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This post has been a long time coming – while it’s titled what I learned in my first year of self-employment, I’ve actually been working for myself for about 18 months now. It’s been a pretty crazy journey – from quitting my job in Nottingham to travelling the world, to returning to the UK solo and figuring things out from here.
I dreamed of being self-employed for a long time.
After I graduated from Uni in 2014, I got a job working in the head office of a large retail store in the UK. I loved the people I worked with, but I hated the job. Then, I moved back to Nottingham and landed a job as a junior copywriter. That’s when I learned that I could actually get paid for writing articles – I’d only ever considered that I might make money from my writing by writing a book in the past.
I was at that job for almost two years. Same story: I had some fantastic colleagues, but by the end, I was miserable in the job. I began to realise that the 9 – 5 structure just didn’t suit me. I resented having to drag my workload across the day to fit into an eight-hour block – I prefer to work full steam ahead until I’m done.
I imagined all the things I could be doing if I had control over my own time: hiking and climbing in the day, and using the evenings to get my work done. Visiting a cool cafe and sitting with my headphones in to get things done. A simple idea, but a freedom I longed for.
Now almost 18 months on and after a lot of hard work, I run my own copywriting business as well as managing two separate websites (more on becoming a freelance writer here).
I sit in my dining room or in little cafes and get my head down, and I set my own hours – so if I want to go to the climbing gym afternoon, I just make it happen.
It’s crazy how quickly time has flown by though – I feel like I only just got back from travelling when in reality it’s been over 8 months – and picturing life before travelling feels like a lifetime ago!
To say 2017 was a seminal year for me would be an understatement. I’ve learned a lot.
I wanted to try to put a few of those lessons to paper in this post. I know so many of my readers are curious about what I do for a living, looking to create a location independent lifestyle themselves – or a mix of the two!
10 Things I Learned in My First Year of Self-Employment
#1 Growth is not linear
I’ve learned that businesses do not steadily grow month or month. That there will be some months where I double my income, and other months at the beginning where I unexpectedly lose a contract and my income plunges.
I’ve learned that’s normal, and to embrace the instability of self-employment.
However, I’ve also learned that the beginning is very different to now – while growth was not linear when I was just starting out, with multiple ups and downs and setbacks, now I’m more established, things are a lot more steady.
#2 You need to dig deep
Working for yourself is a huge leap of faith. Suddenly, getting paid each month is completely down to you – and if you don’t put in the work, you’re the only one that will suffer for it.
With this responsibility on my mind, I would often be plagued with doubts in my first year of self-employment. I’d question whether I was actually making it, or if I was just coasting along until everything flew out the window. A nagging voice in the back of my head told me I had no idea what I was doing, that this would never work, that I should find a ‘real’ job before I run out of money.
You have to have the ability to dig deep and ride out the doubts and the bad in that first year. I’ll wager that it’s this voice that is what makes so many new freelancers fail at the very beginning – finding the voice that tells you: you’re doing it, and it’s going to work – that’s the voice that you need to find.
#3 Sacrifices Need to be Made
I built my business while travelling around the world. While it was the year of a lifetime with countless memories, being self-employed also meant that sacrifices had to be made.
Long days and nights spent in coffee shops and air-con rooms working, instead of exploring a new city in the sunshine. Avoiding certain ‘must-visit’ locations because of a lack of WiFi stability. Staying in and turning down the offer of an amazing night out with new friends because a deadline needed to be met.
If you’re building your business from home, I imagine similar sacrifices need to be made, too. The good news is that once those foundations have been laid, you can start to manage your time.
Now, I work hard – but I remember the reason I started this whole journey in the first place: to live my life to the fullest.
#4 You’ll always get a bad client
Freelancing can sometimes be a lot less formal than traditional employment. Rather than signing a five-page contract, you’ll send a few emails back and forth and then start on a project.
Official advice on various freelancing websites may disagree, but that’s just the way it works for me.
Along with that, however, means a degree of vulnerability.
While the large majority of my clients have been genuine and fantastic to work with, there have been a few that I wish I had never agreed to work with in the first place.
From late invoices to constant requests for more work and more amendments, you’ll always get at least one undesirable client in your first year – the key is learning how to recognise them in the future and, if you do take them on, secure your income and time more efficiently.
