6 Traits You Need to Be Self-Employed

Being self-employed is very different from being an employee

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Creating a job of your own by starting a business can be an attractive alternative when you can't find a new job - or just can't stand the job you have. Taking the route of self-employment presents a new set of challenges even for experienced professionals. Self-discipline, motivation, and the ability to adjust to pursue real opportunities are all necessary to run a successful business of your own.

But "How do I start a business?" is not the first question you should be asking if you're in this situation; the first question you should be asking is "Should I start a business?" Before you start thinking about the different types of businesses you might start, you have to do some thinking about you.

Starting a business is not for everyone. Being self-employed is very different than being an employee. And some people find it impossible to adjust to the differences. Let's see if you have the necessary entrepreneurial mindset to become self-employed. These are the six traits that encapsulate the ways you have to think and behave if you want to make a successful transition from being employed in someone else's business to starting a business of your own.

You Have to Be Flexible to Be Self-Employed

If you start a business, you no longer have "one" job with clearly defined duties and responsibilities. You'll suddenly have multiple jobs, which will be often interrupted by unforeseen crises (particularly in the startup phase). Many employees are used to having days filled with predictable activities; many self-employed people don't.

And once you start a business, there's nowhere to pass the buck. As an employee, you may be used to passing problems up along the food chain or not being very involved in decision making. As a self-employed business owner, you're the one who will have to deal with whatever the crisis is and solve the problem. You're the one who will have to make the decisions.

You Have to Be a Self-Motivated Initiator

When you're an employee, other people tell you what to do, either directly or indirectly. You get used to having others direct your actions.

When you are self-employed, you have sole responsibility for taking charge of what happens next. Creating a plan of action and setting goals are your responsibility.

No one's going to schedule appointments for you or point out what needs to be done. For many people who try to become self-employed and start businesses after having a long-term full-time job, this is the hardest adjustment to make.

For more on self-direction see Maintaining Your Motivation.

You Must Be Able to Recognize Opportunities and Pursue Them

Apart from sales-driven positions, most employees are not specifically trained to look out for opportunities. Many jobs focus on the creation of a product or providing a service while a sales department or a managerial team tackles the search for new customers and ways to grow the business.

If you start a business, you need to be the one constantly seeking out fresh opportunities and recognizing them when you see them. It might be a small opportunity, such as the chance to pick up a new client, or a large one, such as getting your product on the shelves in a large retail chain. As a small business owner, you have to keep scanning the horizon and positioning yourself to benefit from the opportunities that you find.

When You're Self-Employed, You Have to Be Able to Plan Ahead

Your last job may have involved no planning at all, as that was someone else's job. Or perhaps your job involved planning on a localized level, such as planning a particular project. If you want to start a business, you need to develop expertise in both short-term and long-range planning; it's about to become a big part of your life.

When you start a business, one of your first tasks will be to work on a business plan. As your business becomes operational, you'll find that this plan—however detailed—needs to be revised and that other plans need to be created, as you work toward the long-range goals that you've set for your business. From following someone else's plan as an employee, you have to learn how to create the plans yourself and adapt the plans to changing circumstances.

You Must Be Prepared to Put in a Constant and Consistent Effort

We've all seen employees who are just going through the motions, or who were just putting in the time until retirement. You don't need to be a co-worker to know who these people are. As a customer or client, you can tell, too.

Bluntly, starting a business takes energy, and you need to be able to give it 100 percent. You can't afford to just coast along or go through the motions if you're running a business. Your customers or clients need to know that you are devoting 100 percent of your talent, skill, or attention to them, and they will go elsewhere if they don't feel this is the case.

Worse, you need to deliver this constant and consistent effort without the employee safety net. Many employees are used to being able to call in sick and have someone else cover their job, for instance. As a self-employed business owner, you'll have to give it your best effort no matter how you feel or close up shop if you don't have employees who can fill in.

You can also say goodbye to the holidays that many employees enjoy, both the annual x number of weeks and the statutory holidays, at least until your business is established to the point that you can manage your own time.

You Have to Be Able to Deal With Uncertainty

As a self-employed entrepreneur, there's no guarantee that the products or services you offer will be in demand six months from now. Customers might not pay their bills on time or even pay you at all. Even if you have a big client, who regularly patronizes your business and seems to be perfectly happy with your work, they could drop you with little notice.

Revenue and actual income can drastically fluctuate from month to month. For many ex-employees who are used to having a paycheck arrive regularly every two weeks, the uncertainty of being self-employed is very difficult to deal with.