The Reality of Working for Yourself

Regular readers will know that I work for myself at Callum James. And I’ve been doing so for the last ten years. But is working for yourself all it’s cracked up to be? Does it deliver that elusive positive work-life balance we all crave?

Well, like any situation, there are pros and cons. Only the individual concerned can decide whether the downsides are worth the benefits.

One thing’s for sure, it’s not all long holidays and a relaxing, stress-free existence – far from it! In fact, last year, I started to feel a bit disillusioned and unfulfilled. A sneaky little question was in the back on my mind, and I couldn’t shake it off …….

Is this it? 

I always thought I’d be happier working for myself – the freedom and flexibility, the control I have over the quality of my work, and the choice of where to focus and with whom to work. And yes, all of those things are great.

But there is a downside. There have been times when I’ve felt very isolated. All businesses have their ups and downs, but when it’s your business, things can feel bleak during the tough times. You don’t have that infrastructure of colleagues around you to help you keeps things in perspective. And you’re doing everything, keeping all those plates spinning. Working for yourself can make you too inward-looking.

So what did I do?

I took a step back to refocus. Last year I examined all the challenges I was facing and put together a plan to address each of them. I opened my mind to making some fundamental changes to ensure I gave myself the best opportunity to succeed and more importantly, that I would be happier and more fulfilled doing it. And I realised something quite fundamental.

Most of the negatives can be controlled

It’s easy to get bogged down in them, but yes, you can influence most negative situations and either reverse them or at least ensure they don’t impact on you so heavily. After all, a negative situation is a way of forcing you to adapt and change, something every company must continually do to thrive.

It was a really positive experience to step back from the day to day ‘doing’ and take a holistic view of my business. The result is that now I believe I am delivering the best service I ever have to my clients, and just as importantly, I’m enjoying doing it. 

My top tips for solopreneurs

  • Don’t neglect your professional development. Without an HR department pushing you onto training courses, it’s easy to fall behind unless you make a real effort.
  • Get a mentor. Find someone with experience in your field that you trust and can bounce ideas off or get advice from when needed. We all need support, even more so when you are out on your own.
  • Mix it up. I have found that splitting my time from a home office and one in the hub of City works best for me. It ensures regular social interaction and keeps things fresh.
  • Plan for financial pressure. There will be times when cash flow is tight. Try to put some away in the good times to ease the burden during the dry periods.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Constant self-doubt is normal as you don’t have peers or superiors to ask or learn from, but don’t let it paralyse you into inaction.
  • Find a differentiator. Why should people use you? You can’t always compete with the big boys’ multi-million-pound budgets, so make sure you have a solid value proposition that you know you can deliver.
  • Accept that you’re going to be taking your laptop on holiday with you forever! Sorry, there’s not really a way round that one. 

When things are great, they are really great

I hope I’ve not put anyone off who is thinking about starting their own business. Because there are so many positives. It can be very rewarding financially. I have total ownership of my work-life balance with the flexibility to work when I need to and take time out when I need to, which means I never miss a school play or a parents evening! I split my time between the City and my home. And I have a real sense of purpose; my approach to recruitment allows me to add real value to my clients rather than just processing jobs and striving to hit aggressive revenue targets. And of course, I define my company values, vision and brand – I get to make my own rules.

Nothing is perfect, far from it, but on balance, this set-up has enough positives about it to outweigh the alternative.

Today it does anyway!

Are you working for yourself and running your own business, or are you thinking about making the jump? Do share your challenges and successes with me, I’d love to hear them.

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