Life with a self employed job, from the outside-looking-in, seems like it comes with tonnes of perks. From being your own boss and deciding when to clock off for the day to having control over the projects you take on and your cash flow, there are undeniable positives. But let’s not forget, being in charge comes with big pressure and responsibility, and it can be tough getting a new business of the ground.
It’s something self employed businesswoman, mentor and author Bianca Miller-Cole knows all too well, after she took the leap in 2012 to start her own company The Be Group. Since then, Bianca’s started a hosiery business she pitched on The Apprentice and has penned books with her husband Byron, including their latest The Business Survival Kit, which is packed with advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Bianca recalls her “entrepreneurial itch” starting young. When she was five, she set up shop in her bedroom selling paintings to her parents and at 12 she struck a deal with the local primary school to teach dance, outsourcing the training to her friends. But that’s not to say becoming a full-time, grown-up entrepreneur was a quick, simple journey. After graduating from university with a business and economics degree, Bianca worked for management consultancy and recruitment firms, noticing a gap in the market for helping job candidates with their personal branding. It was there she found her moment to leave full-time employment and start The Be Group, and it’s a decision she doesn’t regret.
“I wake up every day feeling excited and happy to be living a lifestyle where I can earn money doing something I love and working with people, helping them to achieve their goals, too,” she says. “That's not to say I didn't love my job before - I did - but now I’m the curator of my destiny. I have to have a vision and goals and be solutions-orientated and make those solutions for myself and that's really empowering.”
If you like the sound going self employed, it’s important to do as much research as possible before making the jump. Here, Bianca explains the pros and cons of being self employed and her advice for navigating challenges that might crop up.
For Bianca, a huge ‘pro’ of self employed life is flexibility.
“Being able to manage your diary, decide what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, take holidays when you want to (finances allowing), and start and end your day when you want to is amazing. I don't have any children, but if I did, I can imagine that would definitely help with being able to manage your time as works best for you and your family. But for me as a married woman juggling multiple businesses, that flexibility is amazing for me because I can dictate what I do and when,” she says. Although, the entrepreneur adds that this perk can have a downside.
“When you have the flexibility and choice to dictate your hours, sometimes that means that you work really long and unsociable days when you have to go over and above to get something done. You’re always looking at new ways to fulfil your goal and to make the business work and sometimes that flexibility also equals working more. That can be a big issue.”
Bianca feels it’s important for self employed people to give themselves permission to step back from work, relax and balance life out. “I think at the beginning, sometimes that's hard, but over time you have to become more accustomed to doing that.”
Unlimited earning potential
“When you start a business, you literally have unlimited earning potential, subject to what you're doing, how you're selling that product or service and your price point that you've chosen. So it's an amazing opportunity to earn more money,” Bianca says.
But even so, the instability of this income can be challenging, so it’s super important to spend wisely and price your product or service appropriately.
“You can be conscious of what your salary was as an employed person was and maybe what your hourly rate might be in relation to your previous salary. But you also have to think about what the market rate is and what the market dictates. Take into account if you've had - say - 10 years of experience and also that you are self employed, so if you do a project that might be your one key focus and you have to really understand it. Make sure you do your research and seek out support and mentoring,” Bianca advises.
“You don't need a big shiny office, necessarily. Sometimes you have to bootstrap at the beginning, to let your money last a bit longer. Also, make sure you have a personal survival budget, so you know exactly what you need to survive and you have that that money there so you can always pay your bills.”
Leaving a legacy
A less spoken about perk of self-employed life that Bianca feels passionately about is the ability to leave a legacy for future generations.
“If you’re in a job, you can leave a legacy in terms of your name, and a position you got to and a great pension, but it's not something you can hand out,” she explains. “So by starting a business, if you want to, you can actually hand that business out and pass it on to the next generation. You have something tangible that is yours, that you built and grew. And even if you make all that effort to grow a big business, give it to your kid and the kid decides they don’t want to run it, it's still something that they could sell. So that is something else to consider.”
Getting to grips with new rules
When you’re an employee in a business, it’s likely that the nitty gritty of things like HR and finance rules are taken care of by specialist departments, but when you’re running your own business, the buck stops with you. This has the potential to be confusing, but Bianca stresses it’s important to learn and be organised.
“There's so much information out there, you have to be really careful about where you get that right information from. It’s why my husband Byron and I wrote our first book Self Made: The definitive guide to business startup success which is filled with all the information that people don't talk about at school,” she says.
“Get to grips with that information, have that first meeting with an accountant if you can (most accountants will do a free first meeting), just to understand what you need to do, what receipts, you need to keep, how to keep the books. That way, you won't have to do that 18 months later when your first round of accounts are due to be submitted, and you don't know what you've done and you can't find anything and it's a bit of a nightmare. Get that information from the outset and keep it to hand,” Bianca advises.
“When you’re doing something on your own, brand new, straight out of the gate, you don't always know what you're doing, and it is stressful,” Bianca says. But she emphasises the importance of remembering your strengths during tough moments.
“Remind yourself about all of the skills that you have learned so far and think how you can use and adapt those skills in your business. Focus on the positives and think about how you can get the support you need to deal with some of the other stresses. There may be things you can outsource, you may need to look at it and say: ‘If I'm not good at [x task] and it’s taken me five hours, could I have spent that five hours bettering with my business doing something else could I outsource it? And if I did, what would that cost be?’ Have those really frank conversations with yourself in order to lighten your load and make things less stressful,” Bianca says.
It’s also really important to give yourself time to clear your head, no matter how stressful things are with work.
“Sometimes when I push through [with work when I’m feeling stressed] it makes me a bit cloudy and I'm not doing my best work. It just makes more sense to give myself a moment, maybe give myself a day off, and forget about it then go back with a fresh pair of eyes. Give yourself that liberty, I think we sometimes put too much pressure on ourselves," Bianca says.
Impact on relationships
Lots of us know what it’s like to carry over stress from a 9 – 5 job into our evenings or weekends, and when you’re running your own business, it’s even more likely that will happen. Because of this, Bianca’s open about the impact of self employed life on relationships and how people can try to ensure their work goals don’t negatively impact on other areas of life.
Speaking about romantic partners particularly, she feels it’s important for self employed people to share clear goals and express their needs within a relationship.
“Tell them: ‘This is a really intense time and right now I'm really stressed, would you mind making dinner tonight or picking up the baton with this thing,’” Bianca advises.
“We're also trying to keep the romance alive - it's easy to focus just on the business and be really single minded but always be conscious of what's happening around you. With your partner, have that communication to make sure you’re both giving each other the romance and attention that you need to feel supported emotionally, because it is emotional. It is a roller coaster, and you need people by your side to support you.”
Shop now - The Business Survival Kit by Bianca Miller-Cole and Byron Cole, out now.
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