Being self-employed: what I have learned

Exactly a year ago yesterday, I qualified as a bookkeeper. Since then, I have been busy setting up my practice and running my own business, hence no posts on this blog for almost a year. I thought I’d share with you what I have learned so far.

  • Being self-employed is hard

Having to discipline myself into a daily routine has been one of the hardest things about being self-employed. For various reasons, I had not worked for some years before I set up my business, so I didn’t exactly have a daily “routine”. Now, I work for three hours every weekday morning and to begin with I found this so tiring I could barely do anything for the rest of the day. Partly, this had to do with my chronic illness, but mostly I think it was just having to concentrate so hard for three hours straight every day was difficult for my brain to adjust to. It’s amazing how quickly you learn to fit everything else around work.

If you’re self-employed the buck stops with you. You can determine your own hours, but if a client needs to see/call you outside those hours, you need to accommodate them, as there is no one else to do that for you. I’ve had evening meetings and phone calls, I often answer calls outside my work hours, and I’m often thinking and talking about work outside those hours too. It’s all consuming.

However, it’s not all bad. I can plan around my work hours, change them if I need to, go away when I want to (as long as I take work into account). The money I earn goes straight into my own business bank account, with no need to fiddle about with job sheets or payslips. I can work from home, and I am my own boss. I like that a lot.

  • Every client works differently

…and it’s my job to make sure I work with them. This means not imposing my working practices on them, but fitting around theirs. This has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learned. Some of my clients use the software I use, but some want to use the software they are used to, and I’m happy with that now. It took me a while to let go.

Some of my clients are highly organised and have all their paperwork sorted out and ready for me. Others just thrