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Mumsnet users share their experiences of being self-employed or running their own business

65 replies

YanaMumsnet · 24/09/2020 13:53

This discussion is now closed. Thank you to everyone who took part.

Starting your own business or taking the leap to self-employment can be an adventurous risk and much desired income independence for many. From having the brilliant business idea or right set of skills to start with, to managing the day-to-day paperwork and admin, being on your own is not always easy.

With that in mind, we want to find out more about your challenges and success stories with being self-employed or a freelance worker. If you’ve started or are starting your own business, we’d love to hear from you too.

So we’re asking you to think about the following:
-How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities? Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Do you have anyone helping you with them?
-If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be? Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?
-What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place? How did you prepare for that step? What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
-As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?
-And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

Whatever your experience, we’d love to hear it, so please share on the thread below. All MNers who post their stories will be entered into a prize draw where one will win a £100 voucher for a store of their choice (from a list).

Thanks and good luck!
MNHQ

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Mumsnet users share their experiences of being self-employed or running their own business
OP posts:
QueSera · 10/10/2020 22:59

I wouldn't wish jt on anyone. No security. Constant worry and fear. Low pay, long hours and much stress.

KatGillespie · 11/10/2020 16:45

This reply has been deleted

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RippleEffects · 11/10/2020 20:32

From watches to wedding rings who has never bought or owned jewellery?
With online retail on the increase in the UK and a buoyant second hand marketplace I became an accidental entrepreneur by clearing bits I no longer needed. Initially, as a keen amateur photographer I snaped a few shots of pieces I had around the house to sell online with the intention of raising money for a new PC for my disabled son.

With time spent on good snaps my items sold well and I started to buy bits to sell at a profit. Within a year I found myself having to VAT register. Ironically, being in a situation where conventional employment wasn’t an option drove me to succeed.

A couple of years on I’ve developed my product range plus my own slim packaging and gift bags that can go through the thinnest letter box so jewellery can be delivered quickly without anyone having to wait in. I’ve also launched my own range of branded silver. With such a big investment in my own range I’ve looked at the best way to sell my new items. So I’ve expanded to multiple online marketplaces.

This year, approaching my fourth year of trading, along with the rest of the world I’ve found myself in lockdown. My previously compartmentalised day of business owner, carer, mum, wife, house keeper became a juggling act to keep everything going. Suddenly I found myself with three children one in KS2, one in KS3 and one in KS4 (usually with full time special school support) to teach full time, whilst working on a business with customers needing extra support and supporting the house day to day needs, looking out for a few local people -a vulnerable neighbour and elderly parents.


Other than the exhaustion of supporting those around and working 7 days a week since late last year, we’ve survived physically, emotionally and financially. My eldest finished his education with 8’s and 9’s in his GCSE’s and is now working full time from home as a solutions architect. My younger two are back at school and my focus is now back on the business.

We’ve weathered the initial phase of the storm. I’ve had to step back and reprioritise, which whilst painful, when I’ve spent so much time building the business. This has meant I’m actually learning to spend more time on the business rather than just in it. I’m having to think about what can be outsourced, what can be streamlined and what actually isn’t essential right now.

I’ve outsourced my fulfilment so no more post office runs or waiting in for the postman, I’m researching getting some accountancy support onboard as I spend way to many hours fretting about this and I’m talking to a few companies about automation processes which will help with automating the management of the multiplatform nature of the business.

I think about 70% of my time is spent on tasks I really should be managing more efficiently by outsourcing. Its not that easy though, as this is my baby. I regularly forget to put adequate value on my own time and so when I look at outsourcing costs I’m not doing a fair comparison on savings.

The one task I’d love to never do again is my accounts. I loathe them and spend way too much time on them, but don’t know that I could outsource all the worry that I do.

I love a task list and break it down into fun to do and drudge tasks. If I have things like a VAT return to do I make sure I build a few hours creative tasks into the day to compensate for the stress I generate doing my accounts.

I’ve started from less than nothing, taken the family off the breadline, funded each stage of growth from profits, worked with every new challenge, with a lack of credit history (not debt but no access to credit to build up a record) I’ve not had access to loans and as a 46 year old women I wouldn’t even get my foot in the door with investors.

