Random Thoughts on Ten years of Self-Employment

thoughts on self-employment

I completely forgot to mention it at the time, but last month marked the ten year anniversary of Terry and I starting our own business and becoming self-employed.

Ten years. It’s a long time. If our business was a baby, it would be almost ready to start high school by now. It would probably be listening to Justin Beiber and asking us to buy it a pony, and when your business is old enough to want a pony, you know you probably owe it a quick blog post, at the very least.

Ten years. When we started out, I didn’t even dare to dream we would still be doing this ten years later. (And by “this”, I just mean “running our own business”: back then I was doing a mixture of copyrighting and freelance journalism, and I REALLY didn’t dare to dream that one day I’d make a living out of blogging. I don’t think ANYONE did.) I mean, I HOPED it would be forever – I knew that, whatever happened next, I really, really didn’t want to ever go back into traditional employment – but it was such a struggle in those early days that I really didn’t have much time to think at all. I just somehow kept things ticking over from day-to-day, eking out every last penny we had, and when I couldn’t eke it out any further, selling most of my clothes on eBay to pay the bills. In some ways I think it was better that way: Terry was on dialysis at the time, and we knew there was a kidney transplant looming frighteningly in the future at some point, so although in many ways it must have seemed crazy to people that we’d choose THAT particular time to start a business, I think the fact that I had something so all-consuming to focus on might just have saved my sanity.

Self-employment saved my sanity in many other respects, too. By the time I quit my day job, I was very, very unhappy, and more stressed than I’d ever been in my life. Part of it was due to the circumstances of that particular job, but a lot of it was down to, well, ME, really. It’s strange, but all of the things people tell me they’d hate about self-employment are the things I hated about traditional employment. “Isn’t it awful, being stuck in the house all day?” they ask, and all I can think is that it isn’t HALF as awful as being stuck in that awful grey office block all day, with its constantly ringing phones, and always someone hovering over me, telling me what to do and when to do it. In fact, self-employment isn’t awful AT ALL in that respect, because I’m actually NOT stuck anywhere. I can get up and leave my house any time I want: I couldn’t do that in any of my previous jobs – I had to account for every second of my time, right down to logging how much time I spent in the bathroom (yes, really). I remember feeling totally trapped: looking out of my office window at the world going by, and feeling like I had absolutely no part of it, because I couldn’t leave that stuffy little box until the clock struck 5, and then I’d just go home and collapse on the sofa, worn out from stress and boredom, and filled with dread at the thought of having to do it all again the next day.

“Isn’t it lonely?” they always ask next. And, again, no, not even a little bit. I know working-from-home isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always been a loner, and I’ve never been much of a people-person, so the fact that I DON’T have to constantly deal with Others is a huge relief to me. And, of course, you DO still get to see people. When I tell people I work from home, a lot of them seem to instantly adopt this slightly strange belief that I am never allowed to LEAVE my home, and that I never, ever get to see people. Actually, the opposite is true: I see my friends and family more now than I did when I had a “proper” job, because my schedule is completely flexible, and I no longer spend my evenings and weekends either passed-out from the combined stress and exhaustion of doing something I hate all day, every day, or catching up on all of the chores I didn’t have time for during the week. You DO get to leave your home. You DO get to see other people: and the beauty of it is that you get to leave your home whenever you want to (as opposed to whenever your boss grants you permission), and to see the people you actually CHOOSE to see, rather than the ones you’re forced to see because you work with them. I always find it a bit strange that so many people seem to believe that work is the ONLY opportunity for social interaction, or the only option for “getting out of the house”: that wasn’t the case when I DID have a traditional job, and it’s definitely not the case now.

Our business has changed a lot since those early days, of course. When we started out, a lot of my time was spent on helping Terry find clients for his web development work, or hunting down freelance writing clients for myself. These days I TRULY work for myself: all of my time is spent on blogging, and it’s absolutely perfect for me. I have no clients to worry about (See ‘Not a People Person’), no deadlines, other than self-imposed ones, and, best of all, NO BOSS. Except myself, obviously, and, OK, Rubin. Would it suit everyone? Absolutely not. It suits me because of my very introverted personality type, and because of my tendency to get super-stressed over the tiniest things – a tendency which is mitigated by the low-stress job I’ve created for myself. In another time, I’d probably have been a hermit, living in a little hovel on a mountainside somewhere, and chasing away random passers-by with a big stick. Thankfully I live in the time of the internet: it’s possible to work for yourself and still remain connected to the rest of the world. I mean, some days I even shower and everything!

I love it, is what I’m trying to say. (The job, I mean, not the showering. Although the showering is nice, too, granted.) I am so grateful to be able to do this, and even although it’s still sometimes hard, and I live with the constant fear that it will one day end, and I’ll be sent back to that little grey box of an office (I have actual nightmares about it, at least once a week), I can honestly say I’ve never regretted it, not even for a moment.

Here’s to ten more years! (I hope…)

[Edit: in the original version of this, I said that last YEAR marked the 10th anniversary... I actually meant last MONTH. D'oh!]

40 Comments

  • Mum says:

    You’re a great team and you both work very hard. Funnily enough you’ve just described how much I enjoy being retired. Here’s to at least ten more!

  • Lauren says:

    Congratulations – it’s clear that you’ve both made such a success of it because you’re talented at what you do. I also hear you on the stress side of things – I’m happy where I am at the moment (though being brought up by self-employed parents does make me yearn for that lifestyle a little), but last year when I was in a new job it made me realise how stressful things can be. Like you say, it was the clients that were the problem in this one – the responsibility to keep them happy, balance their demands and essentially do whatever they wanted was exhausting. I may still be “typically” employed, but I know a little of what it’s like to decide “no more”, and good on you for making that decision all those years ago. Talk about making the right one!!

    • Amber says:

      Clients can definitely be difficult… even back when I was freelancing it could be hard – I remember one woman calling me at 3am one night! – which is why I like blogging so much! Luckily Terry is the complete opposite of me, and is very much a people-person, so we balance each other out!

  • amy says:

    Congratulations on ten years of self employment, Amber! I dream of going ‘full-time’ freelance one day, rather than juggling a full-time job with freelance commitments, and have found this post to be very inspirational!

    • Amber says:

      Aww, that’s lovely to hear! I think freelancing on the side is a good way to get into it (albeit an absolutely exhausting one!), so I really hope it pays off for you!

  • Miriam says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m always very interested in the ones who made it to self-employment! Blogging full-time is the dream – but you are right, the uncertainty of how long it will last is probably always there. Those questions you get from the Others: I believe that half of them are insanely jealous, and the other half think that their way of life (being employed) is right, therefore anybody else’s must be wrong. I love your blog, and hope you will continue much longer than 10 years!
    Also, one question: where in the world did you find a red, black and gold bottle of Daisy perfume? Is it custom-made? It’s perfect for your style!

    • Amber says:

      I think those comments/questions are becoming less frequent now that more and more people are working from home, whether it be telecommuting for an employer or freelance/self-employed. Ten years ago it was still quite an unusual thing to do (I remember people constantly asking me when I was going “back to work”!), so people just couldn’t wrap their heads around it: they genuinely couldn’t understand how we could be AT HOME but also AT WORK!

      The perfume was actually sent to me by a PR a couple of years ago – I think it was maybe a limited edition or something? It’s almost all used up now, but the bottle is so pretty I don’t think I’ll be able to throw it away!

  • Wow! 10 years – that’s amazing and congrats!

    I’ve just become self-employed 4 months ago, but currently only have one client for whom I do Social Media Management and business development. My partner is now also self-employed and I agree with everything you say – it works for some and not for others, but I tell you, my partner and I were not made for dark small boxes with people who are not as creative and unhappy, sucking out all the energy out of us. I’m so happy right now, but I would love to blog full-time and earn money from it so that’s something that I need to really work on.

    So glad to hear you are doing so well!

