It’s a year ago today that I left my relatively 9-5 job to become self-employed. As a public sector worker, I had been under a seemingly infinite redundancy notice and I decided to take the plunge into the world of self-employment.
The word ‘plunge’ seems about apt for what felt like a massive launch out of my comfort zone. For the first two months, when I said ‘self-employed’, I would use my index-fingers to illustrate apostrophes, as, perhaps, what I had really intended to convey was that I saw myself as ‘un-employed’.
My ‘self-employment’ involved making making kiln-formed glass which I would sell in my shop on the beach – Little Beach Boutique. So, this meant making a living from my own creativity and learning to run a business in the meantime. But for the first month or so, it did nothing but rain and I would make endless pieces of glass which filled a shop that nobody came into. I would open up when everyone else around me knew better, just to feel like I had gone ‘to work’, and any sense of inspiration or motivation, or opportunities to learn how to run a business seemed to be rapidly waning.
I hadn’t realised until April 2012 that self-employment was a very different kind of ‘work’ to any that I had known. Nobody was checking what time I rolled in, whether I took an extended lunch or accounting for what I had achieved during the day. But instead of feeling total relief and possibility at being self-determining, I found myself with endless unfilled, unstructured hours ahead of me and it was my ‘job’ to fill them with something meaningful that would eventually generate an income. I felt totally rudderless.
Suddenly, it was me that I was responsible to, and I turned out to be a pretty harsh boss. Most days I felt like I had achieved nothing, and ideas, incentive and money all started to dry up.
It seemed I had no idea how isolating self-employment could be. I needed someone to bounce ideas off or to be able to fish for a subtle ego stroke when I felt self-critical.
So most days I would fluctuate between panic and despair at having left a fairly well-paid, albeit unpredictable, job in a profession that gave me structure, identity – and, above all, a team of people around me, to go into one that depended on self-motivation and creativity when I seemed to be losing both.
And all during a double-dip recession which meant that:
a- I couldn’t have picked a harder time to make a living from craft & retail
b – it would be hard to get back into work even if I had wanted to!
But something changed a couple of months in. I got into a routine of sorts and started to let go of the self-doubt. Things did improve, people came into the shop – and bought glass – and I found some momentum, learned when to let go and adapted to having a working life that wasn’t built around the same structure as before. I started to accept that self-employment is also unpredictable – some days would be really, really good, and some would be bad.
I can see that those days of what felt like wading through a fog of listlessness and uncertainty whilst trying to establish a new routine and come up with ideas were part of a process that I just needed to adapt to. The one variable that seemed to effect the business the most – the weather – was something that was totally out of my control and I surrendered to it. I realised that being my own-worst critic wasn’t going to win me any awards and things started to shift.
So, I thought I’d write down a few lessons that I have learnt to anybody who might find/have found themselves in a similar situation – basically shrouded in self-doubt at having made the same decision!
1 – Stay positive about what you do, even if others aren’t. Especially if others aren’t.
2 – Find a peer group so you’re not alone. There are so many forums and networking opportunities out there for people who work on their own, in any profession.
3 – Take the bad with the good. One bad day doesn’t have to generate a bad week.
4 – Be a fair boss to yourself – imagine how you would talk to an employee and question whether you would treat them in the same way that you can talk to yourself.
5 – Turn off the ten o’clock news. We are in the midst of a long and relentless recession and doesn’t the press love to focus on it? But the circumstances can generate new opportunities for people to do things their way, and in many ways, the time has never been better to start again.
6 – Walk away temporarily. Don’t keep at something if it isn’t working. Take a break, do something else, find a distraction then come back to it.
7 – Absorb yourself in what you love. If your hobby has become your income – remember not to lose the joy it used to give you – look for new ways of finding it – or a new hobby!
8 – Talk. Don’t be a martyr to your own cause. Mostly, people want you to do well, so don’t be proud and put on a brave face. It’s amazing the ideas people can come up with when you start to talk.
9 – Accept yourself and your way of working. The same routine every day doesn’t suit everyone. Some days might be really productive, but if you devour a whole box-set and a pack of macaroons in an afternoon, perhaps that is just part of your (ok, my) ‘process’!
10 – As mum would say, everything is a ‘learning curve’ and self-employment has been my steepest one yet. But the challenge also has massive rewards and a sense of achievement can be found in many places – even if that is just ‘sticking it out’ a while longer!
Things can just take their time.
This little necklace I made pretty much summed it up…
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you want to add to this list. Bye for now!
Blogging from her gift shop, Little Beach Boutique, Suzanne writes about art, craft and making glass, running a small business and living by the sea.