Facebook memories, free coffee, and 7 years of working for myself full-time

So, yesterday Facebook reminded me that 7 years ago, the guy outside the station gave me free coffee.

I didn’t know his name and I don’t think he knew mine.

He sold coffee outside my local station and, as I started and finished work late in an attempt to miss commuter traffic, there wasn’t usually a queue when I got there. This was a good thing because I was often late. I don’t like mornings anyway. Mornings when you have to go to a job that you don’t want to be doing any more – that’s a recipe for lateness!

So, there were no other customers and the coffee guy and I got chatting. He knew I was counting down the days to finishing life as an employee. To be fair, some of my colleagues knew about this countdown too. One of the lawyers used to joke with me and asked me most mornings how many days it was.

Saying goodbye

When it was 50 days away, it seemed like for ever! Then it was 30, 20 – then single figures! It was getting real!

On the last day, the guy selling coffee said he knew how long I’d been looking forward to this day and the coffee was on him! Such a nice thing to do!

I think things are always hard in the last few days of a job. I’ve never left a job to not have one – it was either to move to another job or to go self-employed. But you either find everyone that you ever knew wanting you to do stuff that apparently only you can do, just before you leave, or you end up doing the most boring things ever because everyone thinks it’s pointless for you to start something new. Or someone who hates you decides to give you a really awful project to do as a “parting gift”.

I’ve experienced all of these. But as I sat there on the train, drinking my coffee and doing the commute for the last time, I was excited!

A manager (not my manager, but one who often made time for me and helped me out) took me for lunch. I did very little work. I had a speech planned, but in the end couldn’t be bothered with most of it. Those who mattered knew how I felt, and those who didn’t, didn’t matter!

I went for hot chocolate with my team mate, one of the few people I’d genuinely miss, and then I got back on the train for the last time as a commuter.

I reached down and patted my golden retriever girl. Things would be different for my guide dog too. NO more cramped trains. Visits to the park in the daytime. I thought she might miss some of our friends, but she’d probably like self-employed life too. We’d both had a little taster of it when I tried to work from home once in a while, but that’s really not the same as doing it full time.

And all of that was seven years ago now – it feels like much longer than that! I’ve moved house twice, once to a new town, started a relationship, got engaged…

First months

The business isn’t actually seven years old this month – I began it in the April and worked on it part-time. But it really felt like it was happening when I handed in my laptop for my old job, gave back my security pass, and said goodbye to the people who were now my ex-colleagues!

I’d given myself 9 months to decide whether it was going to work out. After all, I had no idea. I had a concept and a couple of customers already, but no guarantee that the idea was viable. I was the sole breadwinner, so I needed it to work. Perhaps if I had been really happy in my last job, I wouldn’t have felt as empowered to leave, but I knew I was taking a risk. The couple of people who said I was crazy actually inspired me to prove them wrong, and everyone else was pretty supportive.

I decided that if things weren’t working out after 9 months, I had a couple more months to find a new job before things got really desperate! “Working out” didn’t mean earning the same as I used to, but it did mean that things were going in the right direction and I thought there was a realistic chance of English with Kirsty providing me with a reasonable income and way to pay the rent, have some kind of social life, and facilitate me doing the things I wanted to do.

I worked really hard during those first months. Too hard actually – I didn’t make time for friends or take any time off. So that was my first lesson. I’d always thought my time management was pretty good, but I can get hyper focussed on something to the detriment of everything else. I still made sure my dog was taken care of and basic things like that, but life had got a bit out of balance!

Once I’d got into the swing of things, I loved it. I knew I’d love working from home and not sharing my office with anyone. I was disciplined enough to make it work, and I enjoyed having the ultimate responsibility for decisions. If something goes wrong, it’s my fault and I’ll do better next time, but I’ll never again have to pay lip-service to something that I think is a really stupid idea!

Seven years later

I’ve learned a lot since then! I’ve learned that some months are better than others, and you need to take a longer-term view, not letting how you feel about yourself be determined by how busy you are on any given day.

I’ve learned that not everyone who offers training in the areas that you need will do a good job, but there are some fantastic people out there.

I’ve learned that quality of life is more important than climbing the career ladder in the traditional sense, especially if the latter is making you miserable. Yes, it’s still hard when I see what other people are doing now who carried on in the direction that I was going. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare myself to them – usually if I’m having a bad day anyway! But I chose a different path, and there’s a lot to be said for going to work with a smile because you enjoy what you do, and not having the awful Sunday night feeling where you’re dreading Monday morning!

I’ve learned that you don’t only need people in your own industry in your network. There’s a lot of support to be gained from other self-employed people, even if you’re working on completely different things.

I’ve learned that things change, and you have to keep your eye on the ball – things that worked in 2012 are not working now, but there are some new ideas that are working really well.

I’ve learned that people who annoy you before they’ve even signed up will probably continue to annoy you if you decide to work with them. First impressions can tell you a lot, so try to attract the people with whom you’re going to enjoy working!

I’ve learned that some of the best parts of my job are when you see how you’re making a difference to someone’s life.

I’ve learned that it’s good to take stock of where you are and where you want to be – stopping some activities when they’re not adding value, and realising when it’s time to grow. That’s why I added a second website this year called EwK Services, for all my translation, communication, and accessibility consultancy services.

I’ve seen my website grow from something with four or five pages, to one that has a blog, a podcast, and plenty of resources for people who want to learn English.

I’ve developed new skills in marketing, podcasting, bookkeeping – if you don’t outsource, you learn to do things yourself.

I’ve written and published two books.

I’ve met really interesting people from different countries and with fascinating stories.

I’ve found a way to use my German skills –something I always wanted to do, but never managed when I was employed.

I’ve become a teacher – something I’ve been wanting to do since I was about 5!

I’ve been able to move and not remain tied to a physical place – after all, my customers are in at least four different countries and they don’t care where I am as long as I have a good internet connection. This is also great when there’s snow outside, or when I’m managing other health issues – working from home really is the best option for me.

I’ve learned to celebrate the small wins – and the big ones too! To recognise them and acknowledge the work that went into achieving them.

I’ve got something that I have built. I ask others for help when I need it, but this is something that I started, at a time where online training wasn’t as common as it is now.

It definitely hasn’t been easy. Starting something from scratch never is, especially when it means you have no guaranteed set income each month as you do in paid employment. You have to earn it!

There have been setbacks, such as the time when I moved and the stupid phone company didn’t get my internet connection sorted out quickly. There was the time when I could no longer use the site where I’d found a lot of my customers and my main marketing strategy had to be replaced, pretty much overnight. There were times when big customers’ contracts came to an end and they had to be replaced or there’d be a gaping hole in my earnings. There was the time when I had more requests than I could handle – mainly because I was under-pricing my services. But all of these things taught me something as well and gave me tools to use if something similar happened in the future.

It’s good to plan and look forward. But sometimes it’s also good to look back and remember the journey so that you can see how far you’ve come. This little Facebook reminder helped me to do that yesterday.

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