    Tatyana x
    Secret little Stars
    http://www.secretlittlestars.com

    • Amber says:

      Ooh, how exciting for you! I definitely think it helps when both of you are doing it: it’s a little scarier financially, obviously, but at least you have someone to share it with!

  • Sarah says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, I’m always interested to hear how other people have made the jump to being self employed. I’m currently on sabbatical from my full time job and couldn’t be happier (I don’t want to go back!). Like you, I’m not really a ‘people person’ and I actually have no problem being indoors all day. I used to do everything possible to get out of going to work socials, I was like “I spend all day with you people, I don’t want to socialise with you as well!”. Maybe one day I’ll be able to live the dream and work from home!

    • Amber says:

      Haha, you sound exactly like me! In my last job, they were constantly arranging social events, and I was constantly being reprimanded for my non-attendance… I just hated having the job eat into even more of my personal time than it was already, though: I mean, I liked my colleagues fine, but I was already spending at least nine hours of every day with them, which was more time than I got to spend with my friends and family. The last thing I wanted to do was see them on the evenings/weekends, too!

      Oh, and they also used to constantly try and send me on training courses, which invariably meant me spending 5 days in a Travel Lodge next to the motorway on the outskirts or Birmingham or somewhere (no offence to Birmingham), listening to presentations about “blue sky thinking” or some other business buzzword I had absolutely no interest in. I point-blank refused to go: life is way too short, and being quite an anxious person, just the thought of it gave me panic attacks!

  • This was an interesting read – I look at people like yourself making a career out of blogging as both brave to take the first steps into self-employment and also some kind of geniuses! I’m not sure I could ever be so brave (or as much of a genius!), because despite also being introverted and generally unable to stand being surrounded by others in an office environment, I’m still a big old scaredy cat about the thought of leaving a 9-5 job (well, 9-5:30, just to make it extra sole destroying). I am filled with admiration for those who do though, so kudos to you! I like seeing bloggers making it work, working from the ground up – it warms my office-enslaved heart! :) CC

    • Amber says:

      To be completely honest, if Terry hadn’t gotten ill, I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to do it either. I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but it was just too scary to make that leap into the unknown. In the end, though, we felt like we had no choice: Terry had to leave his job because of his illness, and I was so stressed out, by that and by the job itself, that I couldn’t have continued with mine either. I will never be thankful that Terry got ill, obviously, but it was definitely the push we needed to find a way to make it work!

  • Lizz Dot says:

    Cheers!!! Here’s to another 10!!!!

  • Your description of your previous life with “the others” is pretty much mine with sprinkles on. There is nothing worse in ones life, than driving for hours to spend your whole day in something akin to a prison with very mean warders and scheming, conniving, disloyal fellow inmates (workmates). To then to drive home for hours, only to subject yourself to the same horrible experience all over again a few hours later.
    No matter what monies or benefits you are paid, nothing can compensate for the loss of your life’s time and for dampening and sometimes killing the free spirit that resides in everyone.
    The satisfaction of genuinely incepting, nurturing and growing something that has made you financially independent and that is solely of your own making, has got to be one of the most primal and profound emotions that a human can feel in our sanitised and overregulated modern lives.

    • Amber says:

      This is it exactly – I really felt trapped by it, and thought of feeling like that for the rest of my life was pretty terrifying. Of course, you and R have been a big inspiration to us both, so thank you for your kind words :)

  • Congratulation on your 10 year anniversary Amber, Ive just started my own business from home as a freelance wedding floral designer, fingers crossed I get to where you are now. Well done xx

  • Well done guys and here’s to another 10 plus years

  • Erika says:

    Wow, ten years seems like a long time, but in reality it goes by so fast, it probably doesn’t even feel like it’s been that long. Congratulations on your milestone! And, to be able to work from home with your husband is just wonderful! :-)

  • Congrats on the 10 years!

  • Suzanne says:

    Congratulations!

    I loved this post and your description of what it is really like to work from home. So many people have weird ideas and look at you like they feel sorry for you.

    Soon people will no longer think that working from home is only what SAHMs do.

    bisous
    Suzanne

  • Alvina says:

    I’m so impressed, I won’t believe you no more when you say you are a lazy person.
    And I think this is my favourite post so far!

