Tips For Becoming Self-Employed & Staying That Way

April 21, 2010  |  Articles

I’ve always been one to set goals for myself. When I was younger it was all about becoming a musician my list kind of looked like this:

  1. find a good band and get into it
  2. get some good songs written
  3. play your first gig
  4. play to a massive crowd
  5. get on the radio
  6. get groupies
  7. get on tv
  8. get signed

I was able to achieve all those different goals except the last one… it wasn’t the time and it wasn’t meant to be. God had better plans for me.

I make lists with regards to everything. Planning for my immigration to Canada, Planning to get married, Planning to get a child.

That’s just how I think… I look at a big goal.. then break it down into small mini goals so that I can feel like I’m on the path to getting to my big goal.

My Next Big Goal

I’m 35 now and in my head I should have been self employed for a few years now. The truth is… I am!

I’m an international voiceover artist with clients from all over the globe. But that isn’t the purest form of my goal because I’m still very much a creative director at an advertising company here in Cairo, Egypt.

So yes I am self employed but not full time. Part of it is that it’s very hard to let go of a steady income regardless of how underpaid I am. But the biggest part is that I haven’t yet reached a specific landmark in my list of mini goals to reach my ultimate goal of being Self Employed.

The mini goal that I’m stuck on right now cannot be hurried or rushed. It has to do with starting and nurturing relationships with voiceover casting agencies and with voice seekers. The goal in short is to bring in double my income every month for the next year.

Double My Income

There is a good reason why it’s good to live in Cairo. It’s relatively cheap compared to where you live. I mean for 90 octane  gasoline I pay 1.75 Egyptian pounds per liter… that is about 35 cents for you Americans out there and about 18 p for our British readers.

So the money I make from international clients at international rates translates to a relatively decent living here in cairo.

But for me to be confident and comfortable enough to go full time I need to have a steady VO income. That means that I need to keep stretching my business social base until the stream of work is a little more predictable than sporadic.

Yet even now while I’m waiting for this event horizon I need to plan on what happens after I take the decision to go rogue and become self employed.

Going Rogue

This is not the first time I will be self-employed. Post 9/11 it was hard to find a job in Canada. A devout Muslim Arab was anathema and many companies, who were already suffering from the post world towers financial crisis, where laying off people so the market was saturated with options for employers. So you didn’t really have to be that equal opportunity. It was ok then to be a little less than PC.

So I went and registered a design company. Sole Proprietorship, and I went online looking for work. Ironically work came to me in the form of American clients and I was able to crawl ahead and when the time came to leave North America I was clean of debt and armed with a new knowledge base on what works and what doesn’t.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. So I occasionally look online for more tips on being Self-Employed and here is what I’ve found out:

Tips For Becoming Self-Employed

1. Work a full day.

If you aren’t recording a voiceover job then you should be online networking or emailing someone or doing calls or reconnecting with people you’ve done work for in the past. This is a job so treat it like one. This might mean that you wake up a little later since you don’t have to commute to work but it does mean that you should set some working hours to get the work done. If you are like myself in a timezone that wakes up way earlier than where most of your clients are then you can afford to wake up a little later… but that means you’ll be working a little later as well.

2. Get yourself a good Invoicing / Account software.

Don’t do it by hand… seriously… don’t! You are not an accountant … you are a voice talent … you might have a knack for it but keeping track of invoices and what money is coming from home and who owes you what and when. All of this is a recipe for disaster and loss of funds. Do it right from the beginning … get yourself a good software.. get yourself familiar with it and start taking the financial aspect of your business as seriously as a heart attack.

3. Save up the Fat months for the Lean months.

As much as you try you will sometimes have months that just aren’t bringing in as much money as they should, and there will be months that are bringing in far more than expected. Be smart and start setting a budget for yourself. Consider it a salary if you will. Your salary includes the house expenses, car expenses, any other expenses that you would usually spend your regular salary on and that’s it. Any money that is more than this salary goes into the bank and is forgotten. Block it out of your mind. This way if you don’t make enough money to cover your salary next month then you can supplement it with the extra money from the month before.

