Sunday, 5 April 2009

Guest post: The Five Commandments of Self Employment

Today I have a special treat for you. It's Sunday night and those of us in employment are starting to fantasise wildly about another life. The kind of life canonised in women's magazines, where you get to work flexibly, for yourself, and spend lots of time hugging yourself soulfully on beaches in designer woollies, and sipping tea pensively out of Bridgewater mugs while you pout at your laptop. You know what I am talking about: the world of self-employment.

If you are flirting with this kind of life change, read on. The mysterious M, my great friend and co-conspirator (even though we have never met and only started exchanging stupid messages a couple of weeks ago M makes me nearly vomit laughing when I talk to her, especially if I am wearing the evil tapeworm trousers that cut my circulation off) has kindly agreed to give you some pointers on self employment. I asked M for some biographical information, but this is all I got (YES IT'S A CUTE ANIMAL. SUCK IT UP.)

Do your palms feel moist? Is there a furry lump in your throat when you consider next month's bills? Do you taste bile when you think of calling a client?

Congratulations! You have finally done it! You are self-employed.

You have broken out of the rat race. You've absconded with the entire contents of a stationery cupboard. And a slide projector. You've given up pinstripes. You have pointed at the hordes of hapless commuters, your head thrown back, cackling wildly, within inches of hysteria. No longer will you need to eat soggy triangular sandwiches, hunched over your keyboard, your face a rictus of pain and despair, the bitter taste of egg mayo lingering around your tastebuds. No longer will you feel your brain slowly leaking out of your nose, while listening to this year's financial forecast. But before you can start calling yourself a writer, or a designer, or even a part-time chinchilla groomer, there are a few simple rules you must follow.

These are:


1. Keep a routine

The freedom of being your own boss can be intoxicating. You have taken your destiny into your own hands! You have a spangly new business account card to prove it! No one is looking over your shoulder, or demanding a report, or making terrible choices in the boardroom. You can have conference calls in your knickers.Be careful. Freedom can also be a false friend. Be strict with yourself and continue to enforce a routine that will help structure your thoughts and your productivity.

For example:

- Wake up at 5 am and compulsively check your email for an hour.

- Go back to bed. Turn around restlessly and curse silently as the sun rays filter in through the bedroom curtains. Fall asleep.

- Oh no! It's 10! You have overslept! Wait for someone to bring you breakfast. Make your way to the living room and browse for a couple of hours.

- 12. It's lunchtime! Fix yourself something greasy and delicious. Nap. Shower. Or possibly the other way around.

- 2pm. You should really be going in to your office. But I bet you can squeeze another 30 minutes of browsing in there before you leave.

- 3pm. Arrive at the office. Make a cup of tea.

- 3.30pm Work begins! Alternate 5 minutes of work with 10 minutes of browsing, it builds up your endurance.

- 4.30 pm You have done well. Give yourself another cup of tea and a biscuit. OK maybe 2. Fine you'll have the last 2 biscuits, but now you must work! work! WORK!

- 6 pm. Time to go home. You have done almost a whole hour of solid work. Give yourself a hug. Buy something greasy for dinner on your way home.

- Midnight: you have been eating, browsing, and watching TV, sometimes concurrently, for the past 5 hours. Oh go on. Another 30 minutes of browsing won't do any harm now, will it. Spend the last 10 minutes of the day worrying about all the things you haven't achieved today, but will achieve tomorrow. Fall asleep.

- Wake up at 5 am. Repeat.

2. Dress for success

You may no longer have the incentive of flirting with that cute trainee in the art department, but this is not the time to slack off in the looks department. Make sure you continue to dress for success. Clients will expect you to look the part. Groomed, polished, professional. After all, they are putting their trust - and their hard earned cash - in you. Taking good care of your appearance is a way of telling yourself that you deserve every success that comes your way. Choose soft, loose layers in organic cotton that will take you seamlessly from bed to a meeting, and back again. Now that leg shaving is optional, keep a stock of opaque tights at hand for those last minute appointments. This season's ethnic prints are good for hiding spills and stains from last night's dinner. And make sure your handbag is big enough to hold everything you will need for your busy executive lifestyle - a trashy novel, a couple of pork pies, and sunglasses for lazing in the park.