  • Clawdeer says:

    Congratulations Amber and Terry… and Rubin!!

    I can really identify with what you say about being an introvert, am a bit of one myself and can especially relate to the part about the Hermit… Am almost tempted some days, except there are no caves with Wifi in my neck of the woods.

    Thanks for sharing and I pray that you and Terry will continue to thrive. God bless you both!

  • Rosie says:

    Congratulations, that’s no mean feat at all. I would love to be able to go freelance full time and work on projects that truly excite me. It’s difficult to put your all into something you aren’t passionate about or excited by.

    Rosie x

  • wendy says:

    I cannot believe it’s been 10 years! Where did the time go? I remember your unhappy days of employment and the scary time with the transplant and it is wonderful to see how much both your lives have changed for the better. xx

  • Emily says:

    Congratulations to you both. I am so glad you do this because I enjoy your blogs so much. Keep up the great work.

  • Congratulations!

    I’m currently working part-time, freelancing part-time; I haven’t quite figured out how to shift the balance yet but intend to for all of the reasons you say. Also, the creeping realisation that my (shoddy) financial situation is entirely dictated by the value my employer puts on my job title, not by how much work I do/effort I put in – I’d much rather more effort led to better rewards!

    • Amber says:

      That’s actually what prompted me to make the move from freelancing for other people’s websites to running my own. I realised I was doing something for someone else that I could actually do BY myself, and at least that way any money my writing made would come to me, rather than being split between me and someone else! It was a bit of a come-to-Jesus moment! It’s also one of the reasons I get so annoyed when people steal my work: it just infuriates me to think I’ve been working in order to benefit someone else!

  • Wow ten years, congratulations. You and Terry seem like such a dream team :)

  • sarah says:

    Hi Amber, I recently discovered your blog and you’ve become my favourite UK blogger. Your posts always make me smile. This post really resonated with me because I’ve recently had to take on an office job where I feel trapped and unhappy. This is especially tough after having a previous job which I adored and had a lot of flexibility and freedom and was practically self-employed. Staying positive about my current circumstances is hard, and I know that ultimately self-employment and working from home is where I want to be. But reading this made me feel hopeful that I will get back to that happy, freeing space. Thanks for always making me chuckle.

    • Amber says:

      Oh, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been feeling like that: I remember well how horrible it feels to be trapped doing something you don’t enjoy. I hope things pick up for you soon!

  • Aunt fiona says:

    Well done, here’s to another 30 yrs xxxx

  • char says:

    Well done on ten years and on finding something that you love to do. It’s so important, I think, that people are happy in what they do. I run my own-business, but I don’t think that I have the self-motivation to work from home- I get too easily distracted.

  • Call me M says:

    Congratulations Amber and Terry. 10 years is quite a milestone, and I’m sure you’ve both worked really hard to be able to be self-employed.
    I really wish I could do the same, for the same reasons as you, but mostly because I love the freedom of being my own boss, and have a flexible schedule. Plus I also get super stressed over the tiniest things, and I’m sure that a “regular” job, is not exactly for me.

  • Congratulations! Such a massive acheivement :)

    I’m 5 years in now, and it’s so true – as soon as I started I just knew that ‘normal’ employment just isn’t for me! The only thing I really miss about working for someone else is the regular wage packet (but that is now getting more regular with time!) and the office interaction (but I have a fabulous network of support from fellow freelancers who I talk to online!)

    So yay for you and Terry, and here’s to self employment!

  • Corinne says:

    That was a lovely read, Amber! You are living my dream =) I’m so self motivated and would really like to get into this full time, that problem is my real job gets in the way of being able to commit to doing things such as free lance work at the moment. Just working on building my blog at the moment and hopefully one day I’ll be able to go part time and branch out a little more!

    Thanks for the inspiration =)

    Corinne x

  • Leslie says:

    Congratulations! (Albeit belated!) It’s so wonderful that you were able to “escape” from the traditional job rat race. Here’s to many, many more!

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