Monday, January 19, 2009

Early reflections on going solo

I thought I should capture my thoughts on life as a solo act, so that I can look back in a few years and see if my views have changed.

Let's start with the minuses, so that I can end on an up:

  1. Sometimes I am so busy working in the business, I don't get any time to work on the business. For example, I put together a website, which has been met with a round of indifference. I lack the skills to make it more interesting, I lack the time to acquire the skills and I lack the money to pay someone else to do it for me. I put in a few proposals and the feedback indicates this is another area I need to work on. Once again - no time, no skills, no money.
  2. I have absolutely no understanding of PAYE and VAT and accounts and all that blarge. I am not in the slightest bit interested in it, either. So I appointed an accountant and hoped it would all just go away. It didn't. The accountant emails me and asks for this form and that reference number. I don't even understand what she wants, let alone know where to find it.
  3. I am a gregarious person. I love to interact with people, much to the disgust of an erstwhile colleague who preferred the sepulchral silence of a morgue. I find being on my own day in and day out quite desolate.
  4. Other people (including my children, sometimes) don't respect the fact that I have work to do and deadlines to meet. They expect me to be able to do this or that thing at the drop of a hat.
  5. I have never been very good at compartmentalising my life. Now that my office is at home, I often forget to leave and can easily spend 16 hours in front of my computer.
  6. Cashflow. This is the Achilles' heel of so many small businesses. Clients don't pay until they feel like it, and, because they're big corporates, you're somewhat powerless. Do I want to sic a lawyer on them? If I do, they'll probably just opt not to use me in the future, and I can ill afford to be offending clients at this point! But it's not always about the big boys doing what they please. I have one situation where I needed a certain application to be able to complete a job for a client, but it was expensive and I couldn't afford it until the client had paid me. But why should the client pay me for work I hadn't done? In the end, the client bought the software for me and will deduct the amount from my first invoice.
Okay, that's enough negativity for now:
  1. I get to work when it suits me. I have settled into a pattern of doing the school run most days. I don't have to be in the office by 8:30am, and no-one comes to boot me out so he can lock up at 8pm.
  2. I get to dress as I please. If the boys are on holiday and I don't have to take them to the station, I can (and do, sometimes) work in my PJs. I would never dream of going into the office without my 'face' on (although few women in the UK bother with make up). I now very rarely get painted.
  3. Because I am at home most of the time, we were able to get a dog, which our boys had wanted since forever. I also take said dog for her morning walk, which blows away the cobwebs and gives me time away from the computer. Because she is still a pup, I have an enforced 2-hourly break as I take her out into the garden and tell her (as suggested by the shelter) to 'hurry up'. She usually obliges, for which she is rewarded with a treat.
  4. I get so much more done in a day than I used to in a shared space, because I don't get interrupted by issues that take me off-topic.
  5. I can check up on Facebook as I work. Most social spaces were blocked at my last place of work.
  6. I can choose to work on things that matter to me, rather than the things that get handed down from on high. My business isn't run by the beancounters (mind you - see #2 in the previous list).
  7. I get involved with the project from the beginning, instead of having some badly conceived specification document thrown over the fence by a sales-focused person who doesn't understand learning or learners and cares only about the bottom line.
So this is where I am now. I wonder if this will change over time and, if so, where - and how extreme - the changes will be.


Harold Jarche said...

Your network can help you with some of the downsides. I have hundreds of proposals on file, as I'm sure many free-agents do. Just tell us what you're looking for. Same for the website. You might find that someone can help. Look at my website though. It's just a wordpress blog, and it's been good enough for the past five years. You can set up a blog, pay $15 for a domain name and pay a few extra bucks if you want to edit CSS or get rid of what few ads are there.

Just remember, you're not alone :-)

The upsycho said...

@Harold Thanks for the support. The problem with the website thing is that I have no idea how to edit CSS to achieve anything more interesting than this.

Someone sent me some feedback to say that, as a 2.0 champion, I should include elements of interactivity in my website. I dare not even think that far ahead in terms of the learning curve. I don't speak very good html-ish!

Harold Jarche said...

Then start playing with where you can select templates that have lots of widgets that make you look more "2.0 ish".

I play around and test themes at, but my main site is hosted locally.I do not know how to edit CSS either ;-)

Mark Berthelemy said...

Harold's right Karyn.

You know more than you think!

On the accounting front - use Kashflow and find an accountant that will work with it. It does everything you'll need, without accountant-speak.

The upsycho said...

@Mark - Based on the unmitigated disaster that calls itself 'today', I have one response to your second paragraph: HA!

But thanks, anyway.

Mark Berthelemy said...

Oops! Just noticed the Kashflow link is broken. My fault! Sorry.

V Yonkers said...

Just some of my recommendations. Set office hours. You can still be flexible, but when you do something during your office hours people know that you are being inconvenienced (not just your family, but friends--only my mother doesn't get it when I'm working from home. I tell her I'm on my way out to a meeting).

Make sure that you have your own "office" or desk. This is constant battle in my house, and once I got "my" desk, at least I can try to recapture the space from my family.

As Harold said, make sure that you have a "library" of proposal templates. You should take time out to have standard information that you can cut and paste into the proposal. Sometimes, even the best proposal looses out to someone underbidding you or with a better reputation. I read somewhere that new businesses should expect 10:1 acceptances (one acceptance for every 10 proposals). Have you gotten feedback as to why your proposal was not accepted? Even when I worked on a multi-million project, we would get feedback and tweek our next proposal based on that.

Finally, I learned that getting out and going to "luncheans" or "dinners" with professional organizations not only helped me to network, but also helped me to identify resources (i.e. the techy who can look over your shoulder) and make me feel less allienated.

Rob Alton said...

Harold's made a good point - use WordPress and make your site more like a blog. I've just finished mine, but I did need some help, particularly with tweaking the templates. I don't think people expect those whizzy sites anymore and they're pain to keep up to date.

Here's mine:

Good luck with it - I joined the independent crew this month.

The upsycho said...

Thanks all for the suggestions, advice and words of encouragement. All the best, Rob, in the world of the self-employed!