Time is precious. Everyone’s time. And none of us ever have enough of it.  As a self-employed marketing consultant, I face many challenges when it comes to managing my time (like many of you do) because ‘time is money’ and we all need a certain amount of money to live on. Being ‘time poor’ can cause a lot of unnecessary worry and stress.

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day 2017, and whilst I’ve always considered myself to have fairly good mental and physical health, there are times when I too struggle to maintain a positive attitude – and these times are generally due to the stresses of a busy working life.

Lately I’ve seen personal friends and business connections speak out about their daily struggles with issues like anxiety or the pressures of scaling their business and I applaud them, because it’s important for people to hear the good and the bad things about self-employment and life in general, and for those individuals to address their situations and know they have a support network around them. So here’s a bit of my story.

The Challenges

Although I do very similar work to what I did when I worked in marketing roles in companies and marketing agencies, there are a few very distinct differences that make all the difference!

In an employed role, I was paid a salary designed to reward me for the work I did. This included the time I spent on marketing and business development activity to win work, time spent delivering it and time spent managing staff and so on. I also received an expenses payment on top of this salary to cover the work related mileage I did in my own car and things like parking charges that had to be paid whilst I was attending meetings. By comparison, in the self-employed world, I don’t get paid for the many hours of work I do to win work or manage the business, only for what I earn delivering the work I win, so at times it feels like I only get paid for half of what I do. Imagine living on half your salary.

You choose this path, some may say and indeed I did. Those who are self-employed will know that it’s not all bad or we wouldn’t still do it – in fact, it’s been the most challenging, satisfying and rewarding experience of my career to date. And by rewarding, I’m not talking purely or primarily about financial rewards but also about the experiential rewards – the great people I’ve met, the projects I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in, the recognition I’ve gained in nominations and shortlists for business awards and the gratitude expressed by clients for jobs well done. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

The Solutions

We all need a helping hand and a kind word at times. Have you ever thought about what you can do to support the small businesses and self-employed people who make up such a large proportion of the UK’s workforce? I could list many ideas, but here are 5 suggestions based on challenges that I or fellow freelancers/business owners I know have experienced that make our lives that bit more unnecessarily stressful.

  1. Show Gratitude for Generosity

Self-employed people, although short of time, are among the most generous I’ve come across – we understand the importance of supporting others, giving something back and even giving something for nothing at times. However, I’ve chatted with other self-employed people who’ve felt they’ve been ‘taken for a ride’ as free consultations are used as free consultancy and training with no intention to purchase, or as my Mum often said as I was growing up ‘the more you do, the more you get doing’. Show your gratitude in any way you can. Give them a testimonial instead or refer them on to others.

  1. Don’t Haggle Unnecessarily Over Rates

Some say it’s a very Northern Ireland thing to do and if so, it’s not one of our most attractive traits. Although I have 15 years practical experience, and spent many years studying to gain my qualifications, often at my own expense, it’s not uncommon for potential clients to expect to pay me less than I pay my hairdresser for an hour of her time to wash, cut and blow dry my hair, or less than my mechanic’s hourly rate for changing my oil filters. Now, that’s not meant to suggest that these service providers are not skilled in their professions, they are, but consider how you interact with other professional services providers like accountants, solicitors, financial advisers, HR consultants and IT professionals.  How often do you haggle with your accountant or solicitor when they name their price?

  1. Compare Service Based on Value, Not Price.

We’re all unique. It may sometimes be the case that you have to get 2 or 3 quotes from different service providers for a project but don’t assess each based purely on price, look at the overall value offered. No two people are identical in terms of their qualifications, experience, circumstances and what they can bring to the table, so pricing can vary a lot but so can the offering. If you do have to compare based on price because you have a limited budget, make it clear from the outset what your budget is so that a provider can tell you outright if they will be able to work within your budget to avoid wasting their time or yours. If you are more specific and honest with each other from the start, both the client and services provider will have a more satisfying and beneficial experience.

  1. If You Ask For Their Advice, Give Them Feedback 

You’d be surprised how many companies don’t provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to a proposal that they’ve actually asked for! There have been times when I’ve spent 5-15 minutes on the phone with someone, emailed to clarify requirements, drove to their premises and met with them, paid mileage and parking fees and gave up more of my time (unbillable time!) to prepare a proposal only to be met with….. silence. No response to my follow-up emails, phone calls or voicemails. This is very disheartening and even one of these instances in a month can have a noticeable impact on our take-home pay because it’s lost time that could’ve been spent on a delivering paying work. If someone gives you their time, skills and expertise, take time to give them some feedback, even if it’s not what they’ll want to hear. This way, we’ll have learned something, and if there’s been delays internally that are nothing to do with us, tell us that too so at least we know what is going on and whether an opportunity still exists.

  1. Pay Your Invoices on Time

This is one of the biggest challenges for a small business and the one that can be the deal-breaker in terms of whether a self-employed person continues to follow their dream or feels forced to give up and return to an employed role. How would you feel if you knew that alongside you, a few other clients had also failed to pay that individual on time and as a result, month end had come and gone and they were left worrying about how they would pay their mortgage and household bills on half a salary, despite having done the work? Then to add insult to injury, think about all the extra unbillable hours they now have to waste in chasing you for this money. Treat your invoices like you do your monthly payroll process, and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.

I’ll stop here! This is not meant to be a rant or a tale of woe – just an honest account of the challenges self-employed people face. My household bills get paid on time, I’ve got a roof over my head and food on the table, reasonably good health, good friends and family, and on the whole, I love what I do, despite the many challenges! But sometimes we all need to be reminded to spare a thought for others and consider the impact of our actions, or non-actions on other people’s mental and physical health, performance and general well-being! Small changes in how we treat others can make a huge difference to their lives.

The Call to Action and The Disclaimer!

I’d love to hear your feedback – but only constructive feedback, please! This is not designed to inspire people to rant (excessively) about their woes. Neither is it specifically aimed to ‘make a dig’ at any one individual or group of individuals who have ‘wronged’ me in the past as that would also be wrong so please don’t think that either. It simply aims to encourage us all to spare a thought for others, to think about each other as individuals with individual goals and needs, and to encourage us to explore how we can positively and proactively help and support those who come across our paths, and not just the self-employed business owners, independent consultants and freelancers – everyone!

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