All that being said I’m in a phenomenally privileged position as having downsized our home and moved to an area with specialist schooling for my eldest, we worked things so that my husbands wage covers our essential basic living costs. My income is then the occasional steak rather than mince, presents on birthdays, running a car, buying tech for the children so they could all be online learning during lockdown. Its also in part reinvested in growing the business which has no where near reached its full potential.

I have projected growth figures in mind and those stretch targets that I'd love to achieve- planning financially has never been so challenging when even the experts can't give clear advise on what our outcomes will be with the Covid Brexit double whamy on the doorstep.

I’m very bad at asking for help but have recently made contact with the local council business support network and feel that there is potential to be helped progress to the next stage.

My biggest challenge was making the decision to push through the benefits trap of carers allowance. It’s a cliff edge benefit and you can earn a little over £100/week or loose it all. There is a cross over point where you are worse off working. The first year of the business I took the decision and contacted DWP, DS had a really bad spell and didn’t manage a full week of school between February and May. Something that many more parents will be able to relate to this year after lockdown. I was exhausted working evenings and weekends to balance lost daytime hours. I had more than one ‘what the * am I doing’ moments. Time passed, DS resettled into school, business fell into a more regular pattern and we were finally able to take a little money out. The remembering to enjoy the good times generated is the thing that sees me through the various and varied challenges that every business will hit.

Xenia · 11/10/2020 22:43

I set up on my own as a solicitor in 1994

-How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities? Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Do you have anyone helping you with them?
10%?I don't really measure it. I do my VAT, account and that kind of thing. I don't hate any of them although sending clients bills once a month takes while. No one helps me.

-If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be? Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?

Happy to do them. I don't want to cede power to anyone else. I like the control although I would support the state reducing admin eg making VAT once a year not every quarter and that kind of thing.

-What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place? How did you prepare for that step? What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
I was not made a partner at a law firm. I also wanted to earn more money and keep all profits for myself. Money was the reason. I don't need or want "support".

-As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?
Yes, I have planned my career from age 14. I have regular goals. I feel okay so far as I do a range of legal areas although any mumsnetter needing legal advice in my business law areas is welcome to get in touch.

-And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
None really, just the main one of marketing and gettig in new clients. I have given 1700 paid talks in the UK and abroad, written 30 books and written loads paid legal articles which had got in work - in other words I am paid for my marketing - very neat idea that has worked well.

cc02458 · 12/10/2020 11:48

I work a self employed recruiter. I have done so since 2012. I place people in permanent jobs. I work from home doing this and make a good full time wage. I work approx 30 hours a week, sometimes less though this can vary.
Prior to doing this, I worked in 2 x recruitment agencies totaling 5 years agency experience.


How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities?
Not much fortunately. Admin is very much a supplementary skill in my job.

Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Do you have anyone helping you with them?
The main irritations of being self-employed are when the tech goes wrong - phone or laptop or printer. There is no IT guy to call and it drives me mad!
Every holiday will always require me to do a bit of work - however, that's a pretty minor irritation as the work allows me freedom + good money. These days you can recruit from anywhere, I've worked from hotels/beach/school gates/a cow farm shed on holiday/campsite in france! it's a very portable job :)

-If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be? I'd love to say IT tech issues.... that's a dream for me!

Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?
Just keep on top of it. Incorporate the tasks into your working day or it will build up and get on top of you. Do the stuff you hate if it's part of the job, don't kid yourself it will go away by itself - it wont.

-What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place? How did you prepare for that step?
I'd been on Mat leave after having 2 babies close together. I live in an area with no family (just me and my husband) childcare would have been affordable - so I went it alone.
I had a friend looking for a job in the sector that I know recruit within. I made 21 calls, 7 firms said that the person wasn't right but if I could find xyz, they would be interested in talking further with me. It was clear that I was onto something.

What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
Former industry colleagues would have been there if I needed them. But to be honest, I knew how to do the job - you just have to focus and get on with it.
Over the years I have had a couple of situations come up, where I've felt advice would be beneficial - so one time, I reached out to an industry influencer, via linkedin and asked them if I could pick their brain. They let me send them an email and I got some great advice from that.


-As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?
My policy is let my profits build up and keeping a good wedge of money banked. Never spend money that hasn't cleared and keep your tax money put by. It takes the pressure off, knowing that I have a good amount of money banked.
Yes I do feel financially secure, that said, the whole world is upside down currently - so I am trying to make hay while the sun shines as who knows what 2021 will bring.

