Working for Yourself
Surviving and Thriving in Self-Employment
Has the thought of setting up your own business ever crossed your mind? Maybe you have already embarked on the path.
The fact is, almost everyone contemplates being his or her own boss at some point in his or her career. But what does it actually take to make a success of it? And is it really the route that you want to take?
The idea of working for yourself throws up exciting possibilities, such as having better control over your own time and a substantially higher income. These are probably the two key motivators for people who are considering making the change from being employed to becoming self-employed.
But self-employment also involves some significant challenges: Where will you find your customers or clients? Can you manage the administration of running the business while also servicing your customers? And how will you cope without a support network of colleagues around you?
If you're seriously considering taking the plunge and working for yourself, first sit down and think through your decision. You should properly research your market and create a detailed plan of action, starting from the basics. You'll want to assess the field before deciding on your direction, and then you can take the course you've charted towards your goals.
Challenge Your Decision
What are the key reasons for your decision?
- You've had a brainwave about a new product or service idea, and you're certain will take the market by storm.
- Your favorite leisure time activity can be turned into a good business proposition.
- You've acquired certain skills, know-how and contacts in your current area of operation that make for a winning combination if you strike out on your own.
- The industry has some untapped potential you can exploit, given your special talents.
- You're not satisfied with the way your career has been shaping up so far.
Whatever the reasons, ensure that you make the change for positive rather than for negative reasons: The grass is not always greener on the other side, and you need to make sure that this isn't just a way of "running away" from situations you really should deal with.
Challenge Some Common Assumptions
When you decide to move from a regular office-going career to full-time self-employment, it's easy to gloss over the reality of what that entails. Here are a few insights into the world of self-employment that you may have overlooked in your enthusiasm.
I'm not accountable to anyone but myself. When you run your own business, you are answerable to a number of people – your customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders, not to mention government authorities. As a business owner, you have much greater responsibility thrust on you. You must also face the pressure of having to satisfy all of the people who are important to the success of the business.
I'll have more control over my time. Many people who work from home or have a start-up business find that they work much longer hours than their office-going counterparts. As a business owner, if you don't do it, no one will. You'll find that your time is take up with both details and major issues that need attention, emails to be sent and answered, administration to be attended to and much more. Be prepared to work very hard!
It's easier to run your own business than to work for an organization. To run your own business, you must be a multi-faceted person who possesses all the skills and talents needed to succeed in business. Working in an organization usually means that you're responsible for just one of the functions of the business – whether in sales, marketing, accounts or production. But when you're on your own, you have to manage the whole show down to some of the smallest details (at least until the business is established.)
Know What It Takes to Succeed
There are certain key personal qualities and factors for success that you, as the owner of the enterprise, must possess.
- Be self-disciplined and motivated: You're at the helm and the ship will not sail without you. If you work alone, you'll drift aimlessly without discipline and motivation. If you have staff, your team is watching your every move. They are more likely to be inspired by a leader who is self-disciplined and inspiring than by someone who is seen to take short cuts and lacks get-up-and-go.
As you're your own boss now, give yourself a performance appraisal every 3-6 months.
- Show business acumen: You must understand everything about your business – the products and their applications, market drivers and the realities of your business at every step of the way. Where you have them, you must base your decisions on facts and figures. Where you don't, you need to trust your instincts about the way the business and the industry are headed. Also, you must be discerning, and quick to size up and grab an opportunity when it presents itself.
- Be creative: Demand for products and services, and the way business is done, are all constantly changing as a result of market forces. As the owner of the enterprise, you have to be alert and sensitive to these changes, develop the ability to foresee trends and find innovative ways of staying ahead of the competition.
- Be organized: This is a key attribute every leader should possess. Make plans, organize your work and manage your time well. Being organized will allow you to stay in control and will help you to stay alert to new opportunities coming your way.
- Use your powers of persuasion: Whatever career path we choose, most of us spend much of our waking hours persuading people to do what we want or to see things from our perspective. As the owner of a business, your powers of persuasion are crucial. You'll have to persuade:
- Your employees/staff, to see the good sense in the business strategy, office discipline and systems that you want to adopt.
- Your clients, to see the advantages they gain from using your products/services.
- Your suppliers, to understand that they get a better deal by working with you.
- Your bankers, to see that your proposal is sound and that you're creditworthy.
- Your family, to see that the proposed change will benefit everyone in the long run.
- Take risks: It goes without saying that when you give up your existing job, you run the risk of not being able to get it back if you need it later. You also risk losing the capital you will invest into your new concern. You must be certain about your ability to take on the risk that comes with working for yourself.
- Establish credibility: As the owner of an enterprise, you will have to lay down the ground rules at the outset for the ethical business practices you propose to adopt. Setting standards for quality and for establishing your integrity and credibility are vital elements to success.
Prepare for the Plunge
Once you have weighed the pros and cons of getting into business for yourself and you've decided to take the plunge, some of the important steps you'll need to take next are:
- Get a clear understanding of the market and the competition; do a SWOT analysis; and make absolutely sure that you have a clear, distinct and useful USP.
- Acquire in-depth knowledge about the products or services you are offering and work out a suitable pricing structure.
- Develop a good business plan.
- Understand the statutory obligations your enterprise will have to fulfill.
- Work out a detailed estimation of the required financial outlay, and identify and approach sources for funding.
- Identify and recruit the necessary staff to help you get the venture off to a good start.
- Assess the level of expertise and skills that you and others in the business possess, and examine the need for any training to upgrade skill levels.
- Hire the needed office or factory space to run the business.
- Plan, plan, plan, and confidently take each step forward toward your business goal.
Many people who have run their own businesses successfully have nevertheless had their share of difficult and turbulent times. They not only survived the experience, but emerged victorious.
It's important to weigh the pros and cons of your business idea and the realities of self-employment, before jumping onto the bandwagon. Just as you have to prove your mettle when you work for an organization, you also have to prove yourself when you work for yourself – if not to others, then certainly to yourself. In self-employment, the going can be much tougher than when you have the support of an established organization.
Make your decisions and preparations wisely, and if self-employment is really for you, work hard and enjoy the success you deserve.