Self Employed For One Year - What I Know Now.
Yep whilst I'm on my holidays my little business has it's first birthday. A whole 365 days since I had the forms back from Gov.co.uk confirming I owned the name Gwennan Rees Illustration as a business and 365 days since I started taking my own tax off myself.
It's amazing how fast a year goes and when I graduated university I was told I could have one year to try and make something of myself, try and go self employed, be freelance, all without paying rent and getting a 'proper job.' (Vom).
A year on and my parents are now saying whatever happens I need to stick at it for 3 years cos lol mortgage companies won't even look at you if you fold before that. I won't pretend like I made a fortune, I still have quiet months where I don't make enough money to pay my petrol and have to lend a tenner or two. I haven't made enough in my first year to live off but considering most businesses make a loss in their first few years, even a small profit is a bonus.
Here's a few pearls of wisdom I learned in my first year of working for myself.
1. University Doesn't Teach You Anything.
Let's just get this one out of the way. Your suspicions are correct, the degree you just spent 3 years working for, £30K of fees on hasn't taught you much about the real life of business at all. Sure I did a module on business, on taxes, on contracts, on creating social media accounts and how to set out a portfolio. What it didn't teach me was how to deal with judges who didn't even look at your work in exhibitions, how to literally go about registering as self employed, about what to include in your T's & C's. No word of a lie Professor Google and asking your friends will be the formula of how you go about creating a business.
2. Working From Home Is Very Distracting.
Chances are if you've gone self employed you'll be working from home, probably from your bedroom or the shed or a spare room. You probably don't have enough to rent a space and thus you're stuck working in the very same place you live and sleep and eat. No joke, it's SO distracting even though obviously it's great being able to schedule your day yourself. When you work from home you're very aware of everything else that needs to be done. Like in a full time job in which you leave the house, the laundry needs doing, the ironing needs doing, the meals still need to be cooked, the dishes still need to be washed...except here you can see them all. It's very difficult to get into the work mindframe when all your chores and your TV and your bed and your pets are around you. Routine is everything.
3. Switching Off Is Near Enough Impossible.
Again, because you work for yourself and you probably work at home, switching off from work mode is difficult. Once you've got the distractions out of the way, getting INTO the work mindframe is relatively easy. You sit at your desk, you turn the notifications off your phone, you switch music on and you make a to do list and you get working. The problem with not working office hours comes when you need to switch off. You need to make the tea but you're halfway through something, your family turn up but you've got half hours work left to do, it's midnight and you need to go to bed but you're SO SUPER PRODUCTIVE you can't switch off. I honestly can't remember the last time I switched off properly. That I sat and did anything that wasn't work related. Even when my daytime work is over I bring the laptop downstairs and watch TV but I still blog at the same time, literally what I am doing as I type this with a cuppa and the Euros final on. Personally that works for me, I hate not doing anything and I can work for a really really long time without burning out but if you can get into routine sociable hours it might be better for you.
4. You Will Make A Butt Load Of Mistakes.
This one probably comes as no surprise, I certainly envisaged making mistakes but the beauty of hindsight is you now know what those mistakes are going to be. Things I cocked up at first and have since corrected include (but not limited to) not remembering PayPal charge a fee when you're paid so every job I did I was paid slightly less than I quoted, quoting for US Dollars on the day of job agreement not on the day of payment so I significantly lost money when the exchange rate changed and not writing in my T's & C's that changes to a project would incur further costs and ending up working on a project for 8 weeks with multiple changes I couldn't charge for. You will mess up but you'll learn and you'll never done it again.
5. Social Media Is Everything.
As supportive and as lovely as your family and friends are, you won't make a living off what they buy from you. Social media is everything when it comes to building a customer base. You will do EVERYTHING online and your phone will become even more glued to you than normal, just now it'll be a business tool not just for Instagram (although there'll be a lot of that too). We all know how to use social media to our advantage in this day and age but the one big recommendation I'd give is to make accounts purely for your business and separate it from your personal accounts. Set your personal accounts to private so customers and employers can't see what a twonk you are sometimes and keep your business profiles bubbling with personality but professional. Another really good tip is to sign up to all social media accounts you can think of even if you don't plan on using them, just to secure your username. There's nothing worse than deciding this time next year you want to get into Snapchat only to find someone else has your handle. Keep everything the same over all platforms.
6. You Need Money Behind You.
This is the biggest biggest tip I can give. Whether it be a bank loan, parental cash or saving every spare penny of your student loan like I did, you need money behind you before you start. You forget that whilst registering to become a trademarked business might be free, you need a lot of money to set yourself up straight away. You'll have websites to pay for, fees to pay, bills to get out of the way and most importantly, you'll need money for stock. You need something to sell to make money and it's easy to forget you need to pay for those materials and products in the first place. You'll use your savings up QUICKLY don't forget that.
7. You'll Consider Jacking It All In.
I have done this probably on a 6-8 week basis. It is a struggle not having money all the time, having to rely on yourself to make cash and having to lend money for bills I can't lie. I know a lot of people don't have the luxury I have of not paying rent and I am happy to sacrifice a social life cos I haven't got the dollah for my business but I know this isn't a reality for a lot of people. However you've set up your business, however you've done it and whatever you status, it's tough working for yourself and you'll think of jacking it in but..........
8. A Year Isn't Enough Time.
There is legit no point me jacking it all in now, no matter if I don't earn a commission this month or only make Etsy sales. It's the reality of the business I am in that sometimes I'll have a quiet month and sometimes I'll have a great one. A year isn't long enough to make a difference, to make a sizeable profit, to make a liveable income and I think you need to accept that before you start off. You need to give it some time and if all else fails, just remember the mortgage companies waiting to turn you away cos lol you don't have a regular income. I am well aware I need to keep this solvent for 3 years minimum and you should be too.
9. Do It Now.
If you've got an inkling - do it. I cannot stress this enough. If you're just out of uni and you haven't got a job and you think maybe you'd like to give it a go- do it. There is no better time than when you're young and have very few responsibilities and yes it means you might be at home with the folks a bit longer and yes it means it might be a while till you can get a mortgage and build up your savings account but if you can make a career out of something you love then it's worth it isn't it?