These days it seems that every other wage-slave is quitting their secure full-time job so that they can set up on their own. This was particularly true in Brighton - where I lived before moving to Canada - which has a large proportion of self-employed sole traders (like me) and small businesses. Why do people give up a guaranteed monthly pay cheque for the long hours, hard graft and stress that comes with working for yourself?
My long road to self-employment started over 15 years ago when I began sub-contracting for dozens of design companies, working as a temporary designer through recruitment agency Aquent. I joined Aquent (back in the days when it was called MacTemps) shortly after I received a few thousand in compensation following a road accident.
Before that, I had worked for five years for a small design consultancy, but I felt like I needed a bit more variety after such a long time in one place. I figured that a few grand in compensation would be a safety net for when I had lean times. It turns out that I never had to touch a penny because I had so many clients that often asked for me to come back when they needed help with their work overflow, which kept me incredibly busy for more than seven years.
One of these clients (the London office of Interactive Bureau) offered me a permanent position as its senior Web designer. I happily accepted as the company already employed a good number of extremely talented people and I wanted to be part of that team. However, following the dotcom crash, business at Interactive Bureau hit a slump and I, along with many others, was made redundant.
In my twelve year career, this was the first time that I had ever been "let go". It left me a bit shell-shocked and shook me out of my comfort zone. After years of clients asking for me by name, I suddenly found myself to be dispensable. I immediately signed up with Aquent again, but work seemed to be much harder to come by. I quickly realised that if I wanted to get the type of projects I enjoyed, I would have to work at it myself. As someone once said, "No one takes care of you like you".
I began visiting several online forums, looking for advice from fellow professionals. For me, the best of these was, and still is, the Graphic Design forum on About.com. I read magazines and books on all manner of business and marketing topics with a voracious appetite. Gradually, I learned how to get clients to come to me by using self-promotion and marketing. I redesigned and rebuilt my Web site from the ground up so that it would achieve a higher ranking on search engines like Google. I became one of the founding members of an online global network of creative professionals called Creative Latitude (I designed its Web site).
Following a short stint as a full-time designer for local consultancy Wild Dog Design, in the summer of 2003 I decided that the time was right for me to begin working for myself. In the months before I made this decision, I had invested a lot of time in marketing my services and promoting my site. This paid off because in less than four months on my own I was earning more than I had as an employee. As I approached the end of my second full year as a sole trader, my workload increased to the extent that I started to choose which new clients I want to work for.
Incidentally, the value of good working relationships and not burning your bridges should not be undervalued. I left Wild Dog on good terms and they continue to be a client.
My first-hand experience of taking that vertiginous leap into the world of being your own boss has proven invaluable. Many of the companies on my client list (almost a third) came to me as start-ups or firms that had been trading for no more than a year.
It's exhilarating, exciting and, at times, extremely scary - and I heartily recommend it to everyone.