Are you contemplating self-employment? Would you prefer to work for yourself and be in charge of your own destiny? Do you have a professional qualification/skill/trade that would enable you to do freelance or consultancy work, or are you a budding entrepreneur with a vision for a start-up?
In this article:
We look at various types of self-employment and the pros and cons of working for yourself.
Also take a look at the suggested reading and talks listed below in Useful Resources, and our HelloGrads blogs and bite-size interviews with young and older entrepreneurs who tell it how it really is; all food for thought which may help you decide whether this could be the right path for you.
If you decide to go for it, we have plenty of links to tips and tools to get you started, training courses, plus sources of practical help and advice.
Good Luck! Please let us know how you get on.
Types of Self-Employment
Freelancers and Contractors
Do you want to be a freelancer or contractor where you are self-employed and hired by different companies to work on various projects?
Freelancing/contracting is arguably the easiest way of setting up a business, well-suited to those who have a profession/trade/craft. It can be a good way into permanent employment as you gain experience, a network and an insight into what types of organisations suit you best. Start small to build your profile and reputation, and you can begin to charge more once you have completed a few jobs and earned good reviews.
Online Services connecting Freelancers & Contractors with Hiring Employers:
Creative, digital, translation
Covers a wide variety of categories
Creative, digital, video & animation, music & audio, writing & translation, IT, business, lifestyle
People Per Hour
Creative & digital
Do you want to be an entrepreneur? Do you have a vision for a new business? Are you prepared to take on financial risks in the hope of rewards in the future?
“All human beings are born as entrepreneurs.
But unfortunately, many of us never had the opportunity to unwrap that part of our life, so it remains hidden.”
Dr. Muhammad Yunus
Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Lizzie Fane is founder of Global Graduates, an online service for students and graduates who work/study abroad during and after their degree, (formerly known as Third Year Abroad). Lizzie believes that when it comes to entrepreneurship, having a big idea is less important than being the right type of person. ‘It’s a challenging path, paved with excitement and uncertainty; your business can take over your life and it requires the right skills and mindset to be a successful entrepreneur.’
Do You Have What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur? – Entrepreneur.com
Informal quiz to compare your personality with the popular profile of successful entrepreneurs.
Pros and Cons of Self-Employment
Being your own boss might sound like the dream, but it’s important to go into it with your eyes wide open. Weigh up the pros and cons before you dive in, to get an idea of whether self-employment is the right path for you.
One of the biggest advantages of self-employment is the freedom to work when, where and how you want. Avoid the daily commute and run your business from home, rent co-working space, café hop or go abroad. You can generally set your own schedule and fit work around other commitments and time off.
You have the freedom to make your own decisions, what work you undertake and how to complete it (obviously when you’re starting out and need the cash, you can’t afford to be choosy!)
There are no more barriers to promotion, no negative culture, no office politics holding you back – the only obstacles to success are ones you allow to stay in place!
You will learn loads, and not just in your own field, but all the other areas you have to get involved with – finance, marketing, legal matters, website design etc. You will also learn plenty about yourself and develop diverse skills, like resilience, staying motivated and finding creative solutions to problems.
And, if in the end you would prefer to be employed, know that most organisations will really value your entrepreneurial spirit and this stack of transferrable skills you have gained whilst working for yourself.
You’ll be dealing with many different areas of setting up and running a business, facing new challenges, working on a variety of projects, dealing with new people…every day is different, life is never dull.
It is exciting and rewarding to build something from nothing, especially when you love what you do. You will have the satisfaction of seeing your ideas through to completion, grow in confidence and earn recognition for everything you create or achieve.
In many areas, your earnings potential will be higher if you are self-employed. You control the costs, you can take on more work, and you keep the profits. The financial rewards can be considerable If your business is successful.
The freedom and rewards from running your own business can all add up to greater job satisfaction and an improved quality of life.
