Resilience, organisation and a range of business ideas are what you'll need to join the 4.8 million self-employed workers in the UK
Whether you're at university, have recently graduated or are considering a career change after years in employment, there's no 'right time' to go self-employed. Get started as soon as possible - due to the nature of the industry, you'll develop skills and learn as you go along.
However, if you'd like some reassurance that going solo is the right decision, here are five signs to look for that prove you have what it takes to be your own boss.
Mastering a professional approach
When starting a business, you need the confidence and motivation to market yourself from day one.
Lydia Wakefield, former deputy head of education and training at the Association for Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), explains that by professionalising yourself in the early stages, you're less likely to undervalue your work. Many think that charging a reduced rate or offering to work for free is what's required to build a client base, but remember that the work you're doing will still add value to your client's business or project and you should be compensated for this.
You can market yourself as a professional with the language you use. If you're taking freelance jobs while completing your degree, refer to yourself as 'running a business in its early stages' rather than 'just a student' or 'still at university'.
Don't feel your work isn't legitimate if it's not your full-time priority or you lack experience - as Kelly Gilmour-Grassam, director of Making Your Content says, 'dipping your toe in the water early doors is a positive sign that you've got what it takes to start a business.'
Finding a unique selling point (USP)
Due in part to the popularity of TV programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragon's Den, some of the biggest misconceptions about self-employment are that, to be successful, a business must be started by an entrepreneur with a big idea - and be backed by plenty of funding. While this is how some find their feet, this doesn't paint a realistic picture of all businesses.
The 2018 IPSE Working Well For Yourself report revealed that, instead, 'the vast majority of the self-employed do not fit the description of entrepreneurs looking to grow a business and hire other employees - they simply enjoy practising their profession as an independent worker.' Less than a quarter of those surveyed as part of the report aged 18-34 listed 'being able to hire other people/hire other people to work for me' as one of their priority areas for career progression.
You won't need the funds to hire a team if you're able to work for a number of clients, and won't need excessive amounts of money if your craft doesn't require it - Lydia uses writers as an example, who need little more than a laptop and Internet access to get started. Harvey Morton, creator of Harvey Morton Digital, says, 'I started my business through a school enterprise competition in Sheffield at the age of fifteen - teams were given a £25 start-up loan, and those who made the most over two school terms, alongside demonstrating entrepreneurial skills, were awarded prizes. So, I guess that was my start-up fund.'
Having the right skills, passion and business acumen are more important factors for finding success. As Harvey says, 'I wouldn't say I've ever had a unique idea, but, it hasn't stopped my business from being a success. When I started out, I travelled to homes and businesses and set up devices and IT equipment for them. I started by looking at what competitors were doing and focused on how I could do it better - my advice would be to find a USP and stick to it.'
Possessing excellent organisation skills
'Weekend away? On it. Secret Santa in the office? Consider it done. If you're the person to turn to for a plan, you're probably ready to plan something bigger,' says Kelly. One of the biggest adjustments you'll have to make when becoming self-employed is taking control of every aspect of your business, which requires excellent organisation skills.
As well as registering with Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC), submitting tax returns and balancing the books, forward planning will be crucial for staying afloat - you'll need to budget for holidays, time off sick and a pension.
Organising your workload and working hours also has a number of benefits. You'll be able to strike a good work/life balance in a sector where 30% of individuals currently work 50 hours a week or more, including 3% who exceed a 70-hour working week (IPSE, 2018), and by creating a long-term business plan or a weekly to-do list you'll have a clearer picture of where your business is heading.
Starting your own business doesn't happen overnight, and will require months, sometimes years, of hard work, as well as a thick skin. It's a slow process, and you may encounter rejection from clients along the way, which can be disheartening.
However, as Lydia points out, the smaller, more difficult stages of starting a business are necessary for reaching your end goal, even if they're difficult or not particularly exciting. Starting at points A, B and C makes more sense than jumping straight to point Z.
You'll always be looking for ways to grow your business, even once you're established, so building your perseverance and problem-solving skills from early on will benefit you (and your business) in the long run.
Having the confidence to build a client base
Building up a network contacts is crucial for establishing a client base - as daunting as it may seem. Harvey was nervous to get started, but hasn't looked back since. 'I've built up a valuable network of contacts and they've helped me to win so much work. Having a great network opens up opportunities and it's the most valuable asset any business can have,' he explains.
You'll need the motivation, confidence and enthusiasm to be looking for potential opportunities at every turn when you're starting out. 'It's important you try and show up to as many events as you can,' Harvey says. 'Also, make the most of not working - chat with people about your business in your downtime.'
Find out more
- See what else the self-employment sector has to offer.
- Learn more about how to start a business.
- Don't get caught out - learn the 7 mistakes to avoid when starting a business.