What I've learned from leaving a 'job for life' to go into business for myself

After 17 years as a journalist, Siobhán Maguire was looking for a change.

By Siobhan Maguire Founder, TalkWrite

THIS TIME LAST year I was a ball of nervous energy.

In April 2016, I walked away from what most people would consider a ‘job for life’ as a journalist at the Sunday Times – a role that defined me for 13 years and came bundled with benefits: a pension, health insurance, holidays and a company phone.

I walked away with a redundancy that offered respite and some breathing room to find out why, after 17 years in journalism, I needed a change.

It didn’t take long for me to come to the decision to work for myself. I don’t have a business degree nor claim to have headed up a team of people in my journalism career, but the raw ingredient was there: I can write.

One morning last May I woke up with a name in my head: TalkWrite. After weeks of thinking about what I could do, I had a company name that spelt out exactly what I was about – talking and writing on other people’s behalf.

On the advice of experienced others – I consulted with established PR professionals, content writers and sole traders – I got myself a good accountant. I was aware of keeping a log of earnings, however paltry at the beginning, paying myself a very small salary, and keeping stock of all business-related earnings.

Finding clients was such a celebratory occasion for me. Word of mouth played a very strong part in gaining the trust of people and companies willing to take a punt on this journalist-turned-communications consultant.

But like any other business starting out, there were those willing to take advantage. One potential client suggested a trial period where I write content for free after which we could commit to a contract.

I walked from any negative and unreasonable propositions, because no matter what happened I knew my worth. The stubborn streak paid off and I have established a deep pool of clients.

Hurdles

One of the greatest hurdles of setting yourself up as a sole trader is the fear of the unknown. The problem is exacerbated if you don’t establish some key rules for yourself in terms of your product, the market you are aiming to attract and how you execute the role.

Keep reminding yourself of why you left a comfortable job to set up on your own. You have a vision, a unique selling point where your product is concerned, and you dare to push yourself.

Think back to those years in your previous job where frustrations may have set in because you didn’t feel challenged enough, where you saw yourself being your own boss, or felt stressed and frustrated.

Fellow sole traders tell me it was the nine-to-five regime that forced them to look for other ways to earn money and lead a happier life.

Some felt isolated in their workplace despite being surrounded by people, while others found themselves on the cusp of burn-out, where job satisfaction had long since dissipated.

For me, it was a desire for change. When you’re so long in the tooth in the same industry, job or company, complacency can set in. If ambition and passion for the job wanes, then a move could be the best thing for you.

If you do take the plunge and go it alone, you must adopt a serious approach to the business. In the early months, pricing was a personal maelstrom because I didn’t want to appear too expensive nor undervalue my skills.

Some due diligence is strongly advised to define what you are offering, how much each of the services provided cost, and where you sit with competitors. I can’t compete with a large PR firm with a team of employees to assist with a new client, but I can offer a unique one-to-one service.

You must also grow a thick skin. One year on, I am still pitching for new business – this is the continuum. The important thing to remember is that rejection is not personal. You simply weren’t the right fit for the job spec.

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Overloading

Time management is one of the key areas you’ll need to hone as a sole trader. You cannot promise everything to one client knowing you have other companies relying on you too.

Be honest with yourself before committing to a job: how many hours a week can I provide this new client with? Will it compromise my time with existing clients?

Also, be careful of overloading your work day. Slow and steady wins the race so that requires a daily commitment to your duties as you would if you were working for somebody else.

Do I miss a comfortable job as an employee? Occasionally, when I find myself working remotely on holiday as I maintain work commitments, or putting money aside for VAT and keeping tabs on my own tax bill, or the fact the bank won’t entertain me for a mortgage until I have two years of accounts.

But since going out on my own, my stress levels have dropped completely, which might have something to do with my two dogs – who snooze by my side as I work. The convenience of working for someone else is weighted against quality of life now.

Of course, the buck now stops with me: I am responsible for my work output and client delivery without the cushioned comfort of colleagues or a corporate machine to fall back on.

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing. I no longer burn the midnight oil like I used to. I have no daily commute to contend with. And I have a new sense of freedom to follow my dreams because life does begin at the end of your comfort zone.

Siobhán Maguire is the founder of TalkWrite.

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