A Foolproof Guide To Being Your Own Boss

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A Foolproof Guide To Being Your Own Boss

Words by Mr Chris Cotonou

7 November 2021

With our work lives upended over the past year, more of us than ever are embracing the idea of going freelance or starting up our own business. For some, it might not even be a deliberate choice, but sometimes a push can be just what we need.

Working for yourself is liberating – but it can also feel stressful and uncertain. How do you go about finding work? What kind of fee is fair to a client, but justifies your time? And how does this affect taxes or insurance? There’s more to being self-employed than travelling the globe and plugging in at coffee shops armed with only a laptop and a dream, after all. A few missteps, and it’s back to square one.

Get it right, though, and whether you’re in the business of baking, strategic consulting or as a professional cuddler (yes, that is a real thing that people do for a living), going it alone can bring you closer to realising your dreams. To set you on the right track, here are our eight expert tips on how to become your own boss. Go get it!


Harness your existing networks

“Reach out to other self-employed people for advice first,” says Mr Simon Stockley, senior faculty in entrepreneurship at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School (and founder of Hera, Europe’s largest anti-trafficking charity). “If they’re in a similar field, they might hire you as a subcontractor. From there, you can build a healthy network of trusted contractors that reciprocate work, or refer each other to clients when overbooked.”

Operating in this fashion will uncover sources of business, as well as improving your reputation in your field. “Just don’t stitch people up,” Stockley adds. “And always be transparent and organised.”


Determine a fee

“Determine your worth and stick to it,” says Mr Rafael L Espinal Jr, director of the Freelancer’s Union, who provide more than 500,000 sole-traders a support system and voice through political advocacy, insurance benefits, resources and community. “Don’t be afraid to raise your rates after you’ve built a respectable portfolio of clients either,” he says. “You might lose some jobs, but in the long run, your higher rates ensure you earn more with your book of business.”

Stockley echoes this advice: “One of the great mistakes is underpricing at the start. Reach out to your network to see what they charge or consider what your prospective client charges their customers and offer a fee accordingly. Never be afraid to ask for more.”


Get familiar with legal and tax issues

Your business’ ethical values are a direct reflection of your personal morals. “So, stay legal and ensure taxes are paid on time,” says Stockley. “When you’re fairly small, avoid doing the legal work yourself – get a recommendation on a good tax accountant and find a friendly lawyer to handle contracts.”

Espinal Jr stresses that the number-one issue freelancers face is going unpaid for their work. He suggests having a tight contract and requiring every client to sign it. “It should have language in place that will hold them liable should they not pay at the end of a project. If they continue to miss payments, cut your losses early,” he says.

Still unsure about legal matters? Double-check with an experienced trader in your network.


Learn how to make a good impression

“The secret of charisma is making other people feel good about themselves,” Stockley says. Instead of rushing up to sell yourself, think about how you can be of service to their business. “People don’t want to hear what they need or want. You need to communicate your interest in what they do, and offer a way to help them,” Stockley says.

To improve your confidence and sales ability – and to cultivate tighter connections – get into the habit of occasionally speaking with your clients over the phone instead of just emailing them.


Build your brand identity

There’s a lot of competition out there, and as a sole-trader, your personal brand is also the business’ brand. “You’ll be known through brand and reputation,” Stockley says. “For example, there’s a type of person you might think of in the design industry – hip, casual clothing, etc – and none of that is by accident. When a business aligns their brand with our expectations, it makes them seem more authentic, and therefore more reliable.”

For more information on “living the brand”, he suggests reading ex-presidential advisor Ms Mary Spillane’s book Branding Yourself.


Become findable

It’s essential for prospective clients to be able to find you. “Build your website and socials to clearly illustrate your portfolio, your work experience and your rates,” says Rafael. “This will mean you can spend less energy looking for work and allow it to come to you.”

Stockley suggests learning some basic marketing tools, such as SEO or paid-advertising on social media. “Ask your current clients where they look for work and the type of keywords they use, or platforms, and maximise your presence on those channels,” he says.


Master a routine

Without structure or routine, our work lives can descend into chaos. But much of that has to do with our personalities, suggests Stockley. “Try taking a reliable personality test. This will give you a foundation to form a routine based on your own habits – which might be more forgiving and productive. Your routine, and your ability to understand how much work you are capable of doing, will develop with economies of both experience and learning.”

Endure those inevitable periods of being overbooked, but make sure never to miss a deadline. Being overwhelmed is part of the process and will get easier with time.


Be ready for dry spells

The reality is that you will have sudden, inevitable periods without work. To stay ahead, Stockley suggests planning around lows instead of peaks. “Freelancers are always thinking in worst-case scenarios, and making decisions to avoid that,” he says.

Both Stockley and Espinal Jr both strongly recommend keeping your overheads low during dry spells, and saving for issues like tax or health emergencies. This will prevent any counterproductive stress over money.

“Don’t be afraid to tell people in your network that you need work,” Stockley says. If they’re reasonable and you’ve built a good reputation, a project they will ask you to do in a month’s time could be moved up their to-do list for when you need it most.