With a fifth of self-employed people considering throwing in the towel due to the pandemic, Marina Gask asks is it time to change tack when it comes to your career?
You could be one of the lucky people for whom 2020 was a bumper year, income-wise. But what if it’s the opposite? If you’re self-employed and just can’t seem to get enough work, do you dig your heels in and persevere? Or is it time to move in a new direction? Perhaps unsurprisingly this is a really common question at the moment. A recent report from the London School of Economics found that a two-decade long trend in favour of more people working for themselves is under threat.
The study found that a fifth of the self-employed anticipated quitting altogether, rising to 58% for those under the age of 25. While this drop may be primarily due to a decrease in work due to the knock-on effects of the Covid pandemic, for some a recognition of the risks of self-employment have been a driving force – and how vulnerable these risks can make you.
So if work has been scarce in 2020, do you need to just make a few adjustments, change tack or ditch the whole plan? Says Faye Watts, a business strategist, partner at FUSE accountants and co-founder of audreyonline.co.uk, a platform for women going through a life shake-up: 'You could argue that in lockdown people haven’t been spending money so that's why your business or services are no longer required. And yet, some people are absolutely thriving. So now is a really good time to evaluate your business and address weak points. This could be an opportunity to think about doing things differently, make a strategic change of plan and see your income soar. Or it could be time to take a reality check and change tack.'
Review your response
The pandemic may have spurred you on to evolve in a hurry, having been forced to make decisions based on unprecedented conditions without having the time to adopt a business model to protect cash flow. Says Faye: 'You may have found new ways to move things forward or at least make a bit of income, so first assess to what extent this has worked for you. Is it sustainable? Is it something you can rely upon once life gets more normal?'
Do a 12-month forecast
The only way to stop blindly living in the moment and feel secure in your work is to work out what income you need to see you through the next year. 'It doesn’t have to be complex, just take a sheet of paper and write down your income and balance it against your outgoings. If you need £20k and you're barely earning £1000 a month and there’s no immediate sign of things improving, something needs to change. Seeing it all written down clearly may be all the convincing you need to change tack – or forge ahead,' says Faye.
Make a short and long term strategy
Next you need to evaluate your future prospects. Where do you see your business going in the next two to five years and can you make enough income? And how about the next ten years – will there be enough demand for what you are offering? Says Faye: 'If running your business means the costs of equipment, marketing, website costs etc., don’t keep throwing good money after bad, burying your head in the sand. Be strategic in the things you invest in – will they actually bring more work and income?'
Evaluate your offering
If the work contracts aren’t coming in, is it because what you're offering is no longer of value or in demand? Find out what your clients need right now. 'Connect with customers from the past and present and send out a questionnaire or poll. This could give you a very different view and help you decide on a strategy for next year,' advises Faye. You may decide to start offering a new service. 'Creating courses and online programmes is a great way of reaching a wider audience at a price point people can afford.'
Collaborate with the competition
Maybe business has dried up throughout your whole sector. But how will you know if you don’t find out? This is where peer-to-peer groups come in handy. ‘It’s easy to forget the value of collaboration but you can really lean on and learn from people in the same boat as you. Connect with your peers via LinkedIn, get a group together and organise a Zoom brainstorm session to share ideas. If everyone’s struggling it might be time to think about a new way of earning a living,' advises Faye.
* Faye Watts is in-house coach at the Audrey Members’ Club (members.audreyonline.co.uk) where you can access group coaching and collaborate, learn and share ideas with women like you via peer-to-peer Circles
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Kate McCusker is a freelance writer at Marie Claire UK, having joined the team in 2019. She studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, and her byline has also appeared in Dezeen, British Vogue, The Times and woman&home. In no particular order, her big loves are: design, good fiction, bad reality shows and the risible interiors of celebrity houses.
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