What It's Really Like Being Self-Employed

Man Woodworking
Man Woodworking

Rates of self-employment have risen sharply in the UK over the last decade, from 3.6 million in 2008 to 4.5 million in 2015. Today, more than 7% of the British population are engaged in self-employment, both in full-time and part-time capacities. The jobs that the self-employed perform are varied, but what are some the common habits of this group? We asked their friends and family for their perspectives.

They’re masters of efficiency

Shadia, whose partner is a journalist, says she’s never seen anyone “work quite as furiously as Adam” on assignment. “When I’m at the office, though I maybe don’t want to admit it, it doesn’t matter quite as much whether I finish a report in 45 minutes or an hour.” As a copywriter though, you’re often doing project work and being paid per article or post. “I often see him scribbling down calculations as to what his hourly rate will be depending on how quickly he finishes it.” That number is usually all Adam needs to get motivated and work with focus and dedication.

It probably seems like they’re always working

When you stop being an employee, the constraints of a 9-5 job usually fall away quickly, but so do the usual definitions of what counts as time off, including evenings or weekends. Rob, a south London based electrician often works weekend mornings. “Unfortunately, the nature of the trade means you’re often in early on a Saturday, because that’s when homeowners are in and they can run through any issues with you. You’re able to discuss the best course of action on the spot.” The upside to this is of course increased flexibility and control over your working hours the rest of the week. “Picking up the kids from school during the week is not a bad bonus,” he says.

Working from home doesn’t make them a homemaker (but they might make you dinner)

Chloe, who lives with her sister Tessa, a self-employed stylist, says she used to get annoyed when she would come home after work and find the house a mess. “Soon though, I realised she was working just as hard as I was, and that it would have been unreasonable to expect her to also do all the dishes and clean.” Occasionally though, you’ll come home to warm meal in the oven or a load of laundry done for you.

Laptop And Cat

They’re master networkers who seem to know everyone

Type “freelancer” into Google images and you get images of a singular adult sitting behind a desk, usually with headphones on. What might seem like pretty solitary work often leads to lots of different opportunities and connections, whether online or through social events. Because you’re often working collaboratively with people from different disciplines, you end up with a wide network of people you know. “If I ever need help with a project or recommendations for a photographer, designer, typesetter, artist, producer – whatever it might be – I always ask my freelance friends,” says Andrew, a small business consultant.

Self-employed people are disciplined

Because work can come through at any time, and not all of those who are self-employed will have their own offices, you can often end up working in less than ideal circumstances. “I never really noticed it at first, but my husband can get serious work done under pretty much any condition” says Lucy. Whether that means there’s episodes of Seinfeld on the background, kids running amok in the living room or waiting at airports, bars or even dentist’s waiting room, many self-employed people can carve out moments of focus and calm in spite of their environment.

Others will make bizarre deals to keep themselves on track

Like at any job, it’s impossible to stay motivated all the time. But without a boss or a manager holding you accountable, people will find strange and unusual ways of keeping themselves on track. Clara lives in a house full of freelancers and it means she has full insight of all the strange ways in which they motivate themselves. “If I have a big project, I’ll take myself to a nice cafe to work. It’s a bit more expensive, but it makes me feel like I have to do my best work to make it worth it”. Some habits are a little more unorthodox: “My flatmate lines up M&Ms on her desks and will eat one for every 100 words she writes’. Whatever works, we say.

They might be able to travel, but don’t take a ‘real’ holiday often

“One of the things I hoped for, when Mirek became his own boss, was that it would be so much easier to take time off to visit my family in Poland”, says Lena, whose husband is a London based plumber and started working for himself in 2012. However, the reality of running the show often means that you don’t say no to work and new clients. There is a constant expectation of contact and support which is hard for a location-centric job. Nevertheless, the benefits of being your own boss outweigh the disadvantages, as Mirek says: “Being in such high demand isn’t a bad place to be”.

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