10 Things... Nobody Tells You About Self-Employment
I've been self-employed for 3 years now, and in that time, I've learnt a thing or two about the pros and cons of freelance life. If you or someone you know is thinking about becoming self-employed, here are the 10 things I think you need to know.
1. You’ll feel incredibly awkward about asking for payment — and you’ll have to do it.
You’d be unpleasantly surprised by the amount of enjoyable, successful projects end with you spending months chasing payment. This is something I struggle majorly with (arguably because I’m a woman, and we’ve been trained to believe we shouldn’t ask for things when it comes to work? Or because I’m Irish and we tend to be very self-depreciating?). I’ve learned- mostly because I couldn't afford not to learn- to shake off any guilt about asking for what’s mine. If you’re hoping to become self-employed, this is something I hope you learn much sooner than I did.
2. Filing a tax return isn’t actually as terrible as it might seem.
Well okay, that’s only because I would literally go nights without sleeping dreading the thought of it. I’d heard people say tax returns are a pain in the arse, so I assumed it was something I’d never be able to do, even with the help of an accountant. In reality, once you have all of your receipts and invoices, and have a good accountant, it’s grand. Not enjoyable- don’t get me wrong! But certainly not something to have a Louise Dockery-style insomnia-induced anxiety attack over.
3. You’ll either feel like you’re a fraud, or that you’re being undersold.
I, like most creatives, did my time as an unpaid intern. In fact, I did my slog with three companies- in food, interiors and editorial- before I ever got paid for creative work. And when I finally was in a position to charge, I didn’t know how much I should charge for. When asked for a quote, I always felt like people weren’t going to pay what I asked them, because I was so used to doing it for free. And then when I did charge, I often felt like the graft and the payment didn’t match up. More on that later.
4. Shared workspaces are a godsend.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Trinity College branch of the Bank of Ireland Workbench, which you can utilise if you’re a Bank of Ireland business account holder. With so many people working remotely, and so many of them finding it difficult to concentrate at home, shared workspaces are becoming commonplace. Tara Building and Iconic Offices (designed by the equally iconic Kingston-Lafferty Design team) are two amazing options in Dublin, but even a quiet café or library for a few hours is a great option for days when you just can’t focus at home.
5. Collaborations keep you sane.
I always thought that my favourite part of having a creative job would be the work itself. Like, I was that into creating content that I didn’t really think of much else. I didn’t think of the people I’d be working with, much less that they could become some of my best friends. But they did. Collaborating on projects means a whole range of talents are challenged and then made the most of. You end up with some really great content. But what I’ve found the most fulfilling is seeing the creative community cheer each other on and lift each other up.
6. Extreme discipline is necessarily if you want to keep any kind of routine.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m have a terrible time falling asleep. Always have. So most nights I find myself lying in bed, knowing I should sleep, but thinking that if I’m not going to sleep anyway, I might as well utilise the time. So I get up and start a work project at 3am. I actually think that this is when I’m at my most creative and when I develop my best ideas. These midnight scribbles and sketches are what led to my business name, Paper & Moon. All this being said, these work hours are really not something I’d recommend. It really affects your social life, not to mention the effect it has on your body. Learn from my mistakes and set “normal” working hours. And then stick to them.
7. You need to charge more than you think you do.
Like I mentioned before, when I first started freelancing, I often felt like I was being ridiculous for charging a certain amount. But what’s important to note is that I never came up with figures off the top of my head; I factored in the cost of materials, travel and then labour. And then, because I was stupid and afraid, knocked a bit off that figure. This meant that not only was I barely breaking even, it meant that there was no cushion room for emergencies.
8. Talking to people is crucial.
You’re going to find it really difficult to find work if you don’t put yourself out there. Talk to people, ask questions and listen to what people have to say. It’s a very small world and you never know what connections could be made by just talking.
9. The loneliness isn’t bad.
This is coming from an Myers-Briggs type INFJ, who, according to something I saw on Pinterest, require about 70% of their time to be spent alone. So I can’t speak for others, but I love that I work solo most of the time. People ask me if I find it lonely, living and working by myself. Honestly, the answer is no. I live on one of Dublin’s busiest streets and can either collaborate or work from a shared workspace whenever I want. So the option is there to feel less isolated, should you want to.
10. The work day will never end.
Going back to point 6, I understand that I have a, eh, unique (/terrible) approach to work hours. But even for those who don’t, and who generally keep things 9-5, there are times when your job will be a 24/7 gig. When something needs to be done, you’re the only one who can do it. That either means cancelling your social plans, or not doing the job. A healthy work/ life balance is important, but so is keeping your clients happy. It’s a tough choice, but it’s one you’ll be faced with a lot.