-And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Keeping motivated. Its tough working for yourself, by yourself. Also, keeping work going through the half terms/Christmas holidays and summer holidays is not easy with children around.
I overcome motivation issues by putting on some industry related podcasts to gee me up or some upbeat music - go and have a walk round the block or bounce on the trampoline and get back to work! When the kids are off, I used to go to a local hotel to work, or i get up early and do allot before the kids are up.

BeneathTheMilkyTwilight · 13/10/2020 19:12

I hate doing promotion, it always feels slightly grubby! I build up a friendly relationship with my customers as part of my work (not for cynical reasons, it's just how I operate) and to then push my services to them sometimes feels exploitative. I also find it hard to price my services appropriately and usually prefer to under charge. I haven't yet found answers to these challenges but will read the thread with interest to see if others have any thoughts.

PastramiNoRye · 14/10/2020 22:14

I've been in business for about eight weeks now! I run a social media business to support small independent businesses promote themselves locally. As a few people upthread mentioned, in tough times, people need to focus on their business and tasks such as social media become too time-consuming.

The admin of my own business doesn't take too long but I'm dreading filing my first self-assessment.

I'm enjoying choosing my own hours and not answering to one boss. I don't feel fully confident in my business yet but I haven't got lots of money invested in it like I would if I sold physical products. If I folded tomorrow, I'd be disappointed but it wouldn't be disastrous. I'm in a very fortunate position that way.

Caroleleanor · 19/10/2020 14:49

Having lost my job to Covid I've just started freelancing in what seems everyone's hate zone! Yes, for my sins ... Social Media Management. I have a background in marketing, did some training on mat leave and emerged thinking I knew loads about digital marketing. Two years into a job doing social for a massive travel company I'm back to hoping I can make this work.

How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities? At the moment it seems to be a lot of going back and forth on email with people but then I think that's the nature of what I do.

Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Currently going through the quagmire of learning what you need when you go Freelance. Like insurance. And other things ...

Do you have anyone helping you with them?. Does Mr Google count? Plus I do have the support network from my training in mat leave ..

If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be?
Pitching is my nemesis but needs to be done. sigh

What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place? How did you prepare for that step? What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
Redundancy and no jobs that I could find. And people saying they wanted me to help them.

As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate? At the moment I'm just trying to take any offer of work I can. I'm aware that there is stuff coming in at the moment but nothing on retainers which would make me feel better. We did take a mortgage holiday so I've got 6 months in the bank just in case things go Pete Tong.

And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it? Starting any of this in the first place whilst thinking I can't do it. I'm still in the not sure place but I need to just get cracking, see my first payment and then ride the wave of uncertainty a little bit more bravely.

anxiouswaiting · 20/10/2020 09:58

How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities? Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Do you have anyone helping you with them?
I don't have help with any admin tasks, it varies how much time goes into it and depends what you call admin. I update finances weekly, invoices 2-3 times a week. A big chunk of my time is on finding leads for new work, would that be classed as admin?


If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be? Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?
Sorting all my files and sending invoices - boring. I don;t really have any hacks, although my husband is pretty handy if I need any IT type solutions to make things easier, he has on occasion set me up programmes to save me some time.


What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place? How did you prepare for that step? What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
Initially it was to make a little bit of pocket money, started with surveys, focus groups etc. The I joined the make £10 a day on Mumsnet which led to me making enough to need to do a tax return! Then I thought well if I am doing it anyway then maybe I could look at freelance working in my profession. Now I still do the little online bits when I have time but split the rest of my working time between my paid employment and my freelancing. Not much preparation, it just kind of happened. I have got all the support I have needed from forums and websites.




As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?
This is maybe one of the biggest challenges. My freelance work can be sporadic. I do not feel financially secure with it. At the moment I am taking on as much work as I can so that I can save up for when work is low. One of my main work sources stopped during the first lockdown and that had a big impact, I wasn't eligible for the self-employment grant because I had done more employed work than self-employed, literally by about £500 so no help for me!
This is what holds me back from going totally freelance, luckily due to having employment as well I was then able to take on extra shifts to make up my shortfall, if I had been freelance only then I would have been on really low income and scrambling to find more work.



And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Time management - I am a procrastinator, I find that making lists and setting myself small tasks makes me more efficient as it is very easy to sit and scroll through Mumsnet when I should be working ( like now!)

