In November 2014 I left full-time employment and, unbeknown to me at the time, embarked on a self-employment journey.
My initial intention upon leaving my job was to find other employment. I mean, how hard can it be for an accountant to find work? BUT I forgot how fussy I am.
I didn’t want to work out of town, I live in town and wanted to walk to work – again, how hard can that be, there must be hundreds of companies that operate in town?
I didn’t want to work for a huge organisation; I wanted my voice to be heard, I wanted to feel involved in the company and see tangible results from my suggestions. Again, how hard can this be, there must be hundreds of SME’s in town?
Well, you know what – it was hard! So much so, that by the end of December I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Putting myself out there (looking for that *magical* role)
Accounting practices are usually busy in January (a bit of an understatement). By the end of January, they’re pale imitations of their previous jolly, red-cheeked, happy-go-lucky selves (ok, I lied, accountants are never red-cheeked!). So I sent my CV to some local practices asking if they needed help and, blow me down, one replied.
Ok, so it was only for three days a week, but it was work, within walking distance and for a medium-sized accountancy practice.
Now, it’s here that I come clean and admit that I never really liked working for a professional firm of accountants. Don’t tell anyone, but accountants can be boring, a bit staid, and very conservative. Blimey! Did I just say that out loud? Quick backtrack – not all of them, but quite a few of them (she says softly).
And while I was only supposed to stay with this firm until the end of January, I ended up staying there until the end of March, which is when I left to start up SJC+0.
Looking down the rabbit hole (and eventually falling in)
Although I’m not keen on the formality of a professional firm, I could see a lot of positives in offering my professional knowledge to SME’s. I liked the lifestyle that the owner of this practice had (little did I know how hard you have to work to get this lifestyle) and I enjoyed the interaction with the clients. I also loved knowing that my expertise was helping their business. Again, how hard can it be?
Well, let me tell you… it can be soul destroying.
I very naively thought I’d open my doors, let people know I was in business and I’d have them queuing up to take me on. The reality was I opened the doors and fell down the rabbit hole.
To a certain extent, I’m still falling but it’s not so fast, I’m not bumping against the walls so much and, as I enter my fifth year, I’m beginning to see some light.
No one tells you how scary it is to start your own business or at least if they did, I didn’t listen.
For the first six months, I fell headlong down this dark hole, picking up various hats that hung on the walls as I continued on the downward spiral.
- Finance: An easy one for me, but how much do I charge and what is a competitive rate? Am I too cheap or am I too expensive?
- Services: What services do I offer? Everything or just the ones I like doing?
- Clients: What if I don’t like them? Can I say “no I don’t want to work for you”?
- Payment: When do I invoice? When the job is done or do I ask for money up front?
- Security: How do I finance the first few months when I have no money coming in and everyone takes months to pay?
Seemed like I was eating the biscuit and, depending on the situation, either boosted by the experience or reduced to a worrying wreck.
Networking (or, as I soon came to view it, the Mad Hatters tea party)
It was like your first day at school, university or work all rolled into one. Everyone knew each other and although people made you feel welcome you were still the new girl.
I had never had to wear this hat before and I had to learn quickly. Even though, like the dormouse, I just wanted to curl up into a ball and disappear into the teapot. But I went to everything, chased the white rabbit round every networking event in Aberdeen, and I learnt pretty quickly what worked for me.
Now, the interesting thing is that what worked five years ago doesn’t necessarily work so well now. And the events that I dismissed five years ago are a bit more appealing now.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Marketing (this hat I like and still do)
I soon learnt that to do this (marketing) properly, you need money and time.
Websites, business cards, content development (blogs, social media), business development – cups of coffee and scones. And money was tight, so every penny had to prove it’s worth.
But I was lucky because I met so many Cheshire Cats. And by this, I mean mentors; people who were willing to spend time with me, impart their knowledge and not charge me for it.
I gained something from each of them and although they probably never really knew it, helped a struggling, “What am I doing?” self-employed sole.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
I started this adventure not really understanding where it would take me and how much I would learn along the way, but I’m so glad I tumbled down the rabbit hole.
If you’re starting out in self-employment for the first time and need advice on where to go from here then perhaps I could help – I’ve certainly got enough experience!
- Making choices about your start-up
- Encourage new growth with a Winter prune
- Taking stock of your business for the year ahead