3. Count your blessings (bless your accounts)

Over 50% of new business will fail in the first 3 years, and most of those are the result of bad cashflow management. But accountancy doesn't have to be painful. Develop a system that works for you and that you will feel comfortable with doing regularly. Here are a few tips:

- Every six months, or whenever you can no longer close it, take all the receipts out of your wallet. Don't sort through them - just pile them in a shoe box and forget about them.

- You may also choose to leave your receipts in plastic shopping bags kept carefully in a corner of your room or office. Ideally leave these by a source of heat so the cheap ink dries out and disappears over the course of a year.

- Make sure you keep all your internet receipts too! Leave them in your inbox to make sure you don't loose them. This way you will only have to go through one year of accumulated email when the blessed time comes.

- Give yourself plenty of time to fill in your tax return. The 29th of January is a good day to start.

- Find a good accountant. One who never returns your calls and speaks to you veeeerrryyyy slooooowwwwwly, particularly when talking about your "profits". Fork out the measly sum of £700 per annum for his services. It's money well spent.

4. Get some exercise

If you're working from home, it's important to remember that you are less physically fit than when you had to commute to an employer's every day. Yes! This is possible! Keeping fit and healthy should be one of your top priorities. A healthy body makes for a bright and creative mind. It will help you keep on top of the small, daily stresses of self-employment, like being broke, and never speaking to anyone, and wondering why you haven't been paid yet.

Here at Weight Whiners, we recommend a system of points to keep track of how much exercise you are getting. For example, getting out of bed counts for 1 point. Washing your face and combing your hair are both half a point each. Going downstairs to get some milk and biscuits adds up to a whopping 2 points. It may not seem like a lot, but these small efforts really add up over the course of a day. Make sure you collect 4 to 5 points, 3 times a week.Ready for the next stage? We recommend the following daily routine:

- Picking up the TV remote (5 reps an hour): 2 points

- Opening envelopes and dumping the contents in your "in" tray: 3 points

- Checking Twitter (20 series of 10 reps, every hour): 0.5 points

5. Prioritize

Effective time management is the name of the game. If you're not in charge of your own schedule, you will quickly find yourself drowning in expired deadlines and struggling to keep up.Prioritizing tasks can really help you to stay focused on what is necessary. A good way to do this is to write down all your tasks, from the mundane to the time-sensitive, onto post-it notes. Then pick two at random, and inspect them closely. Which is more important to you? Put the non-essential notes to one side. Continue culling your tasks until you are left with four post-its. Do these NOW.For example, which is more important to you:

- Reading your email, or sending invoices?

- Playing on twitter, or dealing with that angry letter from your bank manager?

- Making a sandwich, or sending out your showreel?

- Having a picnic in the park, or writing your business plan?

If you are now in a park, eating a sandwich while sending email updates to twitter, you have made tough, but necessary decisions.Making the right choice and the odd sacrifice will keep you on the path to financial stability and freedom.


Red Shoes said...

Oh my god. When did you two start spying on my LIFE??

creeped out.

Marie said...

Yep. I can confirm that is exactly the way it is. Sigh.

kathycastro said...

Oh my gosh, that is EXACTLY my life, except instead of the office at 3:30PM it's the shops. And I am technically employed by others. However, I didn't realise I could call it self-employment. When I get fired, I can still have a "career." THANK GOD.

Guest poster, you have given me purpose again. Bless you.

Kate said...

add a toddler who is home nearly all the time and that pretty much sums it up for me.

Titian red said...

Thank God I am still a wage slave - well at least until September when I turn into a student again

Helen Brocklebank said...

Superb Sunday night post: shall approach going to the office with renewed vigour and appreciation.

Léonie said...

Marvellous. How many points do I get for slinking to the dole office every two weeks?

M. said...

Léonie - null points! You are a traitor and They are closing in on you (and have the creepy posters to prove it).

However, if you have washed your hair and/or put on clean socks, you may have 1 point. If you actually speak to anyone while in the dole office, give yourself a pat on the back and a couple of extra points. You may even go into Zara for a quick fix (kathycastro: best time for shops is Monday morning. At 3.30 the shops start filling up with annoying teenage girls in uniforms).

Now let us all huddle by the flickering light of the computer, and catch up with a week's worth of work on Sunday evening! Hurrah!

victoriark said...

