more money, then you need to apply for a new job. So, you apply for a new job possibly upsetting your current manager and spoiling a good working relationship.

My message here is that the career structures in large companies are not tailored to get the best out of the workforce in order that the company can grow. Whatever the intent in such organisations, what happens is the stars of the organisation are generally, not technically capable. They are good at getting up on their feet and speaking with authority on any subject on a superficial level. Question them further, and if the question is not on the area of their original expertise then the stock answer is given, “I’ll get back to you on that one.” The vast bulk of the work done in organisations such as this is done so by an army of technically gifted people who do not receive the financial reward that they deserve.

As a self-employed person, however, you do stand or fall upon you own abilities and the effort that you are prepared to expend in carrying out your chosen job. In my chosen self-employment spheres, I know that my reward is directly proportional to my training, aptitude and effort.

Being in control.

If you are employed, you are not able to set your own acceptability parameters. Setting aside the concept of having clients for a moment, being self-employed means that you are the final arbiter of what is or isn’t acceptable. In doing work for a manager, you could spend many hours finishing and refinishing the same piece of work in order to make it satisfactory to them. They may then take it to their own manager who will no doubt require you to do yet more polishing. As a self-employed person, even working for a client, it matters not what anybody else thinks of your finished work. You may shout, that this sounds odd, and it probably does, but let me explain. If the standard of your work is not up to scratch then your client is perfectly at liberty to withhold payment. So, you’ll soon learn that you need to get things right or you won’t make a brass bean. If you get a picky client, complete the job, get it right and move on. Choose a new client. This is much preferable to constantly having your work criticised, and you having to re-hash it in order to please your manager’s-manager’s-manager.

This article, written by me, has previously been published on my former on-line incarnation, www.thesimonlewis.co.uk.

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