Sep 11

Are you fed up or is your job under threat? Do you dream of moving to the country? Is now the time to make a break? This time next year, will you have made the leap and be in control of your life? Here’s how you can make it happen – successfully.

Many people dream about quitting the hectic life and starting a small business. They want to work for themselves but are not always clear about what to do. Here are some tips on how to escape from the rut this year. This fact sheet will help point you in the right direction and explain the issues you need to consider. Plus there is a 14-step guide to changing your life.

Make it happen

Nothing is more stressful than uncertainty, particularly in something so important as your livelihood. Add to this the hassles and expense of commuting and it’s hardly surprising that more people are finding the best job is working for themselves – from home. And you are not alone! The number of self-employed in Britain has soared by 80% in the last two decades to 14% of the workforce.

Every office is full of people who wish they weren’t there for a host of reasons: too much stress or wasteful office politics, the ghastliness of commuting, frustration with management and constant changes, or the simple desires to choose their own lifestyle, to be with the family more and live somewhere nice. But not so many ever do anything about it. They seem prepared to wait until they are pushed – half dreading, half longing for it to happen.

What is unforgivable is to sit there feeling frustrated, yet not be prepared to accept what you need to do to change things. Just as bad is to spend all your time and energy fighting the alligators instead of taking a moment to step back and see how to drain the swamp. Now is the right moment.

The key to a better life

What do you have to do this year to make sure you are not in the same situation next year? The key is to decide what you really want in life. Then you need to isolate the real blockages to getting there, identify what you need to do to free them, and get the ball rolling. It will soon generate its own momentum, if you help it.

So write down exactly what needs to happen, or steps you need to take to make your dream come true. Then ask yourself, honestly, if all the bricks magically fell into place, would you make the move? Or would you promptly find a new set of reasons you can’t make things happen right now? If the former, read on.

Making the dream come true

Let’s assume you’ve decided to do your own thing. What do you need to consider to make it happen? First look at yourself as an entrepreneur, then what you want to do and your market, how to get started, what you need, and finally, where to get help.

Before you dive in, reassure yourself that the efforts that you are about to make are founded on solid ground. Research shows that the most successful entrepreneurs are highly motivated people who want to be in charge of their own destiny.

The main reasons for success are:

  • Drive and determination;
  • Hard work;
  • A willingness to listen – and learn;
  • Common sense with a firm grasp of reality;
  • And a very clear focus.

This applies whether you are selling management consultancy or aromatherapy, freelance typing or accountancy services, fabulous garden designs or vegetables.

The other strengths you need to cope will include: enjoying the excitement of the unknown, being a self-starter, enjoying your own company, being well organised, self-disciplined and able to prioritise. You need self-confidence but not over-confidence. You must be a doer not a dreamer.

Basic skills

As well as these characteristics you need some basic skills, including book-keeping, marketing and selling, and possibly managerial skills. You can learn or develop these. Since there’s normally only you to begin with, you can’t just do the bits you like and hope the rest will happen by itself. This is the main cause of failure.

People often say, ‘But this doesn’t apply to me: I’m just a … web-designer, not a salesman.’ Right. But you still need to find customers, set prices, find who your competitors are. The fact is, you will be running a business and must start with professional, businesslike attitudes.

Conversely, do not imagine that just because you’ve been running General Motors that you can run your own show in your sleep. Life is very different on your own, with quite different pressures.

Body and soul

Turning to another aspect of you, is your health good? Do you tire easily? As a self-employed person, you’ll have to have the stamina to keep going when you’re exhausted, under the weather, and just plain fed up with it all. And, of course, there are no paid holidays, or sick pay!

Consider your partner. Are they supportive or grudging? If they’re just grudging, you’ll have to work hard to bring them round. You’ll have to rely more on them than you did in conventional employment: not just emotionally, during the ups and downs of your business. You’ll both have to accept that you’ll probably have less income for a while and you may be tripping over each other at home.

For those with children, you cannot work professionally with children underfoot. Either you’ll have to forfeit all your early income to pay for adequate child-minding. Or you have to organise your day around school time. The tricky bit then is coping with the children during the holidays, and when they are sick.

What do you want to do?

Next, consider where you’re going.

  • Do you know exactly what you are going to do?
  • Does it use your best and favourite skills?
  • How much must you rely on your weakest skills?
  • Can you make enough money doing it?
  • Will it get you where you want to be in five years?
  • Do you know where you want to be in five years?
  • What are you going to sell?

Hopefully, you have a number of possible business ideas. If not, see 14 easy steps for a step-by-step guide to help answer these issues.

The next step is to test their viability, suitability and practicality. This is where market research is absolutely vital. It will reveal who your customers will be, who fulfils their needs now, and what their hot buttons are. These issues apply equally whether you’re selling to large companies or families.

However, doing too much research can simply end up terrifying you into never starting anything. So before you get to the stage of paralysis by analysis, start preparing a rough business plan. It’s not as terrifying as it sounds and very worthwhile. Most banks have free guides to help you write one.