Still feel blessed at 6.00am every Monday morning that I'm not facing one hour twenty minutes on the Piccadilly Line. Additional benefits: I am now £235 richer after spring cleaning magazine rack today (forgotten crumpled and lonely cheque), and there is joy to sitting in bed all morning with coffee making telephone calls and sending mails in between checking twitter updates and watching This Morning.

M. said...

Victoriark: Ooooh. I have two year old cheque for £9.80. Think I can still cash it? Must be in shoebox somewhere...

karen said...

As i read this at 9.23am on a Monday morning (Australian time), with my bottle of double espresso iced coffee milk that pretends to be breakfast in front of me, my desk piled high with urgent and almost-overdue work, an uncashed cheque (heh! me too!), Ben 10 book labels and assorted small toys courtesy of the short people of the household, wondering if I can play a quick computer game before the husband gets back from the (late as usual) school run and starts giving orders (which I ignore, of course), I am filled with the joy of knowing that I'm not the only self-employed working-from-home type who is ... ummm ... where was I going with this? No idea - pretty much how I run my life. I suspect a lot of us are just waiting for someone to figure out we're faking it! Who's up for coffee?

Mutter said...

how many points for getting up to refill the kettle and returning four half empty cups of cold tea to the kitchen?

mothership said...

This is quite chilling.
I merely add bolting out of bed (office) at 4.45pm to change out of 'loungewear' into real clothes, desperately ruffle through freezer for food for incoming family and then try to assemble that and self in 15 mins and pretend it's taken all day. I do that a couple of times a week. The rest of the time I am a slave ruled by 2 tiny overseers so cannot even pretend to be self employed until they are called away to attend to pressing matters at preschool.

M. said...

You seem to have replaced my portrait with a picture of an entirely different shrew. Do we all look the same to you? Imposter shrew.

Waffle said...

M - your shrew disappeared. I have merely appointed a body double shrew. If you wish to select another shrew, that is your right.

Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

Hilarious. And so much of it hits home. Though I have been forced, since mumhood, to become much more efficient and actually work when I'm supposed to be (What? I'm eating breakfast! Can't work while eating!), which is very annoying, but keeps a roof over our heads.

M. said...

This body double shrew has a much smoother bottom than I have.

M. said...

Wife in Hong Kong: Whoa, are you trying to do yourself irreparable damage? Take a nap, woman.

Welsh Girl said...

I hate to be the killjoy here, but I'm pretty sure that picture is of a very charming piglet, NOT shrew. Many hours wasting time being self employed makes me a faux expert on such things.

M. said...

Stop changing the picture! Some of us have to work here!

Waffle said...

Welshgirl - a PIG? Are you on drugs?

fabhat said...

Oh hell - this all sounds horribly familiar. Just have two things to add. When I smugly say that I have two rules for homeworking - no tv and get dressed every day.
I ignore that fact that playing on the internets is a far worse distraction than watching jeremy kyle or sean the sheep for a hour.
Nor do I mention the home uniform. Currently it consists of some old jeans that have holes in unmentionable places, layers of disreputable cardigans, no make-up, and slipper socks that make me look like obelix...On days when I have meetings and actually wear nice clothes I change out of them immediately afterwards, so I can wear them again. Pity the husband who comes home to that and me with a growly face because I haven't done all the work I meant to, or the washing, or the washing up or put any supper on!

The Spicers said...

This post is entirely accurate.

Welsh Girl said...

Aaargh - where did the pig go?? OK, so now it's a baby armadillo or something but there was definitely a pig up there for a while. And if that thing that I thought waz a pig is a baby shrew we are in trouble. It was the size of a man's hand - how big will it get??? ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size), I don't think they exist...

emily said...

ooohhh... i actually think this sounds more scary than my hideous job - i clearly need more courage and less terror inducing guilt... It does sound like fun though! Also practically had me wetting myself.

Lucy Fishwife said...

All of this sounds more fun than working. Not that I don't love my job (may be one of the few people I know who can say this truthfully) but ssince my top Morta Sin is, by a long shot, Sloth, ...sigh. Sofa, floppy clothing, cheese toasties... Also quite liked the baby animal.

Liberty London Girl said...

FUCK. I think M may have been holidaying in my head. LLGxx

So Lovely said...

Oh I know this all very well. So glad we're all on the same page.

So Lovely said...
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