Becoming self employed – don’t know where to start?

becoming self employed

As a coach, I often work with people wanting to move away from being employed and wanting to set up on their own. It’s a big step if you’re exiting the relative safety of a monthly salary, paid holiday and sick pay but it can be hugely rewarding, bring an amazing sense of freedom and allow you to do more of what you want.

In this blog I’ll look at becoming a sole trader or freelancer – that is not being employed by someone else anymore. From your why to your what and how, it’s a useful guide for when you’ve decided to take the leap and ensure that you get off to a flying start!

If you’d prefer to listen – click on my podcast below. If you don’t have Spotify, try Google podcasts here.

What is your story so far

Take a little time to work through the reasons for why you’re here. What are the reasons why you want to or find yourself becoming self employed.

  • You might have had little choice – you may have taken redundancy or perhaps you needed to leave for a variety of reasons including, necessity – having to work around family circumstances or you were working in a difficult / toxic workplace that made you stressed and / or unhappy.
  • Or you may be making a conscious decision to leave as you feel you can be freer, organise your own time and work / do more of what you enjoy and earn more

It’s worth writing this down as it’s useful to remember when you come to a) marketing and telling your story, b) wondering why you made the move – it can be a reminder to help you gather your momentum if you feel yourself flagging. Asking these question also help you really be sure that you’re making the right decision.

That is part of your why – why you’re where you are, why you’re here, wanting to set up on your own. 

The next part to consider is your why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Why others might buy your services (or produce).  Why you’re doing what you do. To be self employed, there are a number of upsides like being able to create a work life balance that is your own choice, however one of the downsides is that it can be all consuming, hard work where you are your own IT department, the marketing and sales department – at least until you establish yourself. There’s no paid holiday and unlikely anyone to cover when you’re sick. So you are going to want to be clear on your reasons for doing what you’re doing to take on the less easy aspects and be sure that you get the balance right.

This is a great time to gather your thoughts on why you do what you do.  

what do you find interesting?

what do you like about it?

what areas especially draw you in – is it the people, the detail, the creativity, whatever it is, really focus on that. 

how does your chosen field fit with you own values? You may be committed to sustainability for example and feel positive that you can apply this ethos to your work.  

Leaving because you hated what you were doing?

If you’re choosing to become self employed because you didn’t really like what you did in your employed job, it might be time to change direction, as if the core of what you did doesn’t interest you, it’s unlikely to suddenly become interesting when you leave and set up on your own.  Really think about this.  You might be prepared to continue working in this area as you feel that the freedom, conditions, ability to work in your own way, outweighs the actual subject matter. But do take time to work this through.  It might be that some aspects of it do interest you – can you focus on those and do more of them?

If you enjoy what you do

If you enjoy what you do, remind yourself of why you got into this career, what you found fascinating, what are the positives? What areas would you like to develop? On the days where you’re wishing you had an IT department or paid holiday (and there may be days like this!), you can remind yourself of why you do what you do.

Professional development

As an aside, I’d point out It’s a good idea to keep up with professional development or training to keep your edge in the field or industry, keep the interest alive and be able to make connection with similar people doing what you do. It can be lonely being self employed, so having a network of other people doing a similar job, whether employed or not, really helps.

This why is vital as it’s something you’ll need to come back to again and again.  It’s super useful for marketing, getting your message across about what you do and why people should come to you. It will give you the self belief to keep going as you’ll have a solid core and focus to what you do.

If you’re a consultant who’s left the world of employment, being clear about your why is important as you’ll be looking to win work from people who really get what you’re doing and your passion and commitment needs to shine through.

Started something new?

If you’ve started a new career, leaving the old one and retrained – this might be coaching, therapy or something creative for example, your why starts now.  What made you choose this new world? What brought you here? Why did you want to do this? Again, this needs to shine through to prospective clients or customers. Entering a new world half heartedly as a freelancer or sole trader is risky and this energy can come across (unless you’re a brilliant actor!) And you owe it to yourself to do as much research into your potential market as is possible to ensure you hit the ground running.

Your what

So you’ve worked out your why, now let’s look at your what.  

What are you setting up as? 

What are you doing? 

What is your service or offering? Be really specific. Keep on honing it.  

Do you have a niche?

Many will advise you to pick a niche as that’s potentially easier for marketing purposes and I do broadly  agree with that.  If you can make your audience specific, you’re more likely to market to the right people, instead of trying to attract a very wide audience, few of whom will really ‘get’ what you’re offering. Eg if you’re a sustainability consultant, just saying that is not enough.  It’s really useful to narrow it down to the sort of projects you work on and the sorts of clients you work with.

