According to a recent People Management article, 40% growth in the UK job market has come from ‘self employment’ and in the current climate no doubt quite a few of the 2000 people who lost their jobs when City Link collapsed just before Christmas are looking at self-employment as their way forward. So this January, when I sat down to take stock of the year to come, I also found myself reflecting on my 8 years of being self-employed having left the security of a corporate job.  It was good to make time to take stock, because I expect like me, you find it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the ‘doing’ of work and not question the ‘why’ and ‘how’.

So what have been my highlights of self-employment?

Well, first there has been the thrill of charting my own path, an opportunity that you only really get by working for yourself. I’ve had the chance to work with many different clients from Corporate and SMEs to individuals and to tackle a wide variety of work, from the very smallest of issues one day, right up to most daunting business crises that sometimes seem insurmountable the next.  I’ve been able to work when I’ve wanted and not limited to the 9 to 5, but in truth, I’ve probably worked harder than ever!  Seeing things from the outside, without getting bogged down in internal politics has been a real advantage.  Finally, working for myself has given me space for some voluntary work as a Church Warden in our village – quite a challenge if I had a boss to report to.

The drawbacks?  Well as they say ‘you’re only as good as your last contract’, so yes, each piece of work needs to be negotiated, planned and contracted for. When you’re self-employed you have to be your own salesman. There is the danger of isolation and although I like the peace and quiet of working in my own home office, I also like the times when I am working with other associates on a joint project.

There are of course all the extras that go with self-employment – the need to keep up your contacts and your networking skills.  And organise your own professional development to deepen your knowledge and keep your technical skills up to date.  You must operate legally, for example keeping accurate records and accounts, working safely and obeying the latest legislation such as data protection.

What conclusion did I reach with this reflection?

It’s the future that concerns me – with more and more people moving out of permanent employment into self-employment or contract work, which is transient by nature; we need to think about different support networks from those, which an employer normally provides. If things go wrong, there’s no protection or fall back of redundancy so where do you go for help?  Maybe we need external HR for the self-employed or even action learning sets like the one I am starting with some other self-employed people this month.

There are certainly a lot of things to ponder on – Does self-employment suit some people and not others?  Do you need a bit of entrepreneurial spirit to survive long term?  Is it better at different times of your life, such as before a family or when the children have left home, so there is less pressure on the finances?  The key is going into it with your eyes open, so checkout my Self-employment Advice Sheet.

Am I sometimes tempted to go back to an organisation, like many people do when the rosy glow of working for your-self wears off?  Or when you realise the cash flow is up the shoot because the payment cycle of your clients takes over two months!

Not really, but I do enjoy the challenges of working in a team – so lets hope 2015 brings plenty of that!