Self-Employment: The Dream Or The Nightmare?

by Alice Gallop

Those beady eyed among you may have spotted an influx of articles in the news last week reporting the collapse in the average wage of self-employed workers over the last two decades.

The news comes after think tank The Resolution Foundation reported that the earnings of Britain’s self-employed workers had fallen by £60 per week since 2001-02. This research added fuel to the ever-contentious debate as to whether rising self-employment should be celebrated or feared, with a number of commentators painting the self-employed as an underclass with a penchant for precarious incomes and zero employment rights.

Yet, despite this apparent nightmare, an increasing number of people continue to make the leap from employee to entrepreneur. The UK’s self-employed workforce has grown by a staggering 45% since 2002, suggesting that self-employment isn’t as menacing as the disparaging journalists make out. What is clear is that self-employment is something that individuals need no encouragement to embrace.

The commentators that rushed to slander the measly returns gained from self-employment have overlooked the point that working for yourself can far outweigh any monetary reward. Being your own boss provides many benefits, but it is, indeed, fair to say that the financial benefits are usually not top of the list. Okay, fair enough, let’s go further: your financial rewards are generally a long way down on the list somewhere below flexible working hours, a lack of a daily commute and the ability to stay in trackie bottoms all day long (with formal attire up top, in case of Skype meetings).

However, the real clincher in the desire for self-employment is the opportunity to do what you love. Don’t live your life without passion. There needs to be something that gets you out of bed in the morning, whether that’s a commitment to a product or service that makes things better, cheaper or easier or just a love of building a business. You will love only answering to yourself, the undoubted belief that what you’re doing/selling/making can work, and most of all that amazing kick you get when your client/customer says ‘yes please – I’ll take it!’ Surely there is nothing better than that. Steve Jobs put it coherently in his speech to Stanford graduates when he explained how he kept going after being fired from Apple: “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” That nails it really, doesn’t it?

So, last week’s so-called ’news’ is thus unlikely to perturb our growing band of would-be entrepreneurs. You already know that the chances of becoming the next uber-wealthy Peter Jones are slim. But if you truly love what you’re doing – or what you’re going to set out to do – then the chances are that making a mint isn’t at the top of your priorities. You will sacrifice today for a better tomorrow because that’s what great entrepreneurs do.