The highs & lows of working for yourself

by Peter Crocker

Working for yourself from home is often glamorised as a life of freedom, leisure & balance. A world where shiny silver laptops roam free and hours are spent at the beach. But what’s the reality? And is it all worth it?

It’s Wednesday 11.30am and the sun is shining.

I’m perched on the grass covering the headland overlooking Curl Curl beach. In the distance I can see Manly. If I squint really hard and use my imagination I can even see inside the old cubicle I used to work in above Wynyard station, and I can almost taste the soggy lunch I used to eat on the train on the way home at 8pm.

I put the finishing touches on the website I’ve been writing, hit send, shut down my lightening fast wireless connection and snap shut my shiny new iMac – another happy client.

Having had an exceptionally productive morning, my clients are blissfully happy and the rest of the day is mine to do as I please – I might hit the beach. That’s working for yourself!

Yeah right. I wish.

The life of a solo business owner, especially one working from home, can easily be glamorised into a life of freedom, leisure and balance. A world where silver laptops roam free, the sun is always at your back and children don’t answer the phone and tell your clients that “Daddy’s on the toilet.”

But the truth is that laptop screens are literally impossible to read with the sun at your back and trying to work on a headland is like playing bridge in a wind tunnel. As a soloist you certainly escape a whole bunch of problems, but you also inherit a few of your own, for example:

  • Will that landscaping business ever pay my invoice? It’s been months.
  • How much tax will I owe next quarter?
  • Will next month bring too little new business? Or too much?
  • How can I go on holiday when I get no holiday pay?
  • Is my major client looking for someone else?
  • Will technology/websites/blogs/robots put me out of business?

Many soloists are constantly swinging between ecstasy and stress. You’re excited that you’ve won a major new project, then despairing at how on earth you’ll meet the deadline. You’re swamped in work and desperate for a break, yet when you do get a bit of breathing space it’s only five minutes before you start wondering if the phone will never ring again!

Underneath it all there’s often that nagging desire to be able to leave the office at 5.30pm and not have to think about work every time you walk past the third bedroom. The desire for a job where keeping the business going is not your responsibility, and you know exactly how much money you’re getting.

With all this doom and gloom, perhaps it’s time I got a ‘real’ job. Where’s that employment section?

But, then I think back to the cubicle in the city and it’s not hard to remember why I can’t return. For me, being a solo business person is about freedom and possibility as opposed to security and predictability. And yes, despite all this self indulgent whinging, there’s nothing like having a swim after lunch on a Tuesday or sneaking in an afternoon snooze to make everything rosy.

While many of the realities may be similar to a ‘real’ job – it seems evident that hard work, occasional stress and uncertainty are part of any ambitious role – the difference is in the control and autonomy you have being your own boss.

If you’re going to put up with challenges anyway, you may as well do it on your own terms. You can decide your own deadlines, set your own prices, refuse unreasonable requests, select who you do/don’t work with and be free to pursue any opportunity that comes your way.

If you don’t believe me try a few of these lines on your traditional corporate boss:

  • “Unfortunately I’m fully booked for the next two weeks, but would be happy to talk then…”
  • “I’ve had a really productive week so I won’t be in on Friday…”
  • “I’ll be increasing my prices (pay) by 10% from 1 July…”
  • “FYI, I’ll be spending one day a week working at another business from now on…”
  • “Sorry, I don’t think we’re suited to work together, but I can recommend you to a competitor…”

What I’m getting at is that flying solo is not a way to escape problems but it is undoubtedly a way to find unlimited opportunities. You take the risks, but the rewards are all yours too.

What is a ‘real job’ anyway?

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