At the beginning of 2014, I entertained the dream of becoming self-employed and this is now a reality. For a while, I was a freelance copywriter on the side, and since September 2016, I am a full-time independent businesswoman. Over those three years, I had to go through a whole process in order to become fully independent.
Here are my experiences and tips for those who are thinking of becoming self-employed.
Look before you leap
Think about what you want to do and the services you plan to offer. Check that there is a market for your idea and gauge the amount of competition. Think of a name and verify that the domain name is still available for your website. I chose Text Fairy because the name clearly indicates what I do, and the word play makes people remember the name.
Be well informed
Before I started as a self-employed professional, I knew virtually nothing about social status. I consulted a payroll services provider, where I was made aware of start-up formalities such as:
- Register with the Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen (Crossroads Bank for Enterprises, CBE/KBO) and become the proud holder of a registered business number. I did that through the payroll services provider.
- If you are liable for VAT – depending on how much you earn on a yearly basis – you should request your VAT activation. I became liable for VAT when I became fully independent. My accountant took care of that.
- Social contributions are paid on a quarterly basis. Depending on how much you earn, this figure can increase, so you should keep this in mind in order not to get any unpleasant surprises.
- Find out whether you need permits. Luckily, as a copywriter, I did not have to bother with that.
At the time I was thinking of turning my sideline into a full-time job, I followed a number of information sessions. Ultimately, would I be able to make it as a self-employed professional without a company car, holiday pay, sick leave, the thirteenth month, parental leave, and so on? Don’t take any chances. Hesitating for too long is not good, but someone who is well prepared is worth two (or more)!
Start your new activity as a sideline
Starting your project as a secondary activity gives you the opportunity to test out the business. This allows you to find out whether there is a market for your idea or whether you really enjoy doing that job. I would never have dared to start as a full-time self-employed professional right away, as something like that requires time. If you decide to have a sideline, make sure your employer is okay with it. I have always been quite open about it and there has never been an issue. On the contrary, I got additional customers because my former employer recommended my services to its customers.
Get some help
While I was doing this work as a sideline, I didn’t have an accountant. However, I did request the advice of an accountant friend of mine when I was filing my annual tax return. When I made it my main occupation, I hired my own accountant. Among other things, we discussed what would be the ideal legal form for my business. I truly believe that someone who plans to become 100% self-employed must get the help of an accountant. Obviously, this service is not free, but she takes care of all the annoying paperwork which by the way is all Greek to me. That’s time I can spend doing what I’m good at, namely writing.
Make a plan
As a copywriter, I didn’t have to invest heavily in equipment. Consequently, I was not required to prepare a business plan, but on the advice of my bank and accountant, I did it anyway. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Drawing up a plan forces you to think about the costs that you will incur, giving you an idea of the amount you need to earn each month to make ends meet. Even though it was no easy task, I am glad I have a plan. Knowing where I am at and where I am going makes me feel safe.
Be prepared to make sacrifices
It is exciting and great to be your own boss but it is hard work. When this was my secondary occupation, I would work at it almost every weeknight and a half to a whole day at weekends. Sure, it can be very satisfying, but I had to make a lot of sacrifices (e.g. no TV, no dinner dates, etc.). One tip though: don’t lose sight of your partner, family and/or friends. It’s not easy, but it helps to establish mutually agreed rules. Be careful not to work too hard because, once you exceed your own limits, it’s hard to go back. I have not had a burnout, but let’s say I flirted with it when I was doing this as a sideline. Try to find the right balance. What helps me is to talk to other self-employed people and discover how they get that balance right.
In today’s digital society having a website and a presence on social media is a must. I have a website since early 2016, when I began toying with the idea of becoming fully independent. I get considerably more requests since I created it. You don’t really need to have a very fancy website for potential clients to find you: a basic one will do.
If you have any questions, or even tips that I haven’t listed, be sure to let me know!
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