The reality of working for yourself

I enjoy working for myself. Being my own boss and making decisions on pretty much all aspects of running a self employed business.

Being around my family and actually being able to see first hand my little boy grow up. When I was in full time employment I literally saw very little of him during the week and so would only hear what he had done that day after I got back from work, which quite often was half an hour before his bedtime.

Fortunately, I am now in a position to be able to pick and choose my projects, decide on which direction I would like to head in and have the energy to concentrate on my own pet projects in parallel.

Despite this rosy picture, there is a side which takes some getting used to. It is something which in hindsight seems really obvious, firstly…

YOUR HOME IS NOW YOUR OFFICE

Quite often, despite the nice set up, you will have off days. When projects have taken longer than you expected, or when invoices haven’t been paid. This is when you become a right ol’ grump. In the office you would bite your lip and simply get on with it. Whereas at home it is the ones around you that bear the brunt of your grouchiness. It takes a long time to be able to separate home from work. But it is possible, like anything you need to learn to walk away from your home based office and leave all the problems for the next morning. Make a prioritised list and leave it on your desk for you to tackle first thing.

WHEN DOES YOUR DAY END?

In a typical employment contract, that would normally be around 5.30pm, I say contract as this would quite often not be the case, as a result of project delays with impending deadlines. At home, you lose sight of when you are working and when you are not. That line separating the two becomes blurry and you exist in a state of “working”. Even when you think you are relaxing at home, your mind is a mix of tasks that need completing, emails that need replying to, a solution to a problem that you have been grappling with all day. This is all work related, so therefore you are still at work. I haven’t managed to come up with a way of separating the two. Instead, I have learnt to live with it without it affecting the people around me.

21 DAYS A YEAR HOLIDAY?

Only if you are lucky. The fear that drives all freelancers is having work dry up. You plan your projects one after the other so you seamlessly have a steady supply of work. As a result, it can take months till you have a day which you can call a day off. More often than not you end up working weekends to meet theirs as well as your deadlines to reduce the risk of a knock on effect. So be prepared for a long haul with few breaks.

CLIENTS NOW KNOW YOU WORK FROM HOME

As an employee when the clock ticked to 5.30pm(ish), you would put your coat on, say bye to the people you got on with and leave the building. The only way you would know if a client had called would be a post-it note stuck to your screen for you to action the next morning. Guess what? You don’t have the luxury of being able to walk away. If the phone rings at 7pm, you would instinctively answer it and the precedent would have been set… you take calls well into the evening. Even with a second line, there is always your mobile phone. This was the case when I started out. Fortunately, all my clients are brilliant in that respect and will instead either send an email or call the next morning.

YOUR OFFICE BECOMES YOUR HOME

When I decided to freelance, I wanted a dedicated office. Many years later the office is in its fifth makeover. Originally, it was an orgy of MDF and wood glue. One of my few DIY power tool purchases was a jigsaw, so it was inevitable that everything would have a fashionable nice curve. As the business grew, more space was required so began the cycle of trying to make an office I felt comfortable in and could accommodate the mass of papers, books and technical equipment. Due to the size of the room, I was unable to purchase a ready made desk so opted to build my own out of planks of wood, nails and chrome desk legs. Surprisingly, I managed to come up with an office that I can call home. The cost cutting exercise of building the furniture myself allowed me to purchase a nice, comfortable office chair which is a must since you will plonk your arse on it for a large part of your working day, i.e. do not skimp. So now my office consist of an IKEA wardrobe for storage, IKEA planks of wood for the desk and shelves with neatly tucked away computers and peripherals.

YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOU

Leaving the comfort of a salary means leaving the comfort of having someone tell you what your to-do list is. Working alone means you have to be the project manager, account handler and then the developer. So if you forget to complete a task, you can no longer cower behind your line manager, instead you have to face the music alone. What is required is a system of managing tasks, per client and per project. I have used many web based systems such as activCollab and Basecamp but found them difficult to maintain and update. My solution was to purchase a small whiteboard and to blutack it to the side of my wardrobe. Every day I scribble on new tasks, once they are complete I write them into my diary along with supporting information and rub them off the board. For me, this works brilliantly. This will not suit everyone since we are all different, some prefer the online solutions, I wanted a way to quickly scribble then forget till it was time to work on them. The more of my day using online systems to manage tasks took, the less I would be inclined to bother with them.

YOU ARE A ONE MAN THINK TANK

Working as part of a team allowed you to bounce ideas around. Through this you would see potential issues in your ideas and see things from a different angle and come up with alternative solutions to problems. Working alone now means you no longer have the comfort of colleagues to fall back onto. You are the R&D department. This means you have to now think out of the box more than ever. Quite often you will be presented with a problem which requires a unique solution, normally you would spin round in your chair and put it to your team… not anymore. You need to step up your planning process to take into account every possible eventuality to minify any future problems. You cannot prevent all problems, sufficient planning will reduce the time required for bug fixing and re-development. Fortunately, I have friends and colleagues that I can call upon to brainstorm with which does help.

YOU MANAGE YOUR I.T.

You are the IT support department. This means when things break, you have to fix them. Either through calling a repair company or tackling it yourself. You manage your backup procedure. So you have to make sure you have a sufficient data storage and retrieval system in place and that you regularly run backups. Remember, you have to deal with all I.T tasks, from printers running out of ink to losing your internet connection. A wise move would be to learn the basics of PC repair and network maintenance to minimise any down time. Run a separate drive for backup and one as a file server and have them networked through a router and NAS device. So if your PC does die on you, you could continue to work on a second PC since your working files are on the networked drive.

YOU PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK

Hearing positive feedback is always nice. Having spent weeks, if not months on one piece of work and not hearing anything other than a few minor bugs does weigh down on you over time. As a result, you need to treat yourself to something which marks the end of a project. Purchase something you like or take the next few days off.

YOU MANAGE YOUR FINANCES

You can always get an accountant and let them deal with all financial matters. Alternatively, to keep cost down, you could tackle them yourself. Fortunately, my wife seems to enjoy managing my finances and keeping track of how much I earn… who’d have thunk it.

This article doesn’t attempt to cover everything, I haven’t even touched on what you need to do to find work and maintain that working relationship with existing clients.

Hopefully, this will give some insight into what its like to freelance and all the day to day issues you may face.

If you want to ask anything then leave a comment. Ok, best get back to it. 🙂