It’s true many people never bother with a proper business plan. They start tiny, maybe developing a hobby into a paying venture, while they’re still in paid employment, and grow organically at a pace they are comfortable with. But research shows that those who undertook regular business planning had an average profit margin of 54%. For those who did not, the average was just 35%.

The plan

A good business plan will describe not only what you are going to do, but how you perceive your main business strengths and weaknesses, plus the opportunities and threats in your chosen market. It outlines the type of prospect your products or services will appeal to, and how much money you will spend, and how, to reach these people. For example, will you rely on adverts in a national paper, or will you do a leaflet drop to homes and offices in your area?

The main reason for doing a business plan is so that you are quite clear what it is you are going to do, exactly. For example, if you’re offering freelance typing, does your service include collecting the work from the employer? If they’re next door that’s no problem. But if they’re half an hour away across the country, that’s expensive in time and petrol, and eats into your profit margin very quickly.

So in your plan you might decide to limit yourself to clients who are within ten minutes walking distance, and anybody outside that area pays a little extra.

It will also highlight what will happen if you get sick or go on holiday. The plan will also list the relevant equipment you have, and need, and how you are going to finance it.

How much money do you need?

You must figure out how much money you need to make this year, including your overheads and living costs. This will help you work out how much you have to make in a day, a week or a month to break-even. Is this realistic? Look at cash flow too. You can run out of cash even if you are making book profits.

Getting started

Most businesses are literally conceived on the ‘kitchen table’. Even if you plan to move into smart offices as soon as possible, you’ll probably spend your early days working from home. It’s cheap. It’s practical. It’s convenient.

Many people ask what they must do to be successful at running a business from home. The short answer is to set a clear, measurable objective, open a bank account and get going. Simple!

But if you’re working from home, there are various other essential things you need to consider.

First, you need a separate business bank account – it’s better to keep business and domestic accounts apart. Then you must tell the taxman and Contributions Agency that you are now self-employed and responsible for your own national insurance contributions and tax.

You must also inform your home insurers and get extra insurance if necessary. And don’t think you can ignore this – if you do, you could invalidate your whole policy.

Similarly, you must tell your mortgage holder, and check also whether you need planning permission to work from home. As a rough guide, if no-one can tell you’re working from home, you won’t (see Fact sheet No 5).

Keep it simple

Technology might be useful to help you do your job, but it won’t get you work in itself. It is easy to be carried away by technology and spend precious capital getting equipment that is over the top now, and soon out of date.

For example, a website is vital for some businesses because it makes them appear more professional. There are many packages to help you create on yourself in the early days, but when you are up and running, it is worth getting your site properly designed.

An answerphone is vital because it means people can reach you all the time. Miss a phone call, and you lose that business! You might consider an answering service instead which sounds more professional.

You should also consider a second phone line. Clients who can’t get through because your daughter is always on the phone to her boyfriend soon get fed up. A separate broadband connection is becoming more widely available and has the advantage of allowing surfing and phoning at the same time.

And finally, you need some sort of book-keeping system. It could be two shoe boxes, one for receipts and one for payments. The new tax self assessment rules mean you must keep every scrap of financial paper. The taxman is long-suffering with new businesses and usually helpful, but if you can’t prove that you bought six reams of paper, you can’t claim against tax for them.

Vital ingredients

So how do you take all this and make a success of working from home? The most important rules are to take yourself seriously, and to be really professional.

Get an attitude

Location doesn’t matter. Attitude does. If you act, think and appear professionally, you will come over professionally. This applies to everything from the way you run your accounts to the way you answer your phone and how you present your work. You are competing with professionals in conventional offices, which means you have to be twice as good.

Also keep regular hours. Not necessarily 9 to 5. Just whatever suits you best.

On the other hand, know when to stop. It’s very easy to slip upstairs after supper, just to get a couple of invoices out, and find yourself doing VAT returns at midnight.

Defended space

Where you work and how you manage your office are crucial factors in your productivity. This means you have to create your own ‘defended space’, free from intrusion or disturbance. Clients need to know that their stuff is secure from prying eyes. Moreover, you will not impress clients with the kids or TV blaring in the background.

Another aspect of defended space is that it gives you a vital sense of ‘going to work’. It helps you start the day and, as importantly, end the day and leave work at work.

Where to get help

When you’re working for yourself, particularly from home, there’s a terrible temptation to reinvent the wheel. Don’t. Get advice. Ask friends and experts (but beware, they’re not often the same thing!). Go to your local Business Link. Talk to your bank manager. Read books, magazines, newspapers. Go on courses – there are many free courses available for start-ups.

The key to it all is networking – talking to people. You must do it every day. Your network includes your family, your friends, your old school chums, your past employers and colleagues, your suppliers, your stationer. Everybody.

