Going it alone…

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I was encouraged to hear that, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK economy grew by 0.7% in the last quarter of 2013 – the fastest rate since 2007. 

So if the state of the UK economy has been the reason stopping you starting your own business perhaps now is the time to seriously consider taking the plunge.

As the wife of an ‘inventor’ who quit his job in 2007 to follow his dream of setting up his own company, I can assure you, life is not always a bed of roses, especially when you launch your new company on the eve of a financial downturn. But, for every day that we have wondered was this a good idea? How will we pay the bills this month? There have been some pretty impressive benefits. I have never seen Rod more happy and it means he is able to spend time with us as a family, collect our son from school and attend all the school performances and open days that just wouldn’t be possible if he had continued with his 7am – 5.30pm Monday to Saturday job. Suddenly, we have our weekends to do things we want and weekday flexibility to avoid all the stress of Saturday morning supermarket shopping.

Self employment for me came in 2010.  After the birth our first son I took the decision to go part time in my ‘day job’ to help with childcare. A happy up-shot was that I was able to develop my own business in my ‘spare time’. This halfway house between working as the Midlands Hub Manager part-time and also running my own training company has meant I haven’t taken the ultimate plunge – yet! For me I enjoy the Vitae side of my job and the variety it provides but also love the freedom my ‘self-employed’ 2 days per week gives me. With both my husband and me having elements of self-employment in our career we can be flexible with our holidays, we are no-longer limited to 2 days at Christmas to fit in with other members of staff. If we want an ad hoc weekend away we can. Normal working patterns are out of the window. Need to take the morning off…? no problem, just work later in the evening instead! Need an excuse not to visit family – Oh you are busy working!

This flexibility is something that comes up again and again when you ask people what the best bits about self-employment are.

It’s the FREEDOM!! The fact that if I want to have a long lunch or take a day off and go to the beach because the sun is shining, I can do it if I want to (even though I know I have to make the time up later…might as well do it when it’s raining outside)…” Tracey Stead, Independent training consultant, facilitator and coach

Variety also features highly on the list. As you are now head of finance, HR, marketing, operations, strategic planning, catering, estates and staff development, you can be sure there will be something different that needs doing everyday. There is also variety in the opportunities that you can get involved with. No more asking your line manager if you can attend a seminar or business lunch that is not quite related to you role. As Tracey says “you never know what opportunities are round the corner, and if you don’t like some of the things you end up doing, you don’t have to do them again

Jo Gilman of JoG Ltd  adds “I also enjoy working on a range of different contracts because then you start to get paid more than once a month  which is all rather nice.”

The variety associated with being your own boss can mean you are no-longer at the beck and call of those colleagues / bosses that can cause you ‘stress’ –  you don’t have some of the cumulative annoyances that build up when you work in an organisation for a long time, the lack of meetings and bureaucracy features highly on the benefits of working for yourself. “When you work in lots of different places, you know that you probably won’t have to deal with the same issue again (at least not very often), so I have found that I am much calmer and more buoyant, as I can now shrug off some of the things that used to irritate me as I know the next day I will be somewhere else

For Rod, he is his own boss. He decides the mark up of his products, who he wants to do business with and who can and can’t tell him what to do. His creativity is no longer stifled. If he sees a better more efficient way of working he can implement it – no need to take his idea to the board for consultation.     

With the exception of  HM revenue and Customs, there is no-one telling you when you have to do things by. Tracey gives the advice of  being disciplined about putting your money away for your tax bill. “When I get an invoice paid, I don’t see the tax proportion as ‘my money’, I see it as belonging to someone else, so it feels like stealing if I dip in to the tax savings!” You are freed from the unending cycle of “things to do” which comes with a 9-5 – normally imposed upon you by someone else, and instead get to choose what you do, when you do it, and also where you do it which is far more exciting. “There is also that tingle of anticipation when a new opportunity appears and you start to  consider how you might do the work – along with that really affirming high when you either win work or are asked to do work” says Jo.

Of course there are downsides to self employment. The flip side to the flexibility can mean at times you might feel a lot pressure to accept work, even if the timing isn’t great, or it isn’t quite your thing, because you never know when there might not be any. But be honest and say no if you really can’t do something or if you don’t have time.  It is so tempting to say yes to everything you are offered – but in the long run your credibility will suffer if you start to over-commit and can’t deliver. If your new found freedom and flexibility now involves frequent travel and over stays you may find the novelty soon wears off. One self employed consultant commented: “I have no idea why people would ever say they enjoy travelling. They clearly never travel on Cross Country trains, via Birmingham New Street, nor on budget airlines. And they never stay in Ibis hotels…

There will be times when working for yourself means you require more self motivation and discipline than when you are working for someone else, after all, if you don’t do the work who else will? However, as PhD graduates you know the pitfalls of being your own master but have successfully navigated your way through at least one project where you have decided outcomes, managed budgets and managed a vast workforce of one.

Looking at the Researcher Development Framework and the skills and attributes developed as a result of working as a researcher it is not surprising that many PhD Graduates find their way in to self employment or entrepreneurship. If you want to know what these skills and attributes are then take a look at the RDF Enterprise Lens

If you want to know more about starting your own business have a look at:

 Good luck.

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