Despite the attractions, there are some inevitable risks involved in working for yourself:
There is no guarantee of work and your income may be irregular, especially during the early days, but you still have to pay fixed costs like rent, business insurance, internet etc. Your cashflow can fluctuate wildly from one month to another, so you really need to stay on top of your finances, putting money aside when you earn, to see you through the fallow times.
Lack of employee benefits
You won’t receive holiday pay, sick pay, a workplace pension or any other typical employee benefits.
Being your own boss means you are responsible for everything, from providing the goods/services, marketing and sales, to managing the finances and people. And if it’s just you, you’ll be making the tea as well as the decisions!
There’s a lot to juggle at once, and much of it will not be paid work, but is essential to growing your business e.g. marketing your services, pitching for jobs, networking, chasing invoices, doing the accounts etc.
Establishing a business, building a customer base, and bringing in the money can be an arduous and, at times, frustrating journey. You will need to be patient with the process but have the drive and perseverance to succeed.
Whilst the flexibility is appealing, when you are building a business, your working hours may be longer and irregular, and it can be hard to switch off, especially when you work from home. Success is dependent on your productivity. Be prepared that your business can take over your life at times.
People who don’t work in a regular workplace environment, often struggle with feeling lonely and isolated, finding it tough to stay motivated. Apart from the lack of face-to-face contact, there is no one to bounce your ideas off or to share the good and bad times.
High stress levels
Entrepreneurship can be all-consuming and take you on a roller-coaster of emotions. The responsibility, uncertainty and inevitable risks mean self-employment can be a stressful way of life, and will certainly not suit everyone.
As with any job, there are advantages and disadvantages to self-employment. You get to pursue your passion, make your own decisions, and lead a varied work-life. It’s not easy, it might not make you rich, but there’s a strong chance you will feel happy and fulfilled.
If you think self-employment could be the right path for you, take a look at our bite-size interviews and blogs by entrepreneurs who explain why they chose that route, and the highs and lows of running a business.
Useful Resources for Self-Employment
See below for some helpful resources if you’re contemplating self-employment – whether as a freelancer, entrepreneur, consultant, franchisee, retailer etc.
Bite-size Interviews & Blogs by Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs in various sectors explain why they started their business, the highs and lows, plus valuable tips:
Grad Bites: Find What You Really Want To Do
A truly inspiring story of 2 guys who left UK corporate life to set up something amazing. They started Malawi’s first fruit processing industry, & they will leave you feeling that anything is possible….
Grad Bites: Starting Sancho’s Ethical Fashion
Kalkidan started with a pop-up shop; she talks about growing the business, financing, working in a partnership & what they have learned along the way
For those Budding Business Brains…
A young entrepreneur gives a light-hearted view of why so many graduates are shunning the comfort of corporates for the thrill of start-ups
Grad Bites: Introducing… Evermore Health
Alessandra talks about her nutritional supplement company, & the challenges & rewards of running a business
Grad Bites: Starting a Business for Global Graduates
Lizzie set up a business to support students & graduates working & living abroad. She explains why she did it, how she attracted her first users & financed her venture
Journey into the Unknown…
8 tried & tested tips for starting a business
Grad Bites: Essentials for Starting a Business
After a career in Market Research, Monica set up her consultancy business. She offers her advice, including the importance of networking & being able to sell yourself, & your business!
Grad Bites: Starting a Coaching Business
Mark talks about the joys & challenges of running his business, & why he opted to do a Masters degree after 25+ years in recruitment.
Online Tips & Tools to get You Started
Comprehensive advice platform for starting all sorts of businesses, e.g.
freelancing & contracting, franchising, tech-start-ups, service & retail.
A supportive community, resources & events geared to helping people start and grow their own businesses:
Entrepreneur – Virgin.com
‘Inspiration, innovation and advice’- blogs, interviews, tips & support
Self-Employment – All About Careers
Helpful info on many aspects including making a business plan, registering a company & funding.
Website Design & Build – Yell Business
Information on Digital Marketing
How You Pay Income Tax & National Insurance – Self-Assessment – HelloGrads
How to register a business in the UK – Pay.com
Find out whether you need to register your business, types of company structure & their tax implications, what mandatory documents you need & more
Practical Help & Advice
Crowd-sourced funding for creative projects:
Creators describe their project, setting a funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money, and if the target is reached, it goes ahead.