Your network is the key to your credibility and your extended sales force. They can all recommend you, pass you leads, answer questions, show you the way. They can only do that if you keep in touch. Keeping in touch works both ways, so give as good as you get.

In a nutshell

So, to sum up. What do you need to start a successful business?

  • Know yourself and your limits;
  • Understand your market place;
  • Prepare the ground well;
  • Be professional and determined;
  • Organise your domestic life;
  • Enjoy it and remember your goals.

14 easy steps to change your life

What can I do? What would suit me? Here is an exercise to help you gain a more focused idea of what you would actually like to do, in general terms, and the assets you can apply to it. It won’t necessarily produce all the answers, but the whole process will help you identify more clearly what they might be and what you need to do to get there.

1. Dreams

Try and figure out what it is you really want to do. It may be easier to start by deciding what you don’t like about your current job. So list the ten things you hate most about it and rank them. Then ask yourself honestly whether just changing your job or your employer but staying in the same field would not solve most of them. If not, a more radical approach is needed.

2. Work out survival rations

Take a hard look at your expenses. Whatever your next career, you will probably take a cut in income, at least initially. So work out what you need to survive, as opposed to maintaining your current standard of living.

Remember that you will probably be able to save on commuting, business clothes and working lunches. Moreover, you may no longer need today’s essentials like expensive weekends away to unwind, regular eating out or status symbols. However, add something for the simple pleasures.

This exercise may tell you whether you can afford a better quality of life by swapping salary for sanity or whether you had better stay on the treadmill a little longer.

3. Identify hot buttons

So what would you like to do? More important, what would you be best at doing? The answer, most likely, lies in your past. Your job now is not all you have ever done, or know how to do. List all you have done well or enjoyed since starting school. Throw in everything, including hobbies, sports, social and community activities.

Look back over your list and identify the seven events or achievements you felt really good about. They need not be grand or even something anyone has ever noticed. What exactly was it in each activity that gave you a buzz? It could be being part of a group, doing it alone, danger or security, action or analysis.

4. Highlight key skills

Go back over each episode and highlight the key skills you used to achieve the result.

5. Audit strengths

Next do an audit of your current skills and specialist knowledge. How many map onto your list of rewarding activities? Are there any gaps that a bit of training, on or off your job, could fill?

6. Recurring themes

Now review your two lists. What keeps recurring? Did you use these skills or attitudes to make something happen that you felt good about? Did they involve mainly data, ideas, people or things? Was it structured and measured, or dynamic and frenetic?

Tease out what gives you the most satisfaction, to point you in the right direction. Often it will turn out to be different from what you do now – or even what you thought you wanted to do.

7. Reveal your dislikes

Now do the same for seven activities in your life you have least enjoyed, isolating the aspects of each that turned you off. Was it boredom, no time to think, dealing with people, politics, not using your hands or your brain, pressure, travelling? This will identify what to avoid in the future so you don’t jump from the frying-pan into the fire.

8. Audit weaknesses

Try objectively to list your weaknesses in experience, knowledge, temperament and skills. What do you fear doing? In what areas do you know you have a blank spot? Again, training might help in some areas, but in others you may have to recognise your gaps and deal with them.

9. Get feedback

Ask two friends who have known you a long time what they think are your greatest strengths and weaknesses. Check this against your own lists.

10. Find your opportunities and threats

Note any windows of opportunity that may be in the offing: redundancy windfalls, kids off your hands, new friends with similar ideas, new technology.

Then jot down everything outside your control that could be seen as a threat or constraint to your options: kids’ schooling, elderly parents, etc. Treat this as a list of hurdles to be crossed, not a catalogue of excuses not to proceed.

11. Go on a fantasy trip

Write down everything you dream of doing – even silly things. How many fit with the lists you’ve just prepared? It’s as well to eliminate any dreams for which you are patently not suited.

12. Sort your aims and objectives

Back down to earth, sort out your aims and objectives in life and work. Aims are grand strategic visions – fulfilling your realistic dreams. Objectives are the stepping stones to get there. They are tactical, measurable and have deadlines.

So your aims may be:

  • Move to the country.
  • Gain control of your life.
  • Spend more time with the family.

Some objectives might be:

  • Put the house on the market in one month.
  • To have prepared a business plan for your own venture by three months time.
  • Never do business work at weekends.
13. Sign up to your aims and objectives

Write down your objectives in big letters and put them on a wall to remind you of them each day. Now all you need to do is translate them into action!

14. Putting it together

So now you have a heap of lists: likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints, and finally aims and dreams. Try to map them on to each other. Then sit down and with your partners (life, business or both) and brainstorm into those areas where the good things come together. Out of this should come the germs of ideas to explore that are solidly based on who you are, where you are and where you want to be.

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written by Chris

One Response to “What is ‘Downshifting’?”

  1. 3 Secrets to Early Retirement (and Life like a Nomad forever) | nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] Basically the idea is to live more with less. Start with Downshifting. How? […]

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