When people find out I’m self-employed, at least half the time I hear “Oh, that would be so nice! You can just take off whenever you want to!” These are the people who I know don’t understand what it takes to run your own business.
Yes, I can take an hour in the afternoon to take my dog over to see his buddy at a relative’s house so they can play. But that means I’ll be working an hour later that night or an extra hour or more on the weekends.
I work an average of 12 to 13 hours a day, 6 days a week. Yes, I can shuffle my schedule when my disabled family member has a doctor’s appt or something else comes up, but I have to make up those hours sometime. During my busy season, my days often go until 1 or 2 in the morning 7 days a week to make sure I meet deadlines.
So do you still want to put in the work to quit your day job and do your own thing? It’s a lovely dream, and if you’re willing to put in the time, it can be very rewarding. You have to consider many things.
First, you will have to do your pricing to make sure you’re making enough profit to meet your needs. Sit and figure all the expenses your income will need to cover. In my case, I have a spouse who covers the rent, student loans, some utilities, provides the health insurance through his job, and the car payment and insurance. That means my income has to cover the groceries, cell phone bill, other utilites, gas for the cars, medical co-pays, prescriptions and other miscellaneous expenses as well as anything extra we want to do. All of these things need to be considered. You can look for areas to save money, maybe with coupons or cutting back your cable, walk instead of drive if possible, move to a cheaper cell phone plan, etc. If you don’t want to make changes and keep the same standard of living as you have with a regular job, then you’ll need to work that much harder.
If you don’t have another wage earner in the house, you also need to consider health insurance costs now. It used to be many people working solely for themselves just didn’t have insurance, but now you’re required by law to have it or you’ll be hit with a penalty from the government. The good news is most self-employed people will qualify for the larger subsidies from the goverment for it, so that may help, but it’s still going to have some cost to you that you’ll need to consider. What the plans offer will also vary, some won’t cover prescriptions, surgery or emergency room visits, so you’ll need to keep those costs in mind, too.
Unless you’re forced to try to make being self-employed your full time job very quickly (laid off, moved and can’t find a new job, terminated), the option I used and that has worked for other people is to move to part time work at your regular job while you push your self-employment into full swing and build up the business to sustain the business as well as yourself. Very few businesses can hit the ground running full steam. They take time to build up customers and get your name known either through word of mouth or advertising.
Map out your business plan. Make careful decisions of how you want to grow your business and markets to target to do that. Get some professional business cards made. A lot of people get cards and stickers from Moo or Vistaprint because they’re very inexpensive. I ordered my first set of cards from Vistaprint, but honestly, I wasn’t impressed with them. The text was hard to read, the cards weren’t printed straight and the overall quality wasn’t what I wanted to represent my business. I order mine from an Alphagraphics shop in my area. 500 cards costs me $39 and I’m much happier with the quality. You want to represent yourself as a professional and someone who’s “here to stay” in your market. You want people to see you as a legitimate business and not one who’s going to take their money and disappear. You want to earn their trust. You want them to see your card and think “this person cares enough about their business to be professional”.
I know a lot of people also use the inkjet printable cards, and they may work for some people, but in my opinion they just look tacky and cheap. A local radio station used to use those for their salesmen. Everytime I saw one, it just left me with the impression that they didn’t think their salesmen were going to be around long enough to warrant buying them an actual box of “real” cards.
A little bit of effort and expense can make a huge difference in how you’re seen by your customers. You want to build their trust, earn their respect, and offer a quality product with good service backing it. Given time and careful steps to build your business, you can make being self-employed a successful venture. The rewards can be great: building self-respect, being home with family (even if you are working), being available for emergencies, flexible schedule, and doing something you love and believe in. Would I quit my business to go back to work for someone else at a regular 8-5 job? Not unless something happened that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.
Keep things realistic, build your business plan, map out your growth and how you want to achieve it, and make sure you’ve got all your pricing and expenses figured out. You can build a successful business in most any venture if you’re willing to put the time into it. Money needs to be re-invested back into your business, you need to advertise (I’ll cover this in a future blog), you need to invest a certain amount up front to project the right image, but it doesn’t need to be thousands of dollars. I started my business with some patterns I’d designed and about $100. You can build your business into a success, too, and maybe one day even be able to quit your day job.