5 Tips to Being Successfully Self-Employed

by Guest Contributor Shannan Painter

At the age of 20, I was only a few weeks into my first 40 hour, 8-5 desk job, when I knew I wanted something different.  After working random jobs just long enough to finish college and start my own business, I didn’t think I could ever go back to working for “the man”. Sure, I don’t get paid vacation, sick leave, or have someone to do my work while I’m gone. But, I do have the flexibility to work from home, spend more quality time with my family, and go on vacation whenever I want to. Being your own boss certainly has its perks, but it also comes with some unique challenges. Here are a few tips for planning for those challenges before they arise.

1. Set Boundaries

One of the toughest things about being a business owner is separating work and personal life. Thanks to technology, we now feel that we should be able to get a hold of people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our phones have become another limb attached to our bodies, enabling us to be reached via email, text or phone call at any given moment. (Remember when we only had phones at home, and if we weren’t home, people just left a message?!) Just because you work from home, doesn’t mean people are entitled to expect you to respond at all hours. It’s okay to be “closed”. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would look if someone went to Taco Bell at 4am, stood outside the door, tapped their foot in disgust, and then blasted the restaurant’s customer service for not attending to them until they opened at 10 am? Yet, that is what we have taught ourselves. We expect customer service at our beckon call. How can you provide good customer service without it running your life? Make a plan and communicate effectively. Sit down with your spouse, or decide for yourself when you need to have personal time. You can set your email with an auto-reply letting people know you are out, but will respond as soon as possible. When you are having personal time, don’t check your email! Be fully present at work, and be fully present at home. If your business has exploded to the point that you need constant accessibility, hire someone to help!

2. Dealing with Difficult People

I waited tables for years to put myself through college. It was long enough to learn that people can be challenging. When you run your own business, remember that it is easy for people to say things in email that they might not say to your face. Rather than react, offer some sincere kindness, and do what you can to remedy the situation. After you’ve done that, let it go. Anyone else who has worked in the service industry knows that sometimes there are some people that you can’t please. Sometimes you just have to thank them for their business and send them on their way. Other times, people are very gracious, and the situation can be fixed with just a little effort.

3. Plan, plan, plan 

Schedule as much as possible and get it in writing. Take a look at your whole week before it starts. Write in any appointments you have, and then block out time you need to do things like editing, making phone calls or working on your accounting. Time management is one of the MOST IMPORTANT skills you can master in running your own business. No one is going to get onto you if you don’t keep your books up-to-date, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be done. Schedule a time at least once a month to enter business expenses. If you find yourself swearing every year that it will get better the next year, try this little trick: Put your vacuum cleaner by your computer. Think about how clean your carpet would be if you only vacuumed as often as you did your bookkeeping. If that thought makes you cringe, it’s time to get on top of things!

4. Don’t Spend All Your Money: 

When you receive a paycheck, your employer withholds taxes for you. It takes some discipline to set that money aside when you receive income without taxes withheld. When you own your own business, you pay self-employment tax of 15.3% of your net income (revenue minus expenses). On top of that, your business income is taxed at whatever marginal tax rate you fall under personally. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to set aside at least 25% of your net income from your business. If you set aside too much money, congratulate yourself on starting a savings account! If you are worried you aren’t putting enough aside, talk to a CPA about making some estimated payments throughout the year.

5. Keep Learning

Finally, remember that to stay competitive, you have to stay sharp. Attend workshops, read books, participate in forums, and talk to other business owners to keep learning and growing. Running a business is a learning process, but then, so is life! Live and work with passion!

Need help with your accounting? Check out our SNAPSHOT SPREADSHEET to organize business finances. Just starting your business? Our Business 101: Setting Up Shop study-along guide will walk you through what you need to know to be established as a legitimate

About the Author: I graduated Magna Cum Laude with an Accounting Degree from the University of Montana. Instead of pursuing a career in public accounting and being stuck behind a desk for 70 hours a week, I turned down jobs at big accounting firms to pursue a different love. I chose instead to work from home where I live with my husband, two boys and a puppy named Growler. I live a glamorous, exciting life working from my living room in my pajamas, cleaning crayon off the walls, driving kids to school, playing superheros and taking care of a little dog that likes to refinish furniture with his teeth. I get to work with fun, creative & artistic photographers and help them understand that numbers can be our friends!

Visit Shannan at her website Accounting for Photographers, and on her Facebook Page today!

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Teresa Schmid - March 26, 2012 - 8:14 pm

Great article! Thank you!

Allison Martin - March 30, 2012 - 9:19 am

Love it!

Briana - April 5, 2012 - 2:31 pm

This is great, thanks for the tips! :-)

Pam - August 24, 2012 - 12:48 pm

Thank you so much for all this information. I am going to try and start up a small photography business from home. <3

Allegra - April 4, 2013 - 11:00 pm

Great advice!

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