Self-employment can be one of the most rewarding careers you’ll ever have. There’s no better feeling than creating something from nothing and being in control of your own direction. No more crappy bosses, no more dumb meetings, no more wearing pants to work (okay, maybe that’s just us!). Most importantly, no more commuting or working from 9 to 5. Tempting, isn’t it?
But self-employment isn’t for the feint of heart, and it’s important to remember that trading in a secure income for personal freedom can be risky. So in the interest of ensuring your new business doesn’t suck your will to live, here’s a few things to consider from us: two women who have been there, and done that, and could’ve used some advice along the way.
1. Get reliable help.
If you’re currently a stay-at-home parent, kudos to you. If you think working from home while looking after kidlets and not losing your mind is possible — think again. Do you fancy taking an important client phone call while your youngest is having the mother of all tantrums and your eldest has emptied out the entire yoghurt container onto the kitchen floor? No? Then invest in some help, whether it’s formal day care or calling on some family members to share the load. Make sure you’ve got a back-up in place so you can have some child-free time to focus.
2. Prepare a business plan.
Work out exactly how you’re going to earn your income, how you’re going to find clients or customers, and have a marketing plan in place. It’s also a really good idea to have some specific goals to work towards. We like SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. For example: a business goal could be to earn $1,000 profit each month by the end of March 2016.
3. Know your break-even point.
It still surprises us that so many businesses have no idea how much they need to make each month to cover their costs. You need to know how much it costs you to be in business, and how much salary you personally need to make, to ensure your bills are paid each month. Things to consider include phone and internet charges, software subscriptions (I’m looking squarely at you Adobe Creative Cloud), hardware depreciation, professional memberships, insurance and the like. Add it all up, then add in your wage – yes, you need to pay yourself – and that’s your break-even point.
4. Invest in ongoing professional development.
Working from home can be isolating and it’s easy to let your skills slide without even realising it. A professional development and training plan is part of every successful business’s budget. Don’t let your business be any different. We give you permission to think laterally about this: are there any e-courses you could do for free, such as through the Queensland State Library’s Lynda.com subscription? Are there any conferences you could attend? Sometimes even watching a free TEDtalk can be considered professional development – so even if you don’t have the cash, there are still plenty of opportunities so there are no excuses!
5. Be clear about your boundaries.
If you give some clients an inch they will take a mile and before you know it they could be turning up at your house (very common if you work from home in a service-based business) at all hours, including when you are still in your pyjamas and wrangling a WeetBix-covered toddler. Or they will call you at 6am or 10.30pm because they are ‘worried about something’ and assume that you are interested enough at that hour to care.
6. Factor sick and recreation leave into your financial projections.
It’s impossible to work year-round without a break, so please, for the love of all that is good – plan some time off!
7. Have a savings buffer in place.
Even the best-laid plans can fail and we recommend you have at least a couple of thousand dollars stashed away for ‘what-ifs’. For example, if your website is hacked, which is becoming very common, unless you are technically minded it might cost a lot to have the problem fixed by professionals. A buffer will also help if essential business equipment breaks or requires replacement on short notice.
8. Get your family on board.
Trust us, having a partner support your self-employment dreams is essential. If they aren’t supportive, you can expect to have lots of conflict about the hours you work, the expenses involved in setting up the business and the income (or lack thereof) that the business generates in the early days.
9. LOVE what you do.
Do you LOVE your small business idea? Like, really LOVE it enough to work at it for years before seeing any significant rewards? It’s important to delve deep into this question because, in theory, it’s easy to sit down and brainstorm business ideas. If you are the entrepreneurial type, we’re sure you have at least five small business ideas on the burner. And setting up a business (especially an online one that doesn’t require additional qualifications) can usually be completed within a few hours. But, we want you to STOP before you buy that domain and set up your website — please sleep on it overnight. In the morning, if the business idea has you feeling 100 per cent committed and passionate, then it’s worth a go. But if not, then you have just saved yourself some money and can go back to the drawing board.
10. Find a community.
No woman is an island and self-employment can be very isolating and depressing at times. It’s important to set yourself up for success by finding a community of like-minded women who can support you and your business dreams. They don’t need to be in the same industry or have the same business model you do. Thankfully, the internet offers many avenues for finding a supportive community, and we thoroughly recommend joining a business-related Facebook Group or two. So, go out and find your tribe!
Good luck! Now go out there and kick some business butt!