Making the leap from government employee to solopreneur
After years as an employee – and a public servant at that – starting her own business required a radical mind shift for Janet Camilleri.
It took a redundancy of course.
When I got offered one at the end of 2012, it was just the push I needed to turn the dream of working for myself into a reality.
When I announced my plans to others, however, I could see they were sceptical. Perhaps they realised just what a huge difference there is between a public service mindset, and becoming a solopreneur!
After spending most of my career working in government, becoming my own boss definitely involved a steep learning curve. Although I had the necessary skills and experience in my field, I knew very little about running a business. I quickly realised that I had taken many things for granted as an employee.
"Just because I’m sitting at my desk from 9am to 5pm, doesn’t mean that’s what I get paid for"
This was brought home to me a couple of years into my solopreneur journey, when I was talking to a client from a government department. We were discussing a conference I’d recently attended, when she sighed enviously, “We just don’t get to go on conferences any more, there’s no budget”.
Once upon a time, I would have thought like that too – that my employer should pay for my professional development. However, I now look at things differently. Attending professional development opportunities costs money, no doubt about it. But I am investing in my business’s greatest asset: ME!
Here are some other hard lessons I had to learn, as I made the leap from government employee to solopreneur:
Setting my own pay rate
When I started out, I thought charging $30 per hour (my hourly rate of pay while working for the government) seemed fair. However, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I was now responsible for my own superannuation and business expenses. Plus, holiday and sick pay no longer existed. I had to set an hourly rate that covered all of those!
At the same time, I had to make sure I priced myself competitively – all while valuing the training, skills and expertise I brought to each job, (not just my time).
Remembering the tax man
As an employee, my income tax automatically disappeared from my pay each fortnight.
Now, I have to take responsibility for my own income tax and other financial affairs – which means keeping excellent records and setting aside money each month for PAYG and BAS.
Working doesn’t necessarily lead to pay
Just because I’m sitting at my desk from 9am to 5pm, doesn’t mean that’s what I get paid for. A lot of the work I do as a solopreneur is not billable (i.e. can’t be charged for).
Tasks such as invoicing, preparing quotes and proposals, as well as marketing and promotion, they all need to be done, but don’t actually generate income (although they may result in it, down the track).
No more regular pay day
Rain, hail or shine, I could count on my government pay landing in my bank account on a certain day. These days, if I want to be paid, I have to send out an invoice. And quite often a follow up/reminder invoice too.
I have to find the work myself
If I want to make a living, I have to get out there and find my own clients!
At times, this has been a struggle. After only a year as a solopreneur, I was exhausted. I was working long hours for very little pay; and I also knew I was too dependent on one client, and that had to change.
The biggest help to me in transitioning from a government employee to a solopreneur, was undertaking a Certificate 4 in Small Business Management. As part of the course, I wrote a business plan and marketing strategy, and learned about sourcing clients and managing cashflow.
Joining business networking groups – both online (like Flying Solo) or in real life – also helped me to think, talk and act like a business owner instead of an employee.
It may seem that my life may have been easier if I had just found another job, instead of starting a business. While that may be true, there are many advantages to being a solopreneur, but perhaps my favourite is this:
The sky is the limit
I am the one to benefit, not my boss!
When I was an employee, a staff member resigned, so I was expected to take on extra duties on top of my own workload. I did such a great job, the position was never advertised or filled. Did I get any thanks, kudos, or extra pay for it? Of course not! (Although later I found out that the boss DID get a bonus – for budget savings on staffing!)
Four years into my solopreneur journey, all my hard work is paying off – and *I* am the one reaping the rewards. To me, that is utterly priceless.