Yes, it’s a thrill. But so much work in ways you never even imagined. Career coach Vicki Marinker weighs up the benefits versus the downsides.

Start your own business, they said. Be your own boss, they said. It will be so great! And of course, in many ways it is. The flexibility, the lack of commute, the freedom to define your own work life, the absence of a pesky boss eyeing the clock every time you come back late from lunch. The longed-for escape from the rat race to do your own thing.

But being your own boss is certainly not a breeze. In fact for some of us it’s genuinely terrifying, especially if it’s the result of losing your job or just not being able to get the kind of work you want. So you take a deep breath, vow to take some control, steel yourself for the next brave steps… and then what?

Well it’s worth knowing that being self-employed might not be what you’ve imagined – and it doesn’t necessarily suit everybody.

Career coach Vicki Marinker (pictured) is much happier being self-employed than employed but, she says, there are flip sides to each benefit:

Benefit: freedom and independence
Downside: unpredictability and financial insecurity

Benefit: I get to choose who I work with
Downside: I have to learn to deal with rejection

Benefit: I can pivot and change with the market. Being on my own means I can be agile.
Downside: I have to do everything myself – IT, finance, marketing, social media, new business development etc

Benefit: I’m in control of my own diary
Downside: the boundaries are completely blurred and I’m often working late at night or over the weekends. If I take annual leave, I won’t be paid.

Benefit: The earning potential is limitless
Downside: the reality is that work comes in peaks and troughs. Good months are followed by quiet months. Impossible to plan.

Benefit: solitude. I don’t have to make endless cups of tea for colleagues or make small talk
Downside: solitude. No one to informally run things through with. On my own most of the time.

Benefit: responsibility – the buck stops with me
Downside: responsibility – the buck stops with me!

There can certainly be some shocks and disappointments if you think being self-employed is only about the fun bits. Suse B Bentley, a coach and trainer who specialises in teaching Gen X women ‘Scaredy-Cat Skills’ says : “I think one of the biggest downsides is that there’s no road map for how to be a good freelancer or entrepreneur and this can trip a lot of people up. It means that the limiting beliefs and lack of confidence or clarity you may have had as an employee or as a result of redundancy comes with you into the freelance world.”

There’s also the gradual realisation that you have to do everything – literally everything – yourself.

Says Suse: “Moving from employed to freelance means that you’re having to look after your own tax and pension, do your accounts, market your services, be very visible on social media – and more. And without a road map, you’re feeling your way. We can often get stuck on the idea that ‘I’m just going to do one more bit of training,’ or ‘I just need to do more planning’ and end up getting totally confused about how to value ourselves as a freelancer and what we can offer clients”.

Hela Wozniak Kay, who co-founded women’s business network Sister Snog 20 years ago and is well-versed in the highs and lows, says: “Don’t think that running a business will set you free…it will take over your life, consume your thoughts, pull out your entrails and challenge your very soul. But it’s also a hair-raising, often thrilling ride. The best advice is to find a gang of like-minds on the same journey”.

The finances can soon become a struggle. Female freelancers are paid 19% less than men. Talking about money is awkward and we aren’t born with innate negotiating skills.

But there’s also the fact that we need to see the work we do as a business and charge accordingly. In order to live well, the rate you charge shouldn’t just cover the time spent on the actual work in hand but has to also cover your costs and time spent doing all your admin, marketing, accounts and all the rest. But it takes confidence to fight for the rate you want.

Says Suse: “But in spite of all this, it’s worth it and the positives do outweigh the negatives. Make sure you have people around you that do the same thing as you, or are on the same page. There are so many cool networking and co working spaces and groups now. It’s sometimes better to not talk to your nearest and dearest about what you’ve got going on in your business because they might not necessarily understand. So find your tribe”.

Words: Marina Gask

For more on the reality of running a business, 21 female entrepreneurs share their biggest challenges here.

Looking for expert advice? The Audrey Members’ Club is a whole world of support, coaching and expertise for women through self-employment, changing careers, running a business or launching one. Join us to kickstart your future, whatever that may be.