Is now the time to go it alone?

Is now the time to go it alone?

By Tracy Shuff

One of the most noticeable changes in the UK labour market since the turn of the century has been the rapid growth of self-employment which has risen from 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 20171. I have noticed this in my own career coaching practice, with almost two thirds of the executives I have coached over the last seven years choosing to work for themselves.

Studies show that self-employed workers have the highest levels of job satisfaction; they derive greater value from the nature of their work and say they have more control over it, appearing to find it easier to manage work pressures and reconcile their business with other aspects of their lives2.

However, for many people, the world of self-employment is an unknown quantity and they are unsure of where to start. If you are considering it as an option, it is worth asking yourself the following questions:

    1. What is your motivation for wanting to become self-employed? Are you running away from corporate life as you are frustrated with your current situation? In which case, self-employment may not be the best option for you. Perhaps try a different role in your current company or even a new company with a different culture. Or are you running towards self-employment as a change to give you more autonomy and a better work/life balance? This is a more positive reason for becoming self-employed and will give the much needed self-motivation to take you through the ups and downs of this career path.
    1. What do you mean by self-employment? There are many different types of self-employment and it is important that you choose the one which most suits your drivers for working.
      • Consultancy – this gives flexibility and autonomy and can be great for a better work/life balance. However, as you are not with the client all the time you lose some control over delivery and some people find this frustrating.
      • Interim – this provides control over delivery as you are working full time for an average of 6-9 months. However, it is often an intense time which might involve working away from home, and work/life balance can be difficult to achieve.
      • Portfolio – by doing different things, for example, consultancy, NED, volunteer work, you can have a variety in your life and meet the different drivers you may have. However, it can be difficult to juggle and get the balance right.
    1. What are you offering? It is important to change your mindset away from ‘what have I done?’ to think more about what problems you can solve for your clients. It is vital you develop a clear message to let the market know the services you are offering and why clients would engage with you.
    2. What will you charge? If you are pursuing the consultancy and interim route it is important to understand market rates and what you are going to charge for providing your services. Individuals commonly underestimate their worth so it is important you have confidence and value your expertise.
    1. Where will you find work? Network, network, network. Most of the work you will get will be from the people you already know so put together a strong elevator pitch, a 20-30 second overview of what you’re offering, and get it out to as many people as possible. You will be amazed where work comes from. However, don’t over sell initially, rather develop strong relationships.
    1. Will you enjoy working on your own? Increasingly self-employed people are working on their own and it can be an isolating experience. You will need tons of self-motivation and develop your own support network of individuals who you can call/meet as you would work colleagues.
  1. Where will you work from? Working from home sounds great but have you got a place to work where literally or metaphorically you can ‘shut the door on your workspace’ and switch into leisure mode? Think about one of the many communal workspaces that are now available, particularly one in which you can interact with like-minded people.

In summary, there are many considerations when thinking about taking the next step to self-employment so it is important to gain a clearer picture of what it involves. Spend time talking to people who have already taken the plunge and are working for themselves, they will give you great advice on what to do and what to avoid. Or you could seek professional guidance to help explore the mental considerations (self-motivation, coping with isolation, drivers for working) and practical considerations (marketing plans, setting up companies, networking strategies) of stepping out on your own.

For further advice and an exploratory chat please contact our professional career support partner, Tracy Shuff on 01625 508100 or email

1 Office for National Statistics, February 2018 ‘Trends in self-employment in the UK’

2 CIPD More selfies? A picture of self-employment in the UK 2018

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