6 Lessons I’ve Learned Working For Myself

What did you want to be when you grew up? I had dreams of being a Solicitor, Journalist or member of the Hollyoaks cast, and this year’s A-Level results day had me fondly thinking back 13 years to that time when I used to daydream about the career I’d have ahead of me.

Funnily enough, in none of these dreams was I ever working for myself. My dad, my most prominent career role model, worked in Marketing for a big bank, and although I thought for ages he did something in a supermarket (Marketing = superMARKETS = “does dad work at Tesco?”) I always knew I’d follow him into something a little bit corporate. After all, I’d visited his office and he had a free drinks machine and photocopier at his disposal… it did not get cooler than that.

And so I did, starting in call centre sales before moving on to field sales and recruitment, before finally being able to combine my geek hobby of making websites and my career in Digital Marketing: which is where I am now, ten years later, doing a job I feel lucky and happy to do every single day (vom).

Going freelance six years ago was a no-brainer – with a newborn baby (a poorly one at that) and the cost of childcare being what it is, there was no other workable option. And it’s mostly been great, a real lesson in business and self-motivation. I had a brief year back in an office in 2014 heading up a team in a Marketing agency but I keep finding myself back where I’m happiest – working for myself.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride: there’s nothing like having to rely on yourself for every single aspect of your business. If you’re thinking about making the freelance leap, have a think about these 6 lessons I’ve learned from working for myself.

work from home parent

1. Drive doesn’t come as standard
Sitting at your desk and staring at your computer doesn’t mean you’re going to be productive. All of a sudden there’ll be a million things for you to do that are more pressing than your to-do list: the washing, The Real Housewives of The OC, attempting to home wax your legs, organizing your knicker drawer. It takes a long time to learn the discipline behind getting work done when it’s just you, and different things will work for different people.

For me it’s the thought of why I’m sitting at my desk staring at my computer. I keep a running spreadsheet of the projects I have on that month and the fees I’ll be earning from them, and having that to refer to every so often really helps me knuckle down. There’s nothing like the fear of not hitting your deadlines and therefore not getting paid to get some serious fire behind you.

2. It’s not amazing to work in your pyjamas every day
“You work for yourself?” people say, “it must be so amazing to work in your pyjamas every day!’.

And so, for the first couple of years of self-employment, I’d force myself to work in my pjs or comfy clothes, reasoning that it’s what freelancers do. If other people think the best part of working for yourself is doing it in yoga pants then I’d better crack on, eh?

Yet I couldn’t work out why, every day I’d find myself slouching under a blanket and my laptop on the couch, sluggish and unmotivated.

The fact is, my clothes reflect my state of mind and if I’m wearing the clothes I sleep in I’m going to want to sleep. It’s science, innit? Now, every morning I get up, put a proper outfit AND MAKE-UP on, and sit at my desk like a properly motivated non-laggard human being. I sleep less and get more work done – easy!

3. You’ll miss people
That annoying colleague who wouldn’t shut up about the minutiae of last night’s Celebrity Big Brother? You’ll miss them. Your boss who mouth breathed while leaning over your shoulder? You’ll miss them. The member of your team who only cared about nails and ASOS? You’ll miss them.

Working for yourself can be a really lonely business, and I would seriously go mental if I didn’t get a certain amount of human contact in my day.

This doesn’t always have to be IRL, though: I’m a member of a couple of really supportive Facebook groups for Freelance women, and these are amazing places to ask for support and assistance when it comes to our work and clients.

I’m also a big fan of changing my scenery every so often, whether this means popping out to work in the business centre of David Lloyd, meeting fellow freelance friends for lunch in London or just nipping to the shops to pick up a ripe avocado. People = good. Loneliness = bad.

4. It’s easy to eat like a pig
Speaking of avocadoes, if you like them you’ll probably eat a lot of them on toast. With a poached egg. It’s, like, the law if you work from home.

Seriously though, it’s difficult to maintain a healthy diet when your fridge is right there. And even when you’re out of the house it’s not easy: working from Costa this morning my choices for breakfast were an iffy-looking yoghurt/granola combination, sweet pastries, muffin or a cheese toastie. I went for the toastie because I have no self-control when it comes to cheese, but I felt sluggish afterwards and wished I’d had some fruit before I left the house instead.

To save the size of my bottom I try not to buy treats I know I’ll dig into when I reach my peak of 2pm boredom/procrastination – HobNobs, Haribo, croissants – and keep only boring snacks in the house instead. It works! I also have a reliable roster of lunches that I can whip up in 15 minutes or less, but more often than not this ends up being good ol’ avo on toast.

