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How is life for self-employed workers?

Being self-employed is a way of life for almost five million people in the UK now, with some deliberately opting for a life of working independence and others being forced to adopt it.

Figures released by the Resolution Foundation this week said average earnings for self-employed workers are now lower than in 1994-95 but that the UK’s self-employed workforce had grown by 45% in the past 15 years.

How has the life of a self-employed worker changed over the years – and what benefits or drawbacks does it bring? Some have shared their stories.

The session singer

Sam Blewitt

JANINE RASCH

“Payments to session singers have increased little in real terms in the past 20 years”

Payments to sessions singers have changed very little in real terms over the past 20 years, according to Sam Blewitt.

The Twickenham-based singer has been self-employed for 30 years and has sung with Madness, The Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Ultravox, as well as on soundtracks for films, TV shows and commercials.

“There have been good times and bad, but generally, I am working for the same as I was 10 or even 15 years ago,” said Mr Blewitt. “I do believe I was earning more 20 years ago.

“Then the added impact of the change in people’s music-buying habits have really changed the way self-employed musicians and singers earn money. My publishing income from music sales is virtually non-existent these days.”

The cleaner

Darren Smith

DARREN SMITH

On his 40th birthday Darren Smith decided to make some major life changes including giving up his job in a large shop-fitting company to set up his own cleaning business.

“I was living my life out of a suitcase week in, week out, and though the money was good, when did I get the time to spend it?” said Mr Smith, from Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.

He got a part-time job packing computer components to ensure he had some money coming in while he worked on building up a client base, which involved designing leaflets and delivering them himself.

Nine years on Mr Smith – although earning less – says his decision to become a sole trader was the right one.

“I’ve taken a big drop in wages, but I have cut my cloth accordingly,” he added. “My partner and I live a frugal, but in my eyes, a very rich life. My work-life balance is much better, and yes, there are times when I’d pack it all in tomorrow, but doesn’t everyone have days like that?”

The homeopath

Suzanne Wright

SUZANNE WRIGHT

A patchwork career is a modern way of balancing motherhood with work

Suzanne Wright found that when she became a self-employed homeopath her hourly rate was actually higher than when she was employed as a part-time distribution manager. So while her income dropped, it was because she was working fewer hours.

The mum-of-two from Northampton decided to work for herself because she and her husband found it difficult to arrange flexible childcare for their primary school-aged children.

“A lot of people have started up as self-employed in recent years,” said Mrs Wright. “Many, like myself, are mums seeking to work for themselves so that they can manage their working hours around school times, so that they can be with their children.

“A patchwork career is a modern way of balancing motherhood with work – it generally means less income, but also more family time.”

Mrs Wright said she does have to spend additional time working on marketing and keeping her financial records up-to-date: “I get more career satisfaction now because I’m building something of my own. My husband is in full-time, permanent work, so I do know the mortgage will always be paid.”

The shop owner

Chris Petterson

CHRIS PETTERSON

For the last decade Chris Petterson has owned and run three greeting card shops, but found he had to use his pension from a previous job to supplement his income online rezept viagra.

Mr Petterson, from Wakefield, North Yorkshire, has had to work full-time in one of the shops himself but has only been able to pay himself less than the minimum wage.

He said: “I have eight part-time staff but the costs with pay changes and pensions has gradually risen as have rates, rent, utilities, whereas business has plateaued over the same period.

“One of my big frustrations is the unfairness of business rates. I have two shops of similar retail space, but one shop has a rateable value of £6,000 whilst the other is £13,500.”

However, he said the positive side of being self-employed was being able to spend more time with his grandchildren.

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Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive


 

John Lombaerde

How To Make A Side Gig Work For You

By day, Robin O’Neal Smith is a chief information officer for a local school district. After hours, she is a ghostwriter and editor for bloggers. Smith now earns about $1,000 in extra cash every month from the side gig she launched two years ago.

making money on the side

“I had started a business to do social-media management but there seemed to be a much higher demand for blog posts than Facebook and Twitter,” said Smith, 56, who lives in Pennsylvania in the US. “So I started with one client and quickly added more.”

Her earning potential from blogging could be greater if she had more time. “There are only so many hours in a day that I can write since I still have a full-time job,” she said. “I have hired some help, and once they are fully trained, I will take a few more clients.”

In the new “gig” economy, taking on work on the side has never been easier. In the US, 12% of employees with full-time jobs also freelance, according to the Staples Advantage Workplace Index. In the UK, there are estimated to be about 1.88 million freelancers, and in the EU labour market, the number of freelancers grew by 45% between 2004 and 2013.

