Fri, 13 Dec 2013 14:30:00 GMT | By Alison Griffiths, MSN Money

How to be your own boss

Make self-employment work by following a few simple rules.


Alison Griffiths

A lot of people envy me, but it’s not because I’ve written 11 books, film scripts, hosted my own television show or even because I’m fabulously beautiful.

Nope, none of the above! It’s because my commute is 15 seconds and I can go to work in pajamas if I want. I’m far from alone. The self-employed have become a sizable segment of those reporting an income. And the growing crowd is increasingly well educated and female. In 2011, Industry Canada calculated that there were 2.67 million self-employed workers in Canada, representing 15.4 per cent of the workforce. Thirty-five per cent of that figure was women and 54 per cent had a university degree.

I’ve been self-employed for more than thirty years and I love it. But it’s not for everyone. Even those who are suited to piloting their own ship can run aground if they don’t develop strong self-employment habits. Here are a few tips to ensure you are successful at being your own boss.

1. Self-employment can be like unemployment

Love them or hate them, jobs provide structure, motivation and behaviours that aren’t there when you work for yourself.

I’ve seen many work-at–homes dissolve into poor habits and appearance that wouldn’t be tolerated in a regular job. Wearing loungewear all day, keeping erratic hours and bypassing grooming niceties aren’t conducive to productivity.

To succeed you must provide a structure that mimics the expectations and environment of the workday world.

Also, jobs provide social contact. When I find myself in lengthy conversations with the dog, I know I’m getting cabin fever. Join business and other networking groups, even if your own work is a very solo affair. Aside from communication with others, you will share ideas and experience that can elevate your own business.

2. Get the spouse and children onside

I frequently hear from the self-employed who feel their spouses don’t consider them to be working nearly as hard as those who have a “regular” job. As a result every little errand gets handed over, from sick kid duty to shopping and caring for aging parents. While self-employment can offer considerable flexibility, work with your spouse to divide up non-work tasks.

A chore list is a big help because it forces couples to look at what needs to be done and who should do it while giving each the opportunity to explain availability.

It’s also a good idea to create a weekly self-employment task list and share that with your partner so he or she can see accomplishments, deadlines and future plans.

Ensure the kids respect your space and time boundaries too. This can be difficult — we love our young’uns after all — but even a simple Do Not Disturb sign can do the trick.

3. One for all, and one for one

It’s great to set your own hours but the fact is if you’re not on the job, the work doesn’t get done — and you don’t get paid.

Sixty-eight per cent of the self-employed have no paid help. Just one per cent of them occasionally use unpaid family members when they need a hand. Because of this, the self-employed often work longer hours with fewer breaks than those who are employed.

Avoid the no downtime trap by scheduling vacations and be firm with yourself about statutory holidays, too.

4. Did I interrupt?

Oh, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has called over the years, or dropped in to chat, assuming that because I am in control of my work time, I can take any time I want. This wouldn’t happen if I worked in an office.

Don’t tolerate what you wouldn’t accept at an outside job. Be vigilant about checking caller I.D. and even if you aren’t busy, don’t be tempted to answer during work hours. A second phone line is very handy, doesn’t cost much and will help you separate work and non-work. Do the same with email.

By all means, use social media to further your work. However, set a few times during the day, if you must, to check the latest funny pet or baby photos on Facebook or Instagram, but don’t keep checking them all day long.

5. Boss overload

While one of the draws of self-employment is having no boss, the reality is that you usually end up with many bosses, each of whom have different expectations and personalities.

As a result, your workday can stretch into the wee hours with business calls late into the evening. You have flexibility, one of the pluses of self-employment, however you must ensure that work doesn’t take over. Screen work calls and emails after hours just as you would non-work ones during the day.

Stick to these rules and you’ll increase the chance of self-employment success.

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