Have you ever thought about quitting your job and working for yourself? Maybe it’s an idle whim that you have from time to time – or perhaps a much more serious intention. Whether it’s your two-hour commute, your gossiping colleagues, the office politics, the boss, the boring work or the inflexible hours, your job just isn’t much fun. It’s definitely not your true passion.
If “quit the day job” is one of your resolutions for 2010, you’ll find lots of encouragement around the internet. I’m a fan of plenty of freelancing and self-development blogs, and many writers can’t wait to extol the virtues and pleasures of being your own boss and working for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy working for myself; I get to work in the comfort of my home, doing what I love. But I’m going to be brutally honest in this post and offer you six reasons to reconsider working for yourself – before you end up making a move that you might regret.
Plus, I’ll give you some tips on negating all six less-than-stellar aspects of the self-employed lifestyle…
1. It Isn’t Stress-Free
First off, a lot of people think that working from home is going to be amazing. Surely freelancers get to sit around in their pajamas watching daytime TV?
The reality is that you’ll probably be ditching one lot of stresses for a different set. Sure, you won’t have the boss with the anger management problem any more … but you might be having a panic attack at the sight of your bank balance. You may also find yourself taking on more work, or more complex work, than you can comfortably handle.
Fix it: If you’re taking the leap into self-employment, be prepared for it to be stressful at times. Get honest with yourself: how much risk and uncertainty will you be comfortable with? How much down time do you need? You can determine exactly what you do and don’t do, so make sure you’re putting yourself in the best possible position right from the start.
2. No-One Tells You When to Start Work
Yes, I know this doesn’t sound like much of a drawback! If you work from yourself, you can keep whatever hours you like. You don’t have to be at your desk at eight am. You don’t even have to get out of bed before noon. However…
It’s easy to end up wasting valuable time (and when you’re working for yourself, you’ll become all too aware of how time = money). If you work with clients who’ll expect to contact you by phone, or who want swift replies to emails during office hours, you might find that you’re losing out on potential gigs.
Fix it: Choose your working hours based on when you’re at your best. I’m a morning person, so I’m often at my desk at 7.30am; other freelancers work late in the evening. Be clear about which days are working days (it doesn’t necessarily have to be Monday to Friday). Try having a routine that gets you out of bed and into the day – like a brisk walk, a shower, and an energizing breakfast. If you regularly have a problem getting going, learn how to overcome procrastination.
3. …Or When to Stop
The flip side to having no start time is that you don’t have a stop time, either. I wrote a piece about Why You’ll Never Be Finished in response to a question from a reader who said “Now I am working for myself I do find it hard to stop because who is telling me when enough is enough?”
This is a real problem for a lot of self-employed folks – and it can lead to substandard work, high stress levels and eventual burn-out. However much you love what you do for a living, you need time to rest and recharge.
Fix it: Recognise that when you work for yourself, your job and your hours of work can expand beyond all recognition. Give yourself a firm “stop” time each day (perhaps tied to your family or household’s schedule) and make sure you at least have a couple of hours of non-work time before bed. You’ll sleep more soundly for it.
4. There’s No Guaranteed Paycheck
In a traditional job, you know exactly what you’re being paid and when. As a freelancer, you’ll find that cash flow is sporadic. This can be a particular problem if your self-employment involves a large outlay on equipment or materials of some sort.
Many freelancers either work on a succession of small jobs (with a few hundred dollars coming in from each – often not on time!) or have one huge project on the go (which could mean getting paid in large sums every few months). If you’re used to getting a paycheck every two weeks, you may end up running into serious financial problems – especially if you have a non or late paying client.
Fix it: Have an emergency fund or a buffer that covers you for late and irregular payments. When you get large sums, resist the temptation to splash out. Put unexpected bonuses, such as gifts, into a savings account. For big projects, bill in installments during the work. Get new clients to pay 50% upfront.
5. No-One Has Your Back
In most office jobs, there’s a limit to how much you can screw up. Even if you do something so awful that you get fired, you’ll be entitled to some period of leave. And generally, it’s hard to make huge mistakes: someone will be double-checking anything vital.
When you’re self-employed, everything is your responsibility. If you forget to bill a client, it’s your problem. If you’re so poorly organized that your clients start leaving you, or if you can’t get yourself motivated to complete your work, or if you take on so much that you rush it all and do a poor job … you could ruin your reputation in the industry. You might even get sued by an angry client.
Fix it: Get professional advice where applicable (perhaps when doing your taxes or accounts). Depending on where you live, you may need to set up as a limited company – so that you can’t be held personally liable for potential financial problems. Make sure that you have the time and energy to do your best work, and be careful about managing client expectations – don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
I know I’ve struck a pessimistic note in this piece – and I’d like to end by saying that I have never regretted leaving my own day job and striking out on my own! However, personal experience has taught me that self-employment – like any worthwhile endeavor – isn’t always easy. If you’ve got experience of working for yourself, or if you’d love to quit your job, why not share your thoughts in the comments?
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