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I think I'm completely out of touch with salaries and pretty much unemployable

39 replies

cool4cats2020 · 24/01/2023 02:26

I've been self employed for the last 15 years, running my own company (niche IT stuff). I've only really paid myself a trivial salary all that time, which has always been enough to live off, but way below what you could employ a similarly skilled/experienced person for on the open market.

I've always thought the business was had been ticking over nicely without really pushing it to increase trade/turnover. But looking back, the turnover has stayed broadly similar figures to what it was 10+ years ago. So factoring in inflation it's shrunk in real terms.

My eldest child is now 14 (and youngest 9), so I've balanced parenthood and work throughout the life of the business, which I've always used as my excuse for the business treading water rather than expanding. And for the last 5 years I've been a single parent too. I've had the luxury of flexibility of my self employment to fit it around family life (to the detriment of the business I suppose).

But the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis has had an effect on my trade/profitability - all of my clients/customers are more directly affected than me, but their tightening of belts has made my trade much tougher. 15 years ago my industry was cutting edge tech and I could sell it at a decent mark up, now it's really mainstream mature tech. And there is far more competition, both from local small businesses like mine, and big nationals.

In particular, I've had one particular customer over the last 10 years who's been a very big contract for me (I'm a minnow, peanuts to them). Analysing my accounts, they've grown to generate 75% of my net profit. Now it looks very much like they won't be continuing to use my services (or at best they might, but I've had to shave pretty much all of the profit out of my quote to retain their custom).

So I'm staring down the barrel of my 20k a year net profit/take home, overnight reducing to about 5k! I've focussed so much on supporting this client that I hadn't realised just how much the rest of my trade has shrunk, particularly over the last 5 years.

So now I'm starting to panic a bit. Obviously I can't live off 5k a year, but winning new business is going to be a real challenge in the current climate/circumstances.

Taking a step back from all this it's made me look around at the jobs market. Unfortunately I live in quite a deprived rural area and there isn't that much skilled work about without travelling miles (not really practical as a single parent with two kids still at primary school).

I've just ran the numbers and from this April the National Min Wage works out to nearly 22k a year. That's shocked me - I could go and stack shelves in Tesco and earn more than I have been doing! I'm still earning now similar to what I was in my first graduate job 20 odd years ago. I've just not noticed that everyone else has passed me by!

So here I am - mid 40's, highly educated (Masters degree in science, then nearly got a PhD), but no real career, and almost zero meaningful employment experience. I did a year here and there in a few different jobs post uni, then postgrad study/research and then I went the self employed route (in my field, but arguably at a much lower level than I should have strived to).

I haven't updated my CV in 20 years (not had any need to), but it'll have a massive black hole for actual employment experience. Recently I saw a big local(ish) employer advertising a load of vacancies. I even went to a recruiting event they put on. There were a couple of roles that I could do easily (in terms of skillset, they're similar to what I was doing in early graduate roles 20 years ago). Unfortunately, the shifts they wanted (7am to 6pm 4 days a week, plus a standby rota for evenings, nights and weekends) would be impossible to work around my kids.

But the starting salaries they were suggesting were around 50k. That totally shocked me. But then most of my old uni friends are earning way more than that.

I'm not sure what I'm asking here, just feeling like I've really underachieved and wasted the last 25 years. And now I must look like a terrible employment prospect with zero real world employment experience, and completely out of touch with current salaries. After 15 years self employed, and doing my own thing totally solo on my own terms and in my own hours. I'm not even sure I could adjust to working for someone else, commuting and doing regular hours.

OP posts:

ThePoetsWife · 24/01/2023 07:06

Don't forget the impact on your pension - have you been paying into one? And are you keeping up your national insurance contributions - if not then this could mean not having the full state pension.

I would apply and see if you can arrange flexible working. Keep looking at childcare options.


PaperDoves · 24/01/2023 07:15

Everyone has given great advice already, but I just wanted to say that you sound like a very intelligent and capable person and I have no doubt you'll be able to pivot to employment if that's what you need to do.


