How I Became My Own Boss

Being my own boss, being self employed, was never a goal I had. And I didn't set out to be self employed in 2015 when I was job hunting. My area is administration. "Office work" if you like. And I felt like I had really found my niche when I started working in the medical field in 1995 as a secretary at a large teaching hospital in New Brunswick, Canada.

After I moved to England in 2003, I had two part time jobs. Both were disappointing, largely because of the poor working conditions which affected performance and moral among the staff. It was another aspect of the culture shock I had to deal with. I hadn't anticipated that England and Canada would be so different in so many ways. Silly me.

In 2015 I started out looking for a position in a medical capacity again and came across an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, about the emerging trend for virtual assistants. Technology is a wonderful thing and just a decade ago, being someone's secretary/personal assistant/administrative assistant, call it what you like, was only possible if you were in situ. On-site, in the office.

Now, with fast internet and software that allows remote access and fast communication, the daily commute can be a thing of the past.

I started with a virtual temp agency called Timeetc. Some of my best jobs as a p.a. came via temping in Canada, so when I passed all the testing with Timeetc (one of which was an I.Q. test of all things. That was a first), I got my first assignment as a second on a London-based anaesthetist's practice. But without having to travel to London to do it. I eventually found a client of my own outside of the agency and left them to manage that office. That was three years ago and while it has its challenges (I work with a surgeon and sometimes its like herding cats!) as any job does, I wouldn't do anything else if I didn't have to.

Start up costs for me were minimal. I already owned a good laptop and smartphone and initially, I was using free software. I've since upgraded to paid versions of MS Office and my virtual filing cabinet, Dropbox (highly recommend!). My client pays for the medical practice management software I use since it is licensed to the individual doctor with remote access permission to staff like me.

For me, the overall cost of working from home is much lower than that for going out to a job each day.  I work from an hourly rate that figures in my overhead and ensures a client gets the best value for money. It can be ideal for anyone with small children (saves on childcare fees for one) or if you aren't as physically mobile as you would like, but still want to work. Or you simply cannot face another day of commuting and office politics.

I was once asked, "but don't you miss talking with other people?". I do that all day! A medical practice is very public facing and while it is virtual, over time I do get to know many of the patients by speaking to them on the phone and by email. I have good working relationships with other professionals in the field and all that is done the same way.

Another bonus, you are not on anyone else's clock. You set your own hours, within the boundaries of your client's needs of course. You can run errands, keep appointments, take a sick day or a few days of vacation without it having to approved by someone else.

There are some other things to consider; you only earn while you are working. There is no paid sick leave or vacation/holidays. And you will need to file your own tax returns each year, ensuring you are paying into your government pension and other contributions that you might normally have as an employee. Initially, there is no advantage to setting up as a company (and all the officialdom that entails!), though you might want to do that for tax advantages if you find your income is getting really big (good for you if it does!).

If you think being self employed might be the right career path for you, I would advise taking a good look at your skills and experience. Do you want to continue working in the same field or do you fancy trying something different? Talk to people who are already self employed in the area that interests you. Along with online research, they are your best source of information.

Look carefully at your finances. Can you afford to quit your present job and jump straight in to self employment, or would it be better to develop it on the side (if that's possible), then leave when you feel the bank balance isn't under threat. It can be scary, cutting off the perceived security of a regular paycheque. But that doesn't mean you can't become independent.