Quittin’ the 9-5 and working for yourself: The biggest challenges

By Natasha Culzac
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Jacking in a 9-5 to work for yourself and pursue a passion might sound like the dream, but watch out for these!

You trudge along your daily commute and flop yourself down at your desk on a miserable Monday morning. Your computer, post-it notes and ink-stained pen holder might not have the appearance of the womb, but when you think of jacking in your job to pursue a freelance career, it sure can feel like it.

The warm, comforting security of a 9-5 is hard to throw away. Who doesn’t think twice before delving into the harsh, blizzard-like climes of working for themselves? To begin with it’s not easy, but crafting your own career, on your terms, can be highly rewarding and financially fruitful.

Whether you want to pack it all in to turn your passion for arts and crafts or love for food into a viable business, here’s a couple of things you need to think about:

Start-up drama

Do you need a certain amount of capital to set yourself up? This could be cash needed for software or machinery, or even marketing items such as a website and leaflets. You might also need contingency money to cover your life basics such as rent and food, if orders don’t come in as fast as you hoped.

Instead of making a total leap into the dark, many people try to monetise their interest on the side of their 9-5. This means that they’re able to save up for the items needed and can test the market to make sure that demand is there.

For example, during the six years he worked in insurance, Sussex-based wedding photographer Dale Eyre-Weeks spent his weekends and paid holiday practising his craft. He slowly built up a reputation and stunning portfolio, before deciding that the bookings took up so much time that he was able to throw in the insurance towel.

Rebecca Chitty, the owner of Chitty’s Cakes, had just finished her law training when she decided that cake-making was more her style. And having spent her life baking cakes for friends and family, she already had the skills and equipment needed. She said: “There was very little on offer in Birmingham for cake classes and the city centre lacked a shop that did bespoke designs – I wanted to take advantage of that.” She started with little financial outlay: “I didn’t want to take out loans or borrow off anyone,” she said, so making cakes from home meant her only expense was building a website. “I had a part-time job on the side and it was really just like student living for a while. The first year doesn’t make much money but after that I was able to make a living fairly quickly.”

Bagging clients

One of the hardest parts of setting yourself up as a sole trader is finding people to actually buy what you’re flogging. Whether its goods or services – how do you build up a stable client base?

One way is to join an agency or website that works as a middleman for jobs. Bright Young Things is an agency for private tutors, linking students with highly qualified teachers. There are also talent and modelling agencies, film extras agencies and design agencies. You name it!

There are also numerous classifieds-style websites which aim to link clients with skilled workers in design, content writing, digital marketing etc. However, freelance animator James Pierson, who used those sites when he started, warned: “Looking back now, I think those websites are actually pretty detrimental to the industry as a whole, as it devalues the work and lowers what people are prepared to pay – people expect a top end animation for very little money.”

James struggled to find work after graduating in 2010, but he badgered studios and kept updating his portfolio. His advice for newbies starting out is to create as much high-quality portfolio content as you can when it isn’t a problem for you to find consistent paid work, for example when at university or outside a full-time job. “Generate some interest by drawing/animating/writing something to do with a big event you know a lot of people will be talking about (a TV premier, a big sports/festival/film event) - that way you've got a good chance of people finding your work.”

Things to remember

- Try not to be too ambitious or jump into something too quickly. Slow and steady is the way to build a business.

- Social media is a great (and free!) way of promoting yourself to potential clients and customers. Make the most of it.

- Trial and error will help you grow as a businessperson. You might think advertising in a specialist magazine would help drum up sales, but that’s not always the case. Fay Miller of Brighton Cakes said paying over-the-odds for adverts in bridal magazines and in a children’s play centre didn’t pay off.

- Building a business is tough, laborious work and you’ve got to be motivated. Fitting it around your other commitments can be a struggle.

 

By Natasha Culzac

Thanks to a journalistic career history and a childhood at Sylvia Young Theatre School, Natasha has her fingers in a few professional pies, doing her best impression of a model and actor as well as personal finance writer. Outside of work she compulsively watches BBC period dramas and constantly lies to herself that this year will be the year she learns French, once and for all.

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