How to make working for yourself work

Self-employment is now, more than ever before, a realistic dream for millions. One in seven of us '“ that's an astonishing five and a half million Brits '“ run their own business. People all over the country are thinking about whether it's time to say goodbye to the day job and start their own business. And for you, it could be.
Businesswoman At Starting BlocksBusinesswoman At Starting Blocks
Businesswoman At Starting Blocks

So, are you cut out to run a business? You don’t need to be the next Richard Branson, but you do require a certain strength of character to handle the highs and lows of running a business. Are you prepared to work 18-hour days, and not have the certainty of a pay packet at the end of the week? Running a business, particularly in the early days, can test the nerves of even the most entrepreneurial individuals. Make sure you’re ready for it to be tough, and be prepared to be resilient.

Do you have support from your loved ones?

One of the hardest things to hear after a bad day in business is “I told you so”. Make sure your family and dependents are comfortable with your decision to start your own business, and will help you through the tough times. Very few entrepreneurs are able to go it completely alone, so make sure you have some kind of support network of family, friends and/or mentors. Even if you’re the only one at the top making decisions, you will appreciate those who can support and ground you through the good and the bad, to help with decisions and pick you up when – at some inevitable point – you struggle or fall.

Do you have financial stability?

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Whilst some level of risk actually helps to motivate you, you need to make sure you are not facing a disastrous financial situation should the business not succeed as planned. While you might give up some luxuries in the early days, try to make sure you are able to put food on the table and look after any dependents. Don’t put yourself in a problematic position. That said, much like having a child, “there is never a right time”, as the old saying goes. We could always be more prepared, with more savings and a bigger comfort blanket.

Is your business idea unique?

Many entrepreneurs believe they need to have a completely unique business. This is false. Often, these are the businesses that fail, as the market simply isn’t ready for them. Having said that, your business will need to be unique in some way – either in how it does things internally, or the external benefits the customer receives. This will become your “unique selling proposition”, which will set you apart from your competition. If you haven’t found this yet, you need to spend some time working out how your idea will be different before launching.

Do you have a robust plan?

Most business owners prepare business plans for the banks so that they can get funding, after which the plans are filed in a drawer somewhere. While I’m not a fan of long-winded business plans, you do need to have a strong vision of what you are trying to achieve, and how you are going to get there.

This could be as simple as a few sentences, or a long document – whichever way you prefer to prepare it, it needs to be actionable, and in alignment with your personal goals as well as your business goals. Make sure your aims are high, but achievable. Try to keep time frames for goals short and manageable – I recommend aiming for 90-day sprints rather than an annual reflection process. Having a relevant strategy plan for your business can be the make or break of its survival.

Do you have transferable skills?

While you may not have experience in every skill that the new business requires, you should take note of the skills you can bring to the table. You may have sales skills, technical skills, or administration skills that can help propel your business to success. If there’s an area you’re not so sure of, it might be worth seeking out advice or a course you can take to top up your knowledge. If you have some large gaps, it might be worth considering purchasing a franchise which can give you an existing brand and system to work within, or employing a team from Day One to patch up your weaker areas.

Starting a new business is exhilarating. There is no perfect time – zero risk is impossible – but unless you take the right chance, you’ll never know. Starting and running a business isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s easy to be sucked into the headlines and fear the worst for business, but if you have strong motivation and a sound business idea with a robust plan, working for yourself might just be a closer reality than you think.

Carl Reader is author of The Start Up Coach, co-owner of and co-founder of;