AnuSTart · 24/01/2023 07:18

Breathe deep.
You have no black hole.
Are you a developer? If so what languages? What tools can and do you use? Are you a Sysadmin?
Update your CV.
Companies out there are screaming out for IT skilled people. I'm trying to hire!


PoseyFlump · 24/01/2023 07:24

I was where you are now six months ago. My business is still going but took a battering over the pandemic and CoL crisis (mainly cost of supplies)

I am now working for someone else and my business is a side hussle. I thought it would be nice working in a team again. However, the usual office politics are just the same and I am now looking at building my business back up so I can go back to doing it full time. I miss the flexibility and lack of travelling costs!

So my advice, if at all possible, is to try and build your business back if you can. I know it's stressful but working for someone else after being your own boss for years has it's own stresses!


CoffeeTeaCoffee · 24/01/2023 07:25

Speak to recruiters within the IT sector. It's one of the most flexible in terms of wfh and you will have so many skills from running your own business!


WonderingWanda · 24/01/2023 07:28

If you are facing the prospect of only earning 5k in a year then you can afford to approach some of these high paying 50k jobs with the proposition of homeworking /flexible working at a lower starting salary. Be cheeky, explain your situation, sell your skills and tell them what you need and how you can save them money.


Forfrigz · 24/01/2023 07:30

Self employed is still employed though, you just have more of a chance to blag your own merit. Also, people working in Tesco 'stacking shelves' do not have an easy job by any means, and Tesco among other large companies is not an easy company to work with. Just have a wee think before you slander what is a key worker role.


Thingamebobwotsit · 24/01/2023 07:32

Haven't read all the pp. But this wouldn't put me off recruiting you and it is easy to lose track of the job market when self employed. Don't beat yourself up about it.

If you haven't had it yet then start polishing off your CV and get some recruitment consultants to review it for you.

Options are:

Seek perm roles (might take a while)
Sign up for temp and interim roles with an agency. Remember to chase them.
Look at contract jobs

But my advice would be to start looking and speak to recruiting agencies sooner rather than later.


gogohmm · 24/01/2023 07:34

You should be able to get wfh in that kind of role. Register with agencies and look on the guardian jobs page. Not for profits are likely to be interested


PlaitBilledDuckyPuss · 24/01/2023 07:36

If you have been self-employed, there is no gap on your CV - include this job as you would include any other.


DressingForRevenge · 24/01/2023 07:40

I was where you are a year ago OP and interviewers seemed to think SW was “amazing”. In the end I decided I didn’t fancy any pressure at all and took a v flexible job with the LA and it’s an absolute doddle - albeit quarter of the wage I’d have got if I’d gone purely on skill set.

Anyway, a change of circumstances (health) means I’m going back to SE and am building that up nicely before I make the jump. LA doesn’t require much “head space” and no 5am meetings with Tokyo.

As a single parent with ND children I wasn’t able to commit to the “big” jobs.


Roselilly36 · 24/01/2023 07:47

Sounds like you have a lot of skills that would be attractive to employers, particularly IT, what area of IT is your niche? Can you find employment within that specific area? Would any of your existing clients look to hire you on an employed basis? Good luck going forward OP.


Cyanchicken · 24/01/2023 20:01

My best friend has just gone back to work in IT after 8 years out (sahm) and is earning 45k in an analyst role - her background was IT windows administration, knows a bit of Linux, Active Directory etc. she can't believe it!!
There's also great government schemes now to do a refresh and re entry to market place so look those up if your confidence is low and needs a bit of a boost.


Changechangychange · 24/01/2023 20:06

OP, I don’t know anyone who works in IT who doesn’t work from home - they were one of the first industries to embrace home working, and one of the last holdouts re: going back, as far as I can tell.

Both my husband and brother’s agencies are fully remote - there is no office to return to. If your children can make their own way to and from school, you can work those shift patterns.

I also suspect you can make much more than £50k, that is a really low salary for an experienced IT worker.

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