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Tips for self-employment

I am starting 2021 as a fully-fledged self-employed person. This is quite a change for me since being made redundant in the midst of the 2020 chaos.

Losing my job felt a little like being pushed out into a jungle. I knew what was out there was probably very exciting, but it was also pretty scary.

But it’s been a great experience and I wanted to write about it for anyone out there thinking of going self-employed or recently turned self-employed that may be feeling a little lost. I’ve summarised what has been 6 months of non-stop learning into my 4 biggest lessons.

1. It’s all about relationships

I’ve been so lucky to have started some really cool projects with some amazing people. Quite simply I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own. These started as random conversations and turned into full-blown businesses that have plans and targets and other people working for us. It wasn’t about deliberately approaching people to collaborate with me, but I simply enjoyed talking to them about topics I was passionate about and it evolved from there.

So… look around, who is it you enjoy talking to and connect with on some level? Yes - it’s about complementary skills, but most of all it’s about people you like, respect, and have similar values to.

2. Set yourself boundaries & exceptions

When you work for yourself there’s no real ‘end of the day.’ There’s always more you can do. This is true in employed life too but it’s even more stark in self-employed life because it’s you and only you that make the cogs turn. Particularly in Covid-times when there was no leaving the house, I learned to be super disciplined in setting myself boundaries. These included lunch time walks, no working past 6pm, and turning my phone off in the evenings. At one point I became quite fixated on these and got pretty hard on myself if I didn’t stick to them. A colleague of mine suggested that I also consider what exceptions there might be to these rules, and to allow myself a bit of leeway on those. That really helped me be much more flexible in my approach.

Think about what kind of life you want to have, and put some boundaries in place to help you create that life. We are a product of our environment, so set your environment up to make that happen. And secondly, think about what your exceptions would be so that you know it’s OK every now and then to break your own rules (e.g. if ‘not working on weekends’ was a rule, if I’d taken half a day off during the week, doing a bit of work on a Sunday afternoon would be an OK exception).

3. Give up control

Self-employment can be tough because there is a lot of uncertainty. It’s probably the single biggest reason people are put off self-employment in the first place. To start with I tried to predict and control. Over time I learned to shift that mindset to plan, follow your heart (more on this next) and enjoy the ride. I still have goals, I have targets I want (and financially need) to achieve, but I am also trusting the process - the hard work I’m putting in and the relationships that I’ve built. It hasn’t let me down so far.

Consider what things you can (and want to) control and work towards that. But recognise things you are trying to control that you can’t. Things that are taking up valuable time and energy you could be spending on something more helpful to you or your business. Then think about what mindset would it be helpful to shift to? How can you accept or even relish the uncertainty that self-employment may bring?

4. Follow your heart

It makes me really sad speaking to friends and clients who hate their jobs, or who are just getting through the daily grind. I know that will be a lot of you reading this blog, but it doesn’t have to be like that!

Stepping into self-employed life I really had very little vision of what that would look like, but I’ve followed my heart - the things I’m passionate about, the people I want to work with, the projects that, when I wake up in the morning, I can’t wait to get started on. It makes me feel energised and excited. There are obviously days when I wonder ‘what on earth am I doing!?!!’ but on the whole, putting energy into the things I most care about has been a great formula for me to not only decide what work I do, but also to enjoy the day-to-day life of a self-employed psychologist.

When you’re not sure which direction to take, ask yourself ‘is this something I am, or could get, passionate about?’ ‘Does this get me excited?’ ‘If not, is there another legitimate reason why I would go in this direction and am I comfortable with that?’

It’s turned out to be a great jungle for me – there’s so much to see, do and learn and I’m grateful that I’ve had this opportunity. I’m well aware that there may be a tiger lurking right around the corner, but I am very comfortable knowing that I have people around me who will help to fend it off.

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