Start Up Loans
A government-backed scheme, which provides loans and mentoring to start-up businesses; borrow up to £25,000 at competitive rates, with no penalty for early repayment.
Incubator and Accelerator Programmes
Various organisations offer business incubator or accelerator programmes to help fledgling startups or small businesses grow, often delivering services free of charge for an initial period. Incubators and accelerators both provide mentorship and support, but they get involved in slightly different ways and at different stages:
Nurtures a business through the start-up phase, helping to develop the idea and business plan.
Offers mentoring, advice and training, office space and resources, networking, access to financing.
Works with entrepreneurs or startups for longer (usually 6 months – 2 years)
Generally helps to develop and grow a business at a later stage.
Usually involves a short-term programme (3-6 months), aimed at sorting out strategy, operations or organisational issues that might be facing the company.
Often provides early-stage funding in return for a percentage of equity in the company.
These programmes can be very beneficial to fledgling companies – guidance that prevents costly mistakes, invaluable connections and access to funding. But they are hard to get into, as it’s a very competitive environment.
List of Business Accelerators in UK – Entrepreneur Handbook
Business accelerator for early stage & growing ventures; offers resources & advice in various centres around the UK.
(London only) Support services for entrepreneurs & small businesses: advice, technical expertise, finance & workspace
Google for Startups Campus
Community hubs ‘where entrepreneurs come to learn, share ideas, & launch great startups.’
(You won’t find any actual drugs here) – they offer help to tech start-ups, including collaborations with established companies, workshops, incubator programmes & co-working space
There’s a wide variety of courses available: postgraduate, online, short programmes etc.
Find Courses – Entrepreneurship
Centre for Entrepreneurs
This education charity offers an intensive 12 month programme to develop entrepreneurs, which includes interactive learning, a placement & networking opportunities, with support from mentors & coaches. Strong competition for places (over 500 applicants for 30-40 places annually). Find out how to apply here.
The Escape School – Escape The City
London-based start-up accelerator programme, online course, events, workshops & tools.
Digital marketing leadership course developed with Google.
The Prince’s Trust
Free training & resources for young entrepreneurs, with support from a mentor & opportunities to apply for business funding.
Business & Enterprise Skills – Alison
Free online courses, which could benefit someone starting or running their own business.
Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards
A business pitching competition for student & graduates. The winning entrepreneurs are rewarded with cash prizes, mentoring & start-up support. Competition is intense & the standard is high, so if you’re thinking of applying, you’ll need to bring your A game.
Kalkidan, one of the previous winners talks about her ethical fashion business here.
Talks and Events
Talks to inspire and challenge the way you think, full of ideas to help you flourish in the business world:
The Single Biggest Reason Why Start-ups Succeed – Ted Talks
by Bill Gross, start-up expert, who gathered data from hundreds of companies to find out why some succeeded and others failed. One standout factor surprised even him.
The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers – Ted Talks
by Adam Grant, Organisational psychologist.
How creative people come up with great ideas & turn them into reality (including how they embrace failure).
How to Live Before You Die – Ted Talks
Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech.
Using 3 powerful stories from his life, he encourages us to pursue our dreams and see setbacks as opportunities.
How to get Your Ideas to Spread – Ted Talks
by Seth Godin, Marketing guru.
Why ideas need to be remarkable to grab consumer attention, and how bad or bizarre is better than boring;
plus who you need to target to achieve success.
Richard Branson: Advice For Entrepreneurs – YouTube
Eventbrite – Events
A wide selection of events, including entrepreneurship, networking crowdfunding, social media etc.
Business Start Up 2019-20 – Financial Times Guides
Comprehensive annually updated guide for entrepreneurs.
28 Business Thinkers Who Changed the World
The management gurus & mavericks who changed the way we think about business; an inspiring & entertaining read which includes profiles on Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Anita Roddick & others