Although not all side businesses would be considered freelance, and some freelancers work at it full time, the numbers are a good indication that more and more of us are striking out on their own.

If you’re considering taking the leap yourself, here are some things to consider.

What it’s going to take: You’ll need to be self-motivated, a good multitasker and have some free time. “Starting any business, whether it’s a multimillion-dollar company or just selling hats on Etsy, takes a lot of work,” said Sam McIntire, founder of DeskBright, an online learning platform for business skills in the US.

“You’re going to have to design the hats, figure out the platform, figure out the marketing,” he said. “There’s a significant time investment.” If you are already pressed to the limits of your “busyness” quotient, it may not be the right time for your side venture.

You should also be asking yourself why you’re starting a business. Is it just to make extra cash? Is it because you have a passion and you want to share it with the world? Are you starting up a business that you hope will become your full-time job at some point?

“Once you have that, then you can start building,” said Judith Lukomski, founder of Transitions Today, a performance consulting company in California.

How long to prepare: It depends on what kind of business you’re planning on launching. “For some, it’s as simple as getting a website, registering with HMRC and taking out some insurance before you can get going,” said Darren Fell, CEO at Crunch, an online accounting company in the UK. “Others will need more paperwork, planning and preparation.”

You’ll need long enough to create at least a rough business plan, research product pricing, and think about whom you’re targeting and how you’re going to reach them. That said, you don’t necessarily have to be in perfect shape to get going.

“I thought I had to learn everything I could about social media before I started working for someone,” Smith said. “But the whole time I had marketable skills in writing and editing. Things will always be changing, so just start.”

Do it nowMake sure there’s a buyer for it. “People don’t do enough research into whether there’s actually a viable, sustainable market for what they’re planning to sell, whether products or services,” said Robert Gerrish, founder of Australia’s Flying Solo, a micro-business community, and co-author of a book by the same name. “Friends and family often say, ‘Great idea,’ but too often insufficient time is spent in this crucial planning stage.”

There are many means to validate a market for a product. You can offer presales or pre-orders. You can put up a splash page on a website and collect email addresses. “There are a lot of ways to gauge customer interest before sinking all that time into it,” McIntire said.

Design your buyer. Who is the person who will buy your product? “One of the exercises that’s helpful is to write down your key client, and get really specific,” Lukomski said. “It’s a person named Chris, and you give that person a life. Then you can target that person. It’s a little bit more than saying, ‘I’m going to target women from 35 to 55.’”

Check your employment contract. If you already have a full-time job, you don’t want to jeopardise your spot by violating any fine print. “You may find a clause that bans evening and weekend work,” Fell said. “Why not raise any questions you might have with HR? They will often deal with enquiries confidentially.” Check also for a non-compete if you’re intending to freelance in the same industry you’re working in.

Get the work. “I worried a lot about how I would invoice, pay freelancers in my employ and set up my website,” said Tess Frame, who started her own website and business-content company. “What I should have been focusing on was getting more clients. You don’t need a website if you don’t actually have clients.”

Don’t goof around. “Structure your time properly and you’ll see huge leaps in your productivity,” Fell said. “Ask yourself what you want to achieve over the next 60 days or construct a week-by-week checklist of objectives.” This will help keep you on track and stop you from endlessly browsing social media when you should be working.

Do it laterPace yourself. Don’t forget that you still have a day job. “Don’t overpromise and take on too many clients at once, or you may struggle to balance competing demands,” Fell said. “Be open with clients about your other commitments so that they aren’t frustrated when you can’t serve them during office hours.”

Get ready for taxes. Making money? Great! You’ll probably owe taxes on it. In the UK, “you’ll need to let HMRC know if you’re starting a business so you can file your Self Assessment and pay the right tax on your income,” Fell said. “It’s also a legal requirement once you start earning money from your business.” Consult a tax professional — or do some online research at a site like FreelancersUnion.org in the US or Crunch.co.uk in the UK — for more information.

Be realistic. Don’t expect a booming business overnight. “Too many people have unrealistic expectations of how quickly things will develop,” Gerrish said. “It often takes much longer.”

Do it smarterDon’t forget to enjoy yourself. Starting a side venture is about more than money. “The rewards are tremendous,” McIntire said. “Having autonomy, building something, having ownership around your own project — those are all things that are tremendously motivating.”

By Kate Ashford

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Stephen Hodgkiss
Chief Engineer at MarketHive

 


 

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