Rachel Suddart from Words by Rachel celebrates five years in self-employment.
It’s official. I’m in the minority amongst my friends - and it’s not just my unusual taste in music - I actually love my job. Although, it wasn’t always this way. Here’s how it happened.
Five years ago, I tentatively stepped into the world of self-employment. It wasn’t a long-term ambition and it certainly wasn’t on my life plan but circumstances threw up the opportunity and I jumped.
After moving back to Cumbria, I was juggling a young family with a part-time marketing job and I found myself trying to squeeze a full-time role into three days a week. I’m not the sort of person who can say ‘I’m not working that day’ and if you tell that to a journalist more than once you can sit back and watch the column inches fade away. It was difficult to progress any further within the organisation because I couldn’t be flexible enough to meet the needs of the business and there weren’t many great part-time opportunities around with enough progression to meet my needs.
The solution? Setting up on my own and flying solo. A scary, but exciting thought.
I wanted a job where I could utilise all the skills and experience I’d picked up over the years (tick), I wanted to be challenged every day (tick), I wanted to do what I loved (tick), get paid (tick) and still be able to work flexibly around my family responsibilities (tick). If I was going to pour in my heart and soul it might as well be something I had at least some sort of control over, right? I wanted work to work for me.
Five years in and I’m pleased to say that so far, those boxes are still being ticked (and often highlighted with a fluorescent marker. Well, who doesn’t like an organised, visually pleasing checklist?). It’s been an incredible few years, I’ve worked with some great clients and there have been tears and laughter in equal measure.
Would I have set up on my own if we’d stayed in a city? I’m not sure. Will I be here in five years’ time? I hope so. Has there been days when I’ve felt like chucking it all in? Of course. But faced with making the same choices, would I do it all again? In a heartbeat.
Self-employment isn’t for everyone but luckily my worst traits have been my biggest allies. I’m too stubborn to stop unless I’ve completed something to my best ability. My guilty conscience keeps me at a desk when I could be out in the sunshine and my proclivity for a plan A, plan B (and sometimes even plan C) means projects are properly planned, targets are reached and deadlines are consistently met.
As I celebrate five years in business, whilst silently giving thanks to the gods of self-employment, here are five things I’ve learned about running your own business in Cumbria.
1. Your position in the marketplace will change.
No matter how much research you do, you can’t really know the marketplace until you are in it. The more you work in your sector in your area, the more you will discover. New businesses will start up, industry trends will change and funding streams can take a completely different direction. Quickly. Although you have no control over any of this, you can get ahead of the game by being aware of the changes and staying up to date with new developments. You need to be clear about what you can offer to people and have confidence in your product or service - but try to be flexible in your approach. Keep a check on how you deliver your services and develop new ways to meet the needs of potential clients and customers. Those that can adapt are more likely to last the distance.
2. Finding time to be active in your working day is much harder than in a city.
The myth that all Cumbrians pop out on their lunch break to do a spot of mountain climbing is just that, a myth. I’m sure that there are some people that do it, but I can safely say that it doesn’t happen in my house. When I lived in London and Newcastle, I did tons of walking within my working day. I walked to work, I ran up and down countless corridors and flights of stairs in multi storied buildings, I trekked to meetings, traversed high streets on lunch breaks, trailed home and then danced myself silly in nightclubs. Now I sit at my desk, hurtle across the county to meetings in a car, sit in front of a desk again and make packed lunches in the evenings. (Note to self: have more breaks. Run more. Dance while making the packed lunch). On the plus side, when you do find yourself stuck in a Cumbrian traffic jam, there’s often a stunning view to look at through the window.
3. Cumbria is a great place to do business.
There are lots of organisations, networking groups, businesses and initiatives in Cumbria all designed to help you in your endeavours. Generally, people are incredibly supportive. There’s a real sense of community and a genuine wish for you to succeed. Lots of people collaborate, many small businesses join forces and work together and there are lots of events, social media campaigns and business programmes working hard to provide support. The key is to ensure that what’s on offer is suitable for your business and always, always try to network effectively. Listen to advice from peers, advisors and well-meaning mentors but have faith in your own abilities to make the decisions that are right for you. One size doesn’t fit all and as your confidence grows you can work out where best to put those proverbial apples. Oh, and don’t forget to play nice. The Cumbrian business community is welcoming and supportive and people do listen to each other and share recommendations. But it works both ways. They also share bad experiences and reputations can be easily tarnished. You have been warned.
4. (And this is one I’m still struggling with) Organisation only takes you part of the way
You can have as many spreadsheets as you like, have a schedule that can rival any military operation and yet still circumstances come out of left field, throw you off track and leave you shivering in a heap on the floor. It happens to everyone, it doesn’t have to be a big deal and it certainly doesn’t mean you are a failure. Keep your PR smile firmly fixed and read on to number 5…
5. Everything is a learning experience.
Without a large organisation, HR department or established framework behind you, there’s no manual to tell you what to do. Treat everything as a learning experience. Everyone you work with, every project you develop, every potential client meeting, it’s all just another chance to learn something new. Keep abreast of industry developments, explore new training opportunities and stretch yourself. Even if it all goes wrong, it’s never time wasted - just something to chalk up for next time.
And finally… OK, I know I said five, but I never claimed to be good at counting!
When you are self-employed, there’ll always be people who think you are living the life of Riley, watching daytime TV, ‘professionally lunching’ and taking time off whenever you feel like. But for every one of those people there’s someone like you who is putting in early mornings and late nights, juggling meetings and childcare in the school holidays, working their (Cumbrian) socks off – and LOVING every minute.
Thanks to everyone who has helped me survive the first five years. Here’s to the next five.
By Rachel Suddart at Words by Rachel, Marketing & Communications Services for businesses, projects and organisations in Cumbria and beyond. Using words to connect people, products and ideas.
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