#5 Your Time Belongs to You Again
One of my biggest hates about working in a 9 – 5 office job was that those eight hours of every day no longer belonged to me. Even if I worked really hard one day and got everything I needed to do done in the morning, I still had to commit the majority of daytime to a desk because someone, decades ago, decided that’s how the workplace should be.
It can make you feel almost guilty, then, to own your time again when you’re self-employed. I find myself sitting down to work at 9 am, and if I work hard all morning so that I can head to the climbing gym for the afternoon and do some work in the evening, I still feel like I’m breaking some kind of rule!
This is, undoubtedly, the best part of working for yourself. Your life is your own again – and your life no longer has to be squeezed around eight hours spent at a desk five days a week.
#6 You Get Used to Not Having One Big Paycheck
The thought of having one big lump-sum paycheck for the month seems like such a foreign idea to me these days.
When you first become self-employed, you have to get used to your income coming to you in small chunks throughout the month. My clients all pay me at different times, and then I’ll get money through from my blogs at random times in the month too.
I love having multiple streams of income. It feels so much more stable, even if I’m paid a little more haphazardly than a traditional job.
#7 Learning How to Save is Essential
I’ve always been a big saver, and a month never goes by without me sticking a bit cut of my pay into my savings account (hence why I write about saving money tips so much!).
I’ve learned that this is an invaluable habit as a freelancer because you can never predict when you might need to fall back on your savings.
A few months ago, I was in a position where I could let go of one client whose work I didn’t enjoy that much because I was earning enough from other avenues to feel comfortable to turn the work down. Then, within a week, two of my other clients emailed apologetically to say they had run out of work to give me for the next few months.
I lost about a third of my income that month.
Did I panic? Well, OK, a little.
But I was OK. I had my savings to dip into if I needed to, and that security blanket is so essential. The next month I worked hard to find new long-term clients and increase my income, but I had the security to know that I could provide for myself for at least a couple of months even if I lost all my streams of income.
Read Next: How to Save Money on a Low-Income
#8 You may feel isolated
I started building my freelance business just before I turned 25 – and I’m now 26. While I find a lot of inspiration from other women doing similar things to me and rocking it online, I don’t actually know many self-employed people the same age as me.
Most of my friends have more office-based jobs or are off travelling after saving for a couple of months. Finding people who are location independent with their work and the same age as me has been rare.
This can feel pretty isolating at times.
If I’m honest, it has limited me at times.
When I started out, I was in a relationship and didn’t need to worry about things like travelling alone and finding friends who weren’t in an office all week. Now that I’m single, I’m faced with the reality that if I want to continue to travel the world and have new adventures, I’m going to have to go it alone. Both an exciting and daunting prospect.
#9 A routine is still essential
I’ve learned that having some kind of routine is essential to get the most out of my days.
When you have total freedom over your workload and time, it could be really easy to fall into a cycle of procrastination, and that’s not good for anyone.
My routine is very vague, but I at least do these things to keep me sane:
- I wake up around the same time every morning
- I always start my day with hot water and lemon
- I write down my to-do list for the day in my diary (even if today’s to-do list is just ‘work on the blog from 9 – 12’!)
- Work out 5 – 6 times a week – I don’t feel normal otherwise!
- Always work in the mornings – I’ve learned that I’m definitely at my most productive in the morning, so I never let myself make an excuse to have the morning off as I know that will result in a whole day wasted! If I know I want to do something fun all afternoon, I work double hard in the morning to get things done.
#10 Self-Employment is Awesome
Yup, this is something I’ve learned.
My first year of self-employment was this terrifying dream, and I felt like I was constantly running on a conveyor built trying to grasp it but never quite getting close enough.
Suddenly, without even realising it, I began to let myself think maybe, just maybe, I was getting closer to the dream. Now, I feel like I can finally let myself relax and enjoy the freedom I’ve created for myself.
I get to choose when I work, who I work with, and how much I earn every month. I can work anywhere in the world.
Being self-employed is a lot of hard work and does include a degree of instability – but if you’ve been thinking about it, I couldn’t recommend this lifestyle enough.