Well, that went well.

Five years ago it was cold. Really cold. I had handed in my notice to my sociopathic boss, walked out into a bitter winter armed with nothing but my wits and a commission to make a documentary on Terence Davies for the BBC. 2011 was an uncertain tumult.

And it was cold. Bitter. Snow law on the ground and I worked in the back bedroom with a blanket over  my legs, fingerless gloves and a woolen hat. And two cats. Obviously.

After twelve months I wrote a blog reflecting on what I’d learnt. I was doing OK. Now? I think I’m doing more than OK. I’m established. Getting ready to launch a new start up in 2016. I feel good.

More people are working on their own, whether self-employed through choice or unfortunate design. It is terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. This is what I know.

*There is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing your wits earned every penny in your bank account. It is the most empowering thing you will do.

*Know thyself. What are you good at? Build on that. What are your gaps? Fill them. If you haven’t got the skills to do accounts find someone who does. Know where you can develop and what you’ll need help on. You can lie to yourself in an office full of people. It’s far harder when the only person whose shoulders everything rests on is you.

*You will feel terror like nothing else. After the first heady six months use the terror. Have it push you and motivate you but don’t give in to it. If you’re still waking at three am after a year you need to figure out why. Working independently isn’t for everyone but fear shouldn’t be something that dogs you every day. There’s a lot to be afraid of. Wondering what a client is going to do next shouldn’t be one of them. These are things you can change.

*Your eye bags will develop luggage of their own. Invest in a skin care regime. Seriously.

*Know when to switch off. If only for the simple reason that if you’re still emailing and working late in the night eventually it becomes habit and clients think it’s OK to keep talking to you then. You’ll be able to take that for a short while but eventually you want balance. A client who routinely demands your time and energy late into the night isn’t really respectful of your life outside the hours they pay you for.  

*Demand to be paid what you’re worth. Hard to start but impossible to give up once you do. It’s what transforms you from start-up to established business. Similarly, cut out clients that drain your energy. Would you have this person in your life if it wasn’t for business? The goal should be to work with people who inspire you. A drain on your time is a drain on everything.

*People will want to make you feel small when they think you’re happy and content. I cannot say this clearly enough. Fuck those people. See also people who send you stories about how little self-employed people earn. It’s political. Fuck those people too. If you make self employment look easy (largely by not complaining about it) you’ll become a magnet for people who think they’ll spend the rest of their days typing on a laptop in coffee shops for a couple of hours before heading home to bake cakes. Yeah. Cos that’s what this life looks like.

*You’ll spend three years not having a clue to answer the question “And what do you do?”

*Find people to talk to. If you work out of your house you’ll get lonely. Creative people need to be social.

*Give time to offer people advice. It’s a circle. People gave you advice when you started and it helped. Give it back.

*Be passionate about everything. You’ll have to spend time on projects you wouldn’t want to but you’re working towards improving your skills and, yes, your network and portfolio. But passion will get you a long way towards warding off negative thoughts. Enthusiasm gets people through difficult projects and stressful times. Be that person, rather than the dickhead making everyone feel rubbish about themselves. 

*Do something proactive for your business everyday, be it emailing someone new, touching base with an old contact or writing a blog. It staves off fear and a sense that you’re banging a drum no one can hear.

*Be selfish. But don’t gloat. You spend more time that most doing something you love and you get paid for it. Revel in that but don’t actively make other people feel bad. You didn’t start this for anyone but yourself. Take moments to think about how well you’ve done. But don’t get all American about it.

2 Comments

  1. Agree with every word Laura. I gave in my notice 20 years ago and after that the early days were just as you describe, minus the cats. Then it got better, but not all the time. And even now some days are very very quiet. But, without getting all Sound of Music about it, the big difference is that over the years I’ve developed confidence in me and in the people and issues I choose to fill much of my life with.

    But you’re also right about switching off, which I will do now.

    Best wishes for whatever you’re about to start. It’ll be more than good, as I’m sure you well know!

  2. That was a perfectly timed read, thank you Laura. As you know I very recently took the leap of faith from regular wage earner to a free falling artist, always open to opportunities to feed the rent and bills. I have been officially self employed for 14 days and already I have a one day teaching position and a business plan and portfolio I am proud of. When someone says to me, ‘What do you do?’, no longer do I say, ‘ I am a barista and an illustrator’. I say with pride I AM A FASHION ILLUSTRATOR AND I BLOODY LOVE IT!!!!! Today is a good day, and as long as I remind myself of the frustration I was consumed by on a daily basis, watching others run their empires & and me like a caged coffee making tiger, I know I will be OK. Ebbs and flows are all part of my daily schedule and I’m cool with that. Your piece was very inspirational. And the two cats…ditto Xx

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