A very different world

Being self-employed has always appealed to me. With a view that you are in the most part master of your own fate and a rebellious streak that causes me to struggle with some of the limitations that the workplace can bring, I knew I wanted more career options and jobs that were being advertised were always lacking in what I truly wanted. As I wasn’t sure exactly what that was on some level it made sense to create it for myself. With this in mind I was stunned to find myself flummoxed by the change in pace on our first full day working together as Freshspace.

Together we had looked forward to it since it was simply a glimmer of an idea. Yet on the day itself I sat across from Darren, a list as long as my arm that I finally had the time to tackle, and felt entirely lost and confused. It was proving to be a real anti-climax.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. A formal induction perhaps. Although how that would work I’m unsure – I already knew where the coffee was, took my share in cleaning the bathroom and I can assure you, Darren and I had met before. All bases from where things were to who everyone is was covered including Bryn the office dog. The work itself… well, it’s our business so technically it was our call regarding what that entailed.

Reasoning with myself made no difference as I sat confused by the sudden shift in both my home and work life, albeit entirely expected. Finally, the penny dropped. Without even seeing it I had become institutionalised.

Now, I appreciate the term ‘institutionalised’ comes with negative connotations but I can assure all ex-employers and colleagues that I have no regrets over previous career decisions. Well, not many anyway. When I say ‘institutionalised’ in this context what I mean is that understanding of what it is to work in an organisation which runs so deep that it becomes exactly what you expect when you ‘go to’ work each day.

I could write some pretentious article about how much better it is to be self-employed but firstly it would be a lie and secondly I would miss out on the cathartic exercise of considering the difference between each. So after several months I’ve finally started to think about what I’ve left behind:

Monthly Pay Check

Ah, the holy grail of working for someone else, how at times I yearn for you. Possibly the most terrifying aspect of taking the leap was that suddenly on the 20th of every month just enough money to pay the bills and sustain an admittedly bad shopping habit would not magically appear in my bank account. As the business builds we face the odd hairy moment; wondering when clients will pay within the 30 day payment terms had never occurred to me before but having now experienced it I have to say I’m happy previous employers were never so vague about when my pay day would arrive. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Over the past few months some have passed where I have technically brought in more than in previous employment, others have been a little bleaker. Right now things are balancing out nicely but the reality that what we put into this generally dictates what we get out of it in monetary value (as well as in many other ways) is exciting. For the first time since before working in the public sector I actually have some scope to get myself a pay rise.

Sick Pay

I have been a little unlucky this year with minor ailments. Nothing to write home about but enough to interfere with work. On the two or three days where I could barely get through an hour without napping, working from home had its drawbacks. I was trying to work as I probably should have slept but not really succeeding whilst knowing my lack of productivity was having an impact. How I longed for the comfort of sick pay. However, when I had an eye infection that left me looking like Mike Tyson at least I could stay at home where as previously I would have forced myself into the office praying that sunglasses were allowed as part of the dress code.

Holidays

With only the two of us responsible for the business and the two of us generally wanting to take our holidays together it can get complicated. We’ve had ‘holidays’, some impromptu, some planned, some planned and then missed. It’s completely down to us when, where and how but I do miss not feeling that tug of responsibility to keep on top of emails and answer people’s calls when really I want a day (hell, several days) that are all about leisure. I try to remind myself that we are no longer restricted to a certain number of holidays but they are a very different type of holiday. I like to think that as the business grows holidays will return to how I once knew them but I remain unconvinced.

‘Responsibility’

In every role there is a level of responsibility. What I never appreciated until now is extent to which that can be cushioned by those more senior, your peers and colleagues, and in more recent times in my own experience, elected members. There’s having a voice and an opinion but realising that yours is only one of two voices is quite different. In fact it can be pretty harrowing when you realise there are a lot fewer people to bounce off and to stand by you when it comes to taking the flack. There is some adapting to be done when discovering that the buck truly does stop with you, not to mention there is no longer a day where I can chose to be in an indecisive mood and skulk behind my screen. Nor can I quietly wait for someone else to answer the question because there would just be a resounding silence. And as for blaming it on someone else…well, my options are fairly limited.

People

There are days I thrive on the quiet of working from home with only one other person and a dog. There are generally less interruptions (although both Darren and Bryn do have their moments) and if my heads in the right place I can be uber productive. But oh at times I do miss the office banter, particularly from my last job. There was a special kind of wit in that office that made doing the tea round fun instead of something you desperately wanted to avoid. However, the people that made going into work on a rainy Monday bearable were more than colleagues, they were and continue to be my friends. Except now I can laugh until I cry I get to do it over a little too much wine and without the distraction of a visibly growing ‘to do’ list. And as right this second is proving Darren is equally good at distracting me with frivolous topics – on this occasion I think it’s something to do with Burger King but I can’t quite tell through the laughter. I’m just laughing at him laughing.

Office Politics

There are none. Being self-employed, and in a partnership with someone I value and trust, wins on this count.


There is probably so much more and it always comes to me at the strangest of times. Spending a night with friends I used to work with brought back in a flood the things I miss and the things I don’t about what now feels like another world.

I don’t have any view on whether you’re better working for yourself or working for others but what I am sure about is the absolute joy I feel on a personal level as I wake up each day knowing I’m doing something I love, with someone who rarely makes me feel like tearing my hair out, and that the day can be pretty much anything we chose it to be. As scary as it is it’s also exhilarating to know that I have ownership over absolutely everything I do and the decisions I make.

Like any working mum no day goes by without some level of stress but the beauty is I don’t feel like I’m wading through the drudge, more like I’m skipping in whatever direction I choose and hoping that I’m right in thinking it’s all working out beautifully.

Article by Eilidh Nicholls