4. Make Sure You Get Paid on time and in full.

As a supplier of goods you are pretty important to your client… so pissing you off would not be a smart move from their side. If you and your client have agreed on a payment schedule then there is no reason for any payment to be late. If you have done the work per spec and within the time limits requested then there is no reason why your client should withhold payment from you or not pay in full. One of the articles I read about this suggested: “Make sure that payment terms are established in writing at the onset of any project and that they are printed on the invoice as well.

Anyone who has ever done any freelancing work can probably tell you about at least one client who only partially paid or didn’t pay at all. Have policies in place that will prevent people from taking advantage of you and prevent you from getting ripped off. For some jobs, one way to accomplish this can be to require partial payment up front. Also, keep in mind that even the most prudent or assertive person can still get conned. Try not to beat yourself up over it, think about what you can do differently next time to avoid a similar situation, and make sure to use the loss as a tax write-off when March comes around (business taxes are filed in March, not April). Also, listen to your instincts from the beginning: if you get a sleazy vibe from someone, don’t work for them.Source

5. Invest in your business.

Another blog article suggests the following:

Successful businesspeople from all professions stress the importance of investing in your business. They recommend setting aside a certain percentage of your profits (10 percent is a frequent recommendation) for this purpose.

Whether it’s updating your Web site, attending educational conferences, refreshing your marketing materials — it is important to sharpen your skills and add tools to your business resources.

On paper, it’s an easy concept to grasp. In practice, it can sometimes be difficult to actually write out those checks.

I recommend setting up a separate bank account in which you can regularly deposit a percentage of your business income. Having it already set aside can make it a little easer — psychologically — to spend it for its intended purpose. (Note: I also recommend this model for your quarterly business taxes.)Source

6. Try to Leave the house at least once a day.

Another article I read about working from home suggested the following ”

Take your dog for a walk – walk to get your lunch – or just walk. Once a week, maybe treat yourself to a lunchtime movie matinee. But make sure you get out of the house – it is probably one of the most important parts to working from home, and the one I admittedly am worst at.

If you commute every day, you would be amazed how much exercise you are getting compared to someone who works from home. I had an on-site contract for 3 months last year on the lower east side, and lost 10 lbs. If you think the ‘freshman 15′ were bad, try switching to fulltime work-from-home.Source.

I will add to that that because you are the boss of yourself one of two things might happen… you might over work yourself or you might be far too lenient and end up working 2 hr. days thinking that you’re doing fine. What this means for both these situations is that you will either work yourself into exhaustion or you will run your business into the ground.

What do you do?

This subject is rich with content and I can go on for another 1600 words talking about the dos and doesnts of successful self employment (at least the collective experience from others). Instead why don’t you guys tell me what practices you found beneficial for you. A month or so back fellow canuck Kim Somers told us about what she does to keep herself and her business running from home. What do you, dear reader, find beneficial in yours?


4 Comments


  1. Thanks again Taji,

    You’ve put into words what has taken me three years to learn. This will help the young up-n-comers!

    • There is so much more info out there… so many more tips… but I honestly can’t go past the 1,600 word mark on articles. I think maybe I should make more parts for this article just to fit in the collective wisdom online!

  2. Well put, Taji! Most people are not cut out to be their own boss. They lack self-discipline and cannot handle the uncertainties of a freelance life. At home there are a million distractions, and family members don’t always understand why you can’t just do that chore or run that errand. After all: you’re in the house.

    Financially, new freelancers aren’t necessarily prepared to handle all those things that used to be taken care of by their employer: taxes taken out automatically, health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, personal days, retirement plan, life insurance… and let’s not forget a steady, fixed income.

    Yet, more and more people join the force of independent contractors, temp workers, permalancers and part-timers in a society that’s still based on old ways of organizing labor. Dreams are great, but without planning, a strong work ethic and solid business skills, they can easily turn into a nightmare.

  3. Great article, since I’ve been self employed for a while I can confirm all the above points, especially saving for the lean months and the proper payment agreements. It’s very difficult to keep up with both of these points but they are a MUST.

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