Madhat of the Month
So, how does self-employment open opportunities up for you? Every journey is different but gaining new knowledge is priceless. Althea shares her content that provides invaluable advice and support from a personal perspective, which will in return give you a realistic outcome.
Althea also explains how self-employment in this time can be beneficial for her to take the next step in her career change and how this can affect her future career prospects. Thank you Althea for allowing us to share your story and being part of our Madhat journey.
Being self-employed by Althea Piper
A little bit about me
“I am a self-employed medical writer, which basically means I develop communications surrounding clinical trials. As I am trying to change careers at nearly 30 years old, I am very lucky as this career is allowing me to gain experience in order to transition into conservation work full-time.
Being self-employed as a medical writer has been absolutely invaluable for me, as it has allowed me to work on a part-time basis with flexible hours. I have been table to take on more work when I need more money and ease up on work (or stop completely) when I have a conservation opportunity to take advantage of. Without being self-employed, there is no way I could have afforded my Master’s degree, or been able to pursue the wonderful opportunities I have been lucky enough to have experienced.
Why do YOU want to be self-employed?
This is something which I think is really important to consider before you take the plunge (although others may disagree with me!) Being employed by a company, organisation etc. certainly has its benefits – your taxes are done for you (I cannot tell you enough how awesome that is!), your job is relatively safe (compared to self-employed workers), and you receive benefits such as sick pay, paid holidays, and pension contributions.
Self-employment does come with the (general) benefit of higher pay, more flexible working, and the ability to take on more work, or ease off, as it suits you. But do consider that there are drawbacks – as you are not an employee, you generally do not get any of the benefits I have listed above, you have to do your own tax returns (THEY SUCK) unless you hire an accountant or work in certain ways, and depending on how you work, you may never get the joy of a tax rebate (surprise money, hooray!). You also have to actively seek work more often with self-employment, as you may either do pieces of work for several organisations, or take on shorter-term contracts (in my experience, long-term and full-time freelance contracts are rare). It is also likely that you will have to pay for additional insurance in order to be self-employed (again, depending on how you work).
I prefer self-employment in this period of my life as the field I am in is relatively “safe” to be self-employed in compared to others – it is generally okay to find work, and I have been lucky enough to have very long-standing relationships which have made finding work even easier. It then allows me spare time to pursue opportunities for my career change. However, once I have broken into the conservation sector full-time, I will not be quick at jumping back to self-employment (although I would never write it off altogether), as I do not think it would be right for me at that stage.
The transition from employment to self-employment
I will not lie to you – I found the transition from full-time work to self-employment a pretty scary prospect. Having said this, I was super lucky with my transition. I kept in touch with one of my old bosses (who is an AWESOME lady), and she wound up offering me my first freelance contract. This is why I think it is so important to get and keep in touch with people – whether I would be where I currently am without this push, who knows!
There was a bit of a money flow issue – from finishing my last full-time contract, to getting set up as a freelancer with this particular company’s payment programme, meant there was a big chunk of time in which I didn’t earn any money. There were also issues with getting enough hours for work at the beginning. This was tough and meant having to be really frugal whilst living off savings. This is a definite consideration, and I would strongly recommend having decent savings in place or even taking on part-time employment until you have enough hours to support yourself – I was very lucky that things wound up okay for me, it could just have easily gone very badly. This is especially important if you have people relying on you financially (which is not something I have yet experienced).
My biggest pieces of advice
· Research, research, research! I cannot stress this point enough. You have to figure out whether self-employment is for you, and if you are interested in it, you must look into how practical it is for you. How likely are you to find work? Will you be able to earn enough to live, and have enough aside for emergencies? Which way of working is best for you – e.g. as a sole trader, through an umbrella company, starting a limited company? Are any of these ways of working feasible in your field? (For example, my field does not really take sole traders anymore). In my opinion, this decision needs to be very carefully considered before you take the plunge.
· Do not be afraid to contact people and try everything. Hit people up on LinkedIn, find email addresses for companies you are interested in working with, or even get in touch with your old boss. The worst that can happen is that you don’t hear back, or somebody says “no” to you. My first medical writing job asked for a PhD in the job advert…I only had an undergraduate degree. Nothing will ever happen unless you reach out and make the first move.
· Lastly, fear is good! I am a firm believer that you grow the most outside of your comfort zone. Deciding to become self-employed is definitely scary, but if it is right for you and you transition responsibly, it can be a very fruitful way of working. I have used my self-employment to fund conservation opportunities across the world, most recently living in a tent on an island off the coast of Borneo for 5 months, whilst scuba diving for coral reef conservation. Was I terrified at the thought of stopping income for such a long time, and going to the other side of the world? You bet. Am I glad I did it? NO DOUBT! Do I plan to try to do more things like this in the future? Absolutely.
Well, that’s it from me – good luck with your future endeavours!”