Sunday, 5 October 2014

On being self employed

There is an article here about the reality of being self employed today. Compounded by being a sole trader, and a single income household - I have to balance the ‘luxury’ of being able to work in a way that suits me with the reality of earning far less than I should in a difficult professional and financial environment. I find the comments by politicians about self employment unhelpful at best - and ignorant and mean at worst. 

The reality of self employment is as thus.

You have no security, every job must be the best thing you ever did, or it could be your last. You are responsible for everything your client does, and get blamed for all the things they do wrong, and never credited for what you get right. You are constantly competing for work - no matter how good you are, and constantly under pressure to work for less money, and often nothing. Generally - you get little, if any thanks or respect, just getting paid ( begrudgingly ) is apparently all you need. You have no security - no sick pay, no maternity, no holiday pay, no rights and no privileges. You probably won’t get a mortgage and have difficulty with credit. No matter how hard you work and plan, one tiny thing can throw you into cash-flow chaos, and if you lose a job or don’t get paid - there is usually nothing you can ever do about it. You are often told what to do by people with much less talent and experience, who don’t know the meaning of hard work and will take credit for your efforts, and they are usually paid much more than you are. Because you are on the ‘outside’ of any organisation - you get the blame for everything - and are ‘disposable’ - you just don’t matter. I never go on holiday, never turn off, and if anything happens in your private life that you need to deal with - you don't get any lattitude from anyone.

If you are a single income household, you seem to drop through every net - the government is forever banging on about ‘hard working families’ - but we don’t matter. If you try and employ someone you will be burdened by ‘their’ rights and the misery of endless administration and the tax and insurance implications. If I took someone on who was crap at their job, sick half the week, under achieving and, god forbid, pregnant - they would have rights, I would have none. Every small company I know that has sunk has done so - not because they didn’t have the work - but because of the burden of employing people. It’s just not worth the risk.

You go to great lengths to cultivate long term relationships with clients, which generally leads to you working harder, delivering more, investing a great deal of yourself into the work - and ultimately being taken for granted. Changes in staff usually lead to you getting the push, it's called clean sweep syndrome. You have to put in absurd amounts of time trying to get new clients, an expensive and time consuming process, or constantly pitching - usually a waste of time and money. Generally - a pitch is a waste of time because the work has already been placed, you’re just padding out the process. I’m in the middle of 3 large projects that I’m doing for free so that I can use them to raise my profile a bit - I’ve also done a lot of work for free to help someone out in the hope that they will be able to return the favour with work later on, and I’ve just had to rescue a project that should have come to me - but went to someone else - who messed it up - and now I’m doing it for almost no money in almost no time. If you ever make the mistake of telling someone you can't do something - regardless of the reason, that client has gone forever.

Of course - I like being self employed because I can’t abide internal politics, I get bored inhouse, I can work the way that suits my temperament, and there are very few jobs that would suit me, none in this area. I’m not doing ‘that’ badly - but now have a debt to the Inland Revenue because last year a couple of projects were pulled and a regular client went out of business, cutting my income down at just the wrong time. Getting out of that debt is going to be difficult and it’s not being made any easier for me. I have to be really careful how I handle this because - after 20 years of successful professional practice, through no fault of my own - I'm now considered by some to be a 'failing' business.

I put on a good show - I have to look and act the part, pay rent on an office, provide myself with all the computer equipment and business costs like software licensing and communications necessary - the cost mount up quickly, and I don’t complain when I have to spend a day away at a pitch or ‘meeting’ a client in London which usually goes nowhere. I used to do a lot of work for Next, they thought nothing of asking me to go to Leicester for a 15 min meeting that might only generate half a days billable work.

Being self employed is very hard work, but we’re happy to carry on - just don’t patronise us with flowery phrases and try and make political capital out this ‘army of entrepreneur’  if you really think we’re so great - try treating us a bit better.

1 comment:

Steerforth said...

I couldn't agree more. If you have a good couple of months, you don't spend the money because you can be certain that some unforeseen event will completely fuck things up to balance it all out. If I worked for someone else, I wouldn't have had to go into work two days after surgery and would have been paid while I was recuperating.

In my experience, clients frequently disappear without warning and although new ones usually pop up, there are many sleepless nights in between. No matter how hard I work, my income rarely exceeds minimum wage, once all of the bills have been paid and I can't see it getting any better.

On the other hand, I don't have to kowtow to complete wankers, or listen to management bollocks about "ball park figures" or go on team building trips. I pay a price for being free, but it's always worth it.

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