As always, there are exceptions.  When I trained as an Executive and Business Coach, I read and heard a lot about choosing a niche.  Many coaches will go into niches such as working with creatives businesses, women CEOs or teenagers, but as I have a broad interest in business and people in general, I resisted this pressure and chose to promote myself to individuals, SMEs and organisations.  I just couldn’t choose between them! And it is likely that this has slowed my growth somewhat, but it’s a conscious decision that I chose to make.

Writing down what you do is time well spent as you will need it for so many things from website copy, quotes and proposals, networking and explaining what you do etc.

As this is all about taking the leap and not knowing where to start, being clear about your why and your what are excellent things to do at the beginning.  Putting some effort in here will help you get the solid foundations you need in place.

Your how

A good next step is your how.  How are you going to deliver your service or offering and how are you going to work?

Let’s look first at how you’re going to deliver your service or offering.

Will it be face to face, online, one to one, one to many via courses and webinars for example, or if you have a product that you sell, will you sell direct to consumer, via an online retailer or online retail platform or will you sell to a wholesaler.  Being clear with this is important as you need to have a plan of how you’re going to do this.

Check out the competition

Research others doing similar things and look at how they come across, what works, what doesn’t.  How do they market themselves? Some will happily help you with insights and suggestions and there may be collaboration opportunities if you reach out.

Your how much

Starting out as a freelancer, there’s a lot of preparatory work, getting the website done for example is a big job and can be very time consuming. Much of the initial work will be unpaid and you need to factor this in.  Be realistic with the amount you can earn in the first year as it may take a little time to establish yourself.  Like any business, I’d suggest setting up a simple spreadsheet forecasting how much you think you can earn and how that money will come in.  How many clients will you need? Factor in any associated costs eg office, IT equipment, travel etc

You will also need to consider how many weeks a year you will work – multiplying a weekly income by 52 doesn’t work as you will want to take holiday!

Once you have a clear picture of how many clients you need, you can work out how you’re going to attract them.  

Your marketing

Use your connections

You will probably have a lot of connection from your previous work – make sure you’re connected to them on Linked in and start posting about your new business.  Don’t be shy about this.  People are generally interested in seeing what others are doing and want to help.

Choose a few key connection and invite them out for coffee to pick their brains, ask them if they can put you in touch with anyone who might be useful.  I’m sure you’d be happy to help others in this way, so do this early on.

You will probably also have friends and family who can help.  Tell everyone what you’re doing and let them know you’re looking for work. Some people say they feel ashamed or awkward doing this.  It’s helpful to ask yourself if a friend or family member asked for advice or referrals, would you think badly of them? Hopefully not!

Depending on your business, you may find social media is useful – posting regularly and following people you can learn from and who may be interested in your services can really boost your business.  If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, there are lots of training courses (free and paid for) that can help set you up.

Networking

You have your ready made connections who can help, now it’s time to make some new ones.  Think about the sort of people who might buy from you and think about where they might be hanging out.  Are there networking groups in that specific sector? There really is something for every type, from sustainability groups, women’s groups, membership networks etc and if you feel nervous or awkward, remember that everyone else does too! Go to the meetings or events with an open mind, with genuine curiosity.  Don’t go expecting to walk out with a job or contract after one meeting.  It takes time for people to trust each other and for the right job to come up.

Your routine

If your’e self employed and working from home, it’s too easy to work long hours as there is no ‘stop’ in the way that leaving the office provides. Although few people have that now after the last year of home working.  Set yourself some rules – starting at a certain time, finishing at x o’clock and make sure you stick to it.  If you are wanting to work flexibly, make sure you take the time off if you’re having to work longer hours.  If you work every evening and weekends, you will soon burn yourself out and be looking to go back to employment.

Asking for help

It’s tempting to do everything yourself when you first become self employed.  You may want to save money or just prove you can do it yourself.  I would strongly recommend paying someone to do the things your find difficult as you will spend a lot of time on it and may not get the results you want.  Paying an expert will get the job done quicker and better and you can use the time to earn the money. For example, if writing copy for your website is not your greatest strength, consider paying a copywriter, don’t spend time struggling with figures – pay a bookkeeper.

Make sure you have support

Setting up on your own can be a lonely place, especially if you’re used to working in a sociable office environment.  Just having that chat in the corridor or kitchen can give you a little break, a chance to chat a bit, let off steam, discuss a challenge. The same goes for a quick drink after work or popping out for lunch with a colleague.  When you’re self employed, you have to be proactive and make these things happen.  Organise regular coffees and meet ups with like minded people – ex colleagues, other freelancers etc to make sure that you stay sociable and get away from work occasionally. You may choose to work with a coach to keep the focus, ensure you meet your income targets and stay in a good place wellbeing-wise.

I hope this is helpful – remember to keep the self belief levels high. There will be down days, as there are with any job, so make sure you check in with your why to remind yourself that you’re doing this because you wanted to and you love it.