MissEP · 23/10/2020 17:33

I took the leap to be a Freelancer and it was so great to have the flexibility, I was surprised that I had a constant flow of work!! and as long as I was organised I was able to do all the admin and tax returns with no problems. It was quite liberating to go it on my own and despite the hard work and uncertainty I absolutely loved it.

Montydoo · 24/10/2020 05:31

How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities? Which are the ones you hate doing the most? Do you have anyone helping you with them?

I spent a few hours at the weekend catching up with accounts, invoices and chasing up debts. I had no help


-If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be?

Being so unprepared for what was in store - I'd do more market research first.

Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?

Just be organised - set a time and quiet place to get it done really


-What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place?

Being unhappy at work and seeing if it worked for me


How did you prepare for that step?

Not enough really

What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?

No support really - I didn't ask just had my rose tinted glasses on for what it would be like

-As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals? Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?

Self employed - and no I don't feel financially secure - too many businesses doing the same thing as me

-And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge is the quoting for jobs and waiting for an answer - do I ring and remind - do I follow up - was I competitive ? It's all very stressful for little return

Weirdfisher · 24/10/2020 14:10

I have been planning to start a small online buying and selling business. At the moment plans are on hold due to the pandemic. In some ways I am pleased I had not started before as we would not be in line for government support due to it being such a new venture, on the other hand the wait is frustrating.

purplepandas · 24/10/2020 21:11

I am not self employed now but was for a bit when I did mystery shopping between children. I found the tax side hardgoing (not my skill set) but the rest okay. Lots of work for little pay but not a typical self employed basis.

LucyBMumsnet · 26/10/2020 11:13

Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences on this thread. The winner of the prize draw is @Hiraeth16 Smile

dolphinpose · 26/10/2020 14:49

How much of your time goes to managing admin tasks and responsibilities?
About 10-20% depending on the client and project

Which are the ones you hate doing the most?
Chasing clients for that final bit of info they were going to send last Wednesday without which I can't complete the job they expected me to complete last Wednesday!

Do you have anyone helping you with them?
No. I thought about getting a PA but realised I'd have to up my hours to pay one, so instead, I reduced my hours and do my own admin.

If there was one task that you would never do again, what would it be?
Filing and email - even virtual filing takes forever and feels like a thankless task.

Do you have any hacks or workarounds to help you with less enjoyable admin tasks?
I put on loud uplifting music or work for 45 minutes then surf MN or FB for 15 each hour until it's done.

What led to your decision to become a self-employed or freelance worker in the first place?
Several reasons. The work I do is far better paid freelance than full time in house. I have a serious health problem which means I sometimes have to stop work all together. As a freelance I can work my own diary and schedule less or no work when I get ill. It was also so easy when the children were young. Never missed a school play or school pick up.

How did you prepare for that step?
While I was a full-time SAHM when DC were very young I thought hard about how to return to work and decided to set up on my own. I knew there was a market for what I do locally so I started small and just grew slowly by word of mouth. Word of mouth spread nationally and now most of my clients are international.

What kind of support did you seek and who or what was there to support you?
I asked friends in the same field what their rates were and made sure I didn't undercut them. I did a lot of market research on my own, which I enjoy, and studied some relevant online business courses.

-As a business owner or self-employed individual, how do you plan financially and decide on your goals?
My key aim is to stay on top of my illness by not overworking, so I choose to tick along part-time. When we need more money I chase general enquiries that haven't followed up and usually pick up enough work from them to pay for a holiday or extra Christmas expense.

Do you feel financially secure in the current business climate?
Just about. I have just turned down a big contract with a major organisation because they offered me in-house rates for freelance work, and they don't understand it doesn't equate (eg my hourly rate has to factor in unpaid admin, sick pay, holiday pay, pension, NI etc all of which would be provided if I worked in-house. It was hard to turn them down as it would look great on the CV but I am strict about never undercutting myself or others.

-And finally, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
At one point early on I was reliant on a set of difficult clients who expected me to jump to their ever-changing rules. When they wanted me to be responsible for sacking one of their number from a project I refused as it was not my responsibility and withdrew from the project. I went for a very long walk, dreamed up a new project of my own, better structured, with better fees for me, offered it elsewhere and had it accepted within a week. I still am not sure where I got the oomph to do that in a single day but it paid off and ever since I've been better off financially and avoided being messed around by bullying clients.

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