About a year ago, after debating self-employment for some time, my job was made redundant and I decided that now was the time to stop using my knowledge and experience to help corporate businesses get richer and start using my powers for good – by working with a number of small business owners to grow their business through their people.  And what a year it’s been!

Unsurprisingly, being self-employed didn’t all go to plan, there were things that I hadn’t even thought of, there were lessons to learn, there were hurdles, there were surprises (good and bad) and one thing was never in doubt, it was a learning curve and I’m still learning.

For the small business owners who I’m trying to help, they’ll already have experienced much of this stuff.  For those who are teetering on the edge of having a go themselves, here are a few lessons learnt, observations made and tips I wish someone had shared with me.  I hope this helps.

It takes time

Be patient, be kind to yourself because it doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a few months.  Expect to rethink, re-plan and redirect your attentions on an ongoing basis.  And if something doesn’t work out, switch it up or forget it and move on.

Website refresh

While you’re doing the above, don’t forget to update your website – you might be having great conversations, telling people all about your current plans, but you have to update your website and other mediums because those people will look there too.

Impostor Syndrome

Now, for those who’ve already made the leap into self-employment, you’ll know what this is, for those who haven’t, let me explain.  Impostor Syndrome is your constant companion while you try to establish yourself as a self-employed person – it’s that constant worry in which we doubt our accomplishments and live in fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  It’s real and it’s here to stay – learn to live with it, you’re in good company as it affected Maya Angelou, Meryl Streep and Einstein.

I think I’ve figured out a reason why this syndrome affects us in the world of self-employment and it’s this – we spend a large proportion of our time NOT doing what we’re good at.  Think about it, as you start your small business, unless it’s focused on ALL of these areas, you find that you know very little about IT, marketing, PR, social media, web development, graphic design, HR, business development, sales, facilities management, operations management and the list goes on.  And because you’re spending so much time doing things you’re not good at, it makes you start to question if you’re good at anything at all.  So, when you do get to talk about, and demonstrate, what you are good at, it’s a pleasant, if fleeting, reminder that you do in fact know your stuff.  Yay you, enjoy it!

You can’t do it all

This is the most irritating of ironies for me – the last paragraph was one of the main reasons that I started my business.  I saw so many relationships suffer, parents not spending time with their kids, social lives disappearing, health issues creeping in, lack of self-care and I wanted to take the pressure off those small business owners, free up their time to run their business AND have a life, let them do what they’re good at, what they enjoy.  But instead I’ve found myself consumed by all the things that I’m not good at and struggle to find the time to do it all.  How annoying is that!?  But…

We’re not alone

Oh wow, the value of peer to peer support has probably saved so many of us from going around the bend.  Oddly, as humans, knowing you’re not the only one going through something is reassuring, getting to speak to them is even better.  They are out there, find them – share experiences, laugh about it if you can and learn from each other.

Be authentic

This should go without saying, but I’ll mention it anyway.  Always be yourself!  Not everyone will like you and that’s OK, you don’t like everyone either do you?  But no-one is better at being you than you, you have knowledge and experience that no-one else does because only you have had your career and life, and only you can combine that with your strengths to provide your offering.  ‘Authentic’ is a current buzzword, but I’m reclaiming it for those of us who stay true to who we are, what we believe to be right and help others at the same time.   Those are the people I want in my tribe, so…

Find your tribe

This is critical for survival.  We all know that networking is high on the list for business success, whether in person (ideally) or online – there’s no getting away from it, so get on board.  There are a few approaches to networking but my advice is to be yourself and go in with the view to meeting people, NOT finding clients. Nobody enjoys meeting the person who comes up with an over-firm handshake, crushing a few bones in the process and downloads an over-rehearsed speech about why they are so brilliant, asking the obligatory ‘what do you do?’ question, doesn’t listen to the answer, decides they won’t get any business from you causing them to promptly stride off in search of their next victim – the only upside is they’re in and out in a flash, leaving you to get some ice for your hand.

The truth is, not everyone is going to be from your tribe and that’s fine – but being open to conversation and learning will lead you to meet some really interesting people.  And if you attend the same networking groups regularly, you’ll be sure to build great relationships with others who will be happy to recommend you to others in their network, give you some advice, bounce ideas around with – maybe even create friendships with.  The possibilities are endless, they are after all, people!

Combat isolation

Unsurprisingly, working on your own can be isolating and lonely, especially if you’re working from home; another reason why the last section is so important. Make sure you eat regularly and well, go outside, talk to other people, exercise, take breaks – it sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to let slip. I’ve started running NetWalking sessions in my local park for other self-employed people – it combines many of the above and is a great, informal way of getting to know other small business owners/consultants. And because they’re really relaxed, they’re also more authentic than the more formal networking events.

Be your own cheerleader

Starting and running a business isn’t easy, it’s bloody hard and unless you have a team around you, it can be difficult to stay motivated. When that client suddenly decides they don’t need you right now, your brilliant idea isn’t a goer after all, or your new business plan isn’t getting the results you were hoping for – it’s really hard to remain positive and keep going.  So be kind to yourself (and others) – do regular reviews on the progress you have made, keep a folder of thank yous or client reviews, do something nice for yourself, set realistic goals and celebrate achieving them – slide across the kitchen floor in your socks if you have to, whatever it takes.  But keep trying.

Some practical advice

Whatever your business, you’ll likely need some tools to help you do various things, below is a list of things I’d never heard of a year ago, but couldn’t be without now (others are available, these are just the ones that I happen to use) AND they’re FREE:

  • Freelance Heroes Facebook Group – a huge UK-based group of freelancers/self-employed community offering support and advice via Facebook.
  • Hootsuite – a social media scheduling tool
  • Canva – a free online tool which enables you to make professional looking imagery/content
  • Fastbase – website analytics tool
  • Google Digital Garage – a whole host of cool free advice from Google
  • Tiny url shortener – doesn’t what it says, helps keep that character count down on social media by shortening the url to any web pages your sharing
  • Pocket – stores your library of articles that you don’t have time to read immediately, there’s a phone app so you can catch up offline too
  • Gramblr – allows you to upload to Instagram from you’re PC/Mac

Time flies

I really have no idea where the past year has gone, there have been some successes and some failures, lots learnt and changes made, I’ve helped some lovely businesses and met some great people.  There’s a whole world of knowledge out there, provided by people just like you – the bold ones, the brave ones, the ones who said I want to march to the beat of my own drum and I’m proud to be one of them.  Long may it continue.