Why The Apprentice finalists should be taken (a little) more seriously

As the cocky candidates edge towards their final ‘You’re hired or fired’ destiny, Jenny Stallard asks three career experts to reveal the tricks to staying a self-employed sane person

As The Apprentice is cut down to the ‘final five’, the surviving candidates will have their business plans torn to shreds during ‘the interviews’ and like the rest of the nation, I’ll be wincing and shouting at the telly, thinking I could do things better. And with entries already open for next year, the lure of The Apprentice is more than being on a TV show, though – for me it symbolises the lure of self-employed life. The idea of being your own boss conjures up dreams of freedom, new challenges and flexibility, but can often then leave us floundering as we meet many challenges along the way.

And while we all guffaw at the cheesiness of The Apprentice away days or the cringeworthy ad campaigns they create, I do feel a pang of sympathy and camaraderie. You see, while they might be TV entertainment fodder for most of us, these people are all also freelancers. They’re people just like me, and thousands of others freelancers who are trying to make a living, doing the pitch of their life.

They’re by no means alone; According to the ONS, The number of self-employed is now 4.8 million, that’s 15.1% of the labour force. And being self-employed is not always easy. After all, even taking time out for The Apprentice could have impacted the business of the candidates as they take a chance on this way of securing funding and exposure for their work. Having an idea and making it a business reality is scary, and those of us (candidates included) who go for it are a special ‘gang’ or tribe who are also facing the mental health challenges of working alone.

Karren Brady (Getty Images)

But there is plenty we can do to safeguard our mental health and to push our business forward, Apprentice style. Experts agree that you have to be focused and determined, but also make time to remind yourself that you’re doing well.

Lisa Beaumont is a business coach who helps people transform their roles into ones they really want. ‘To forge the determination and discipline needed to stay focused when there are no fixed procedures to follow, you need to set the procedures yourself,’ Beaumont advises. ‘Set them as if you work for a larger organisation and follow them as rigorously as you would if you’d got a boss breathing down your neck. It helps me to have a daily to-do list and when I find myself slacking, a quick glance at my bank balance and a reminder that the alternative is a 45-minute commute in rush hour twice a day, five times a week, will always help me get over myself.’

Career Fulfilment Coach, Laura Cloke, left her full-time job to start her coaching business and help women create careers they love. ‘The biggest challenge I have found working for myself is being on my own. I’ve gone from having the support of colleagues for day-to-day concerns, as well as the wider business support from other teams. The whole structure of my business and making sure everything happens is down to me and sometimes it can be overwhelming,’ says Cloke. ‘I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to build a virtual team to support me in my work. I have a network of self-employed ‘colleagues’, who are also friends I can share my highs and lows with.’

Cloke credits business groups as a great way to network and build confidence, too. ‘I’ve also joined a fantastic business group called The Coven. This community of freelancers and other self-employed people is full of great ideas. I think self-employed people are seen as lucky to have the freedom over their work, but often people don’t realise the hard work and struggle that comes with that freedom, or the financial insecurity from not having a regular salary.’

apprentice hopefuls

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That perceived freedom – which we see the candidates ‘enjoying’, too (after all, they’re lounging around a big townhouse, right? Messing about making perfume or lolling on steam trains…) is something I’ve been challenged by, and entrepreneur and founder of Authors&Co, Abigail Horne, says we need to remember the freelance ‘weather’ will change all the time.

‘For me, I like to go back to the start – The Why – the onething we all have in common whatever career path we find ourselves on is that we all start with a vision, a purpose and a passion,’ says Horne. ‘I know from my own entrepreneurial journey and business success, that I often push myself to overcome obstacles, work long hours and justify busy schedules in order to see the big vision become reality. To help avoid burnout, it is important to keep your big vision/dream in the front of your mind. Reminding yourself why you are doing what you are doing can help avoid burnout. Try and rekindle the spark inside that burnout is trying to put out – come back to The Why.’

So, while I might be cringing at those Apprentice interviews, I’ll actually be sending positive vibes to the finalists. Anyone who dares to put their self-employed life in front of cameras deserves a pat on the back, I say. And while they’re not always the best at teamwork, it’s something to remember for our own freelance lives.

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