The ultimate balancing act: the pros and cons of being your own boss

The highs and lows of being self-employed
Illustration by Annette Hudson.

The highs and lows of being self-employed Illustration by Annette Hudson. - Credit: Archant

For some, it is the promised land of freedom through self-determination, of being released from the endless treadmill of clocking in and clocking out for the benefit of the boss above you.

Murray Graham, partner at Lovewell Blake

Murray Graham, partner at Lovewell Blake - Credit: Lovewell Blake

But for others, self-employment opens up a host of new problems, with isolation, motivation and time management among the starkest challenges of being your own boss.

These are the findings of new research conducted across business owners and entrepreneurs in East Anglia, which found them working longer-than-average weeks, taking as little as two days holiday a year and missing out on family events.

However, the majority of those polled by accountants Lovewell Blake said they enjoyed the control, flexibility and pride they got from running their own business.

It comes at a time when national self-employment numbers have hit all time highs with 4.77 million working for themselves in the second quarter of 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Andy Newman. Picture: Bill Smith.

Andy Newman. Picture: Bill Smith. - Credit: Archant � 2009

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Lovewell Blake partner Murray Graham said the survey showed the pressures and benefits of self employment.

'The region's business owners feel optimistic about what they do – but they are almost all giving more time to their businesses than they want to, at the cost of their home, social and family lives,' he said.

Mary McGivern. Picture: Denise Bradley

Mary McGivern. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2013

'It can be very hard to switch off from thinking about how to develop the business, through the good times and the hard times.'

Mr Graham added that entrepreneurs need practical skills including a head for accountancy and knowledge of regulation but also deep drive and the discipline to give themselves a break.

Running your business means no one to pass the buck to and Mr Graham said that could be a big strain for some.

John Clarke, business trainer with enterprise agency Nwes, said having the technical skill is not the same as having the business acumen to be one's own boss – which entails taking on operational and strategic demands. 'They have got to be a people person. Customers buy from people, not business plans,' he said. 'I see some people who want to start their own business who are good at what they do but I'm not sure they're right to run their own business.'

Case study: The PR Man

Andy Newman has run PR firm Newman Associates for 13 years after leaving a regional PR agency to start on his own – and said he'd never go back to working for someone else.

'It is the flexibility and the control that I enjoy the most, and I think most entrepreneurs that I know would say the same,' said Mr Newman, 50. 'The thing I am poorest in is time, particularly as a small company. In a small company you are responsible for everything.'

Mr Newman said while dedication was required, self-employed people needed to cultivate interests beyond their business. He said: 'It is so important to have a release outside of work. It is all too easy to say 'I will do another hour' and then you are there until 9pm. You do see people for whom the business is everything and when they move on, either through selling it or retiring, they struggle. I don't think you are as productive if you don't switch off sometimes.'

Case Study: The HR Consultant

Human resources (HR) consultant Mary McGivern

set out on her own six years ago after growing tired of working within larger organisations.

She is now part of The People Kit, a Norfolk-based collective of self-employed consultants, who work together for mutual benefit.

She said: 'It is very different when you first start out and you don't have other colleagues to go to or bounce ideas off.

'I don't take many holidays. I usually give myself a week off and then the odd day on the end of weekends but you can fit work around things.'

Working from home, she said it took discipline to step away from the office at the end of the day.

'I do get calls in the evenings sometimes, because of the nature of what I do,' said Ms McGivern.

'I do have one rule which I stick to: I switch my phone off at 9pm and it doesn't come back on until 7am.'