Lessons from my first year of self-employment

Wow. A whole year of being self-employed. It feels somehow like yesterday, yet also like a lifetime ago. In some senses it seems like nothing has changed, and in other senses it seems like everything has changed. What have I learnt or been reminded of in my first year of self-employment?

Time is precious

Having an hourly rate rather than an annual salary has, for me, made me much more conscious of how I am spending each day. I’ve always been someone who tends to spend a long time on each piece of work until it’s as good as I can get it, but I often don’t have the luxury of that. This sometimes leads me to overwork and give up my ‘free time’, and has been something common to all my work. Now that there’s only me in control of my workload I’ve been learning how to manage it better and make the most of both my time and my clients’ time (often they want something sooner and cheaper than something that will take a long time to make a little bit better). I’ve also been thinking more carefully about how I spend my time when I’m not working. Time with people I love is worth so much to me, but time spent on errands or tasks done to save a few pounds isn’t worth a lot to me, so I’m able to make much more informed decisions. I’m still learning, and sometimes struggle to spend time doing things for myself without feeling guilty, but I’m getting much better and the self-employment mindset has definitely helped me re-assess the value of my time.

Money isn’t everything

I’m fortunate to have had some great paid work this year and I’ve had enough money to live the life I want to live. We have used some savings for a big holiday recently (we got married in Las Vegas and had a honeymoon in Orlando), so we’re trying to rebuild some of the buffer back up, but we don’t need a lot of money for our lifestyle. So far I’ve been able to assess work on its merits without considering the money too much – I’ve taken on some voluntary roles, and I’ve turned down some paid work. My motivation for being self-employed isn’t about making money; it’s about doing work I love. I know there is value in my skillset and the work I do, and I know my work can bring huge positive changes to the organisations and individuals I work with. I charge accordingly, and those who see the value are happy to pay for my work. Money is the basis of payment, but it’s not the basis of the working relationship – it’s how the work happens but isn’t why the work happens. I’m loving learning more about who I align with and can bring the most value to, and how I can achieve that.

Your ‘organisation’ is you

I love this. I’ve been told it can be scary for some people as they worry about ‘being on’ all the time and having to be presentable and represent themselves as their business accurately at all times. For me it’s totally librating. I am my business, so whoever I am and whoever I become defines my work and my business. Yes, I’m not great in the early morning. So I don’t tend to do work in an early morning. I love to talk and share experiences. So my work reflects that both in the sort of work I do and the way I do it. I’m fairly informal and easy-going in my nature, but I’m respectful with time commitments. So the way I facilitate my workshops and coaching reflects that; I’m flexible during the workshop or coaching session, but will always finish on time. The Jo you see at a conference is the same Jo you speak to on social media, or over the phone, or in person. I’m me and my business is me. It fits perfectly with my values of authenticity and openness and I love it.

Balance is essential

Of course if the business is me, where does time away from the business happen? This is a common complaint of those who are self-employed as they struggle to switch off, and I get it. There are some times where I really struggle to stop working or at least thinking about work. Fortunately I have some fantastic family and friends, and spending time with them takes me away from that and helps me live more in the moment. ‘Balance’ is a key theme for me this year, and I’ve been trying to achieve more balance on a daily and weekly basis (rather than working all hours for a couple of weeks and then spending the next week sleeping and catching up with people you haven’t spoken to). It’s a work in progress, but most of the time it’s a lot better than it was. I don’t have a routine, but that suits me fine as every day, and week, is different. I’m far more aware of what I need, so I pay attention to that and do what I can to do what I need to do when I need to do it.

What’s next?

I’m certainly enjoying being self-employed and am in no rush to change that (despite a brief pondering about working in Lush over the Christmas period when I saw a flyer in their store recently!). I’m planning to focus more on the things I enjoy the most at the moment (specifically coaching and facilitating learning experiences), and have been integrating elements of these into my work as well as developing new opportunities such as the Mindful Leadership for Women programme. I will be continuing to develop my skills and share my experiences to help others, both through the work I do and through conversation or blog posts. I’ll be continuing to listen to others and see how I can help them achieve their goals.

I still love my initial tagline of ‘helping people develop’ but I think I’m focusing more now on ‘helping people define and work towards their personal and professional goals’. Let’s see how the next year goes!