5. Cash flow can be hard
This is the factor that worries most people about going freelance: cash flow. Will you find enough work to survive? It’s something I think about constantly, despite having never been in the tricky situation of not having enough money to live off; as wonderful as my project-based work is, none of it is contracted longer than the few weeks I’m working on it so it’s up to me to find more when it’s over.

To allay my money worries I always try to have enough money saved to cover living expenses for 4-5 months and try not to use long-term credit. Realistically, as a Freelancer you are generally small-fry when it comes to your clients accounts department (i.e. the people paying your invoices) and it’s not unusual to wait for two months or even longer to be paid for a job *fixed grin, gritted teeth*.

You’re also responsible for all your tech/office costs, which can seem daunting but isn’t the end of the world when you’re desperate to buy a pink MacBook and you talk yourself into it because you can claim the tax back therefore making it an insane bargain (ahem).

Oh, and one last thing: tax is shit. Get an accountant.

6. Your flexibility will make it all worth it

And I don’t just mean those yoga classes I have time to do now I’m not tied to an office for 9 hours a day.

Places I’ve worked from in the last month alone have included: a bar in New York, a sunlounger at Soho Farmhouse, my kitchen table, my bed, my desk, a train going to London, a restaurant in Kings Cross, my car. Couple this with the fact that I get to pick my kids up from school every day and never have to stay in an office til 8pm just to make myself look like I’m working hard: it’s easy to see why I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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  1. Alison wrote:

    Love this post so much Alice. As someone who has worked for myself for 2.5 years now, this sums it up pretty well. I rarely work in my PJs – I’d get funny looks on the school run, but I also much prefer to get READY for the day rather than work unwashed and in my PJs. I think it’s a state of mind thing. I need to get some lunch ideas from you – the number of days I’ve had Cup-a-soup and crackers for my lunch……!

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  2. Nicola wrote:

    Brilliant tips Alice. Having expenses set aside for 4-5 months is my dream! Very impressed.

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  3. Christine wrote:

    Great article Alice. I hope to make the freelance leap in the next couple of years, really enjoyed reading this post.

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  4. Candy Pop wrote:

    Great post, Alice. It has taken me months to find a routine and I still don’t feel I’m there! But I’m really enjoying the freedom and creativity. Thank goodness for freelance support networks! Have a great weekend. x

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  5. Penny wrote:

    I often write really early, in my PJs, before the kids start school, I can be really creative, but I am with you, to properly finish a project, or send an email, I have to be dressed. Love this post and totally agree, tax is shit and I thank my accountant for his hand holding all the time! What is it with payments too, it is def getting harder to extract cash, and always in summer when the need for it is greatest…grrr. Well jealous of your recent office pictures, must get myself down to David Lloyd!

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  6. Great tips, Alice. I can definitely relate to needing to get dressed and made up to get the day going. It’s totally science.

    Posted 8.19.16 Reply
  7. Kathryn wrote:

    Brilliant, spot on! It’s the only thing that has allowed me to work around my family flexibly and which I really enjoy. I totally agree though that you have to dress up and show up at your desk just like you would in an office. And when I get a bit lonely/bored/twitchy/distracted, I decamp to the cafe which forces me to focus in a strange way (or maybe it’s just the caffeine)! xx

    Posted 8.21.16 Reply
  8. Laura wrote:

    Really enjoyed reading this Alice and so much truth in this post – I love working from myself and from home but like you said I do miss seeing people on a daily basis also it’s so easy to eat bad which I know I have done for the past few months as time has been so limited. But like you said the flexibly factor makes it so worth it

    Laura x

    Posted 8.31.16 Reply
  9. Molly wrote:

    Brilliant advice – I agree with it all! I find the whole working for myself thing a bit of a mixed bag. For me, living in Devon with two young kids, I have no choice. Although I do sometimes crave the stability of a regular income and the sociability of working in an office. I think lots of mums think working from home is the pinnacle, because you can juggle it easily with children. And it IS brilliant to be able to do the school run etc. But it can sometimes lead to burnout if you have no childcare and kids still at home, meaning you’re working around nap times and through every evening – which is not much fun. My main advice would be to really be realistic about what you can achieve in a short space of time and to ask yourself how much you’re willing to compromise when it comes to work / parenting.

    Posted 9.1.16 Reply
  10. Mads wrote:

    Ugh – all of this is so true! I put on a ton of weight when I first started working for myself, forgot that tax deductible doesn’t mean free and pretty much always worked from my sofa which did my creaking back and neck no good! Three years later I have a desk, clothes my kids won’t be embarrassed to be seen with me in and best of all, a KICK ASS accountant! x

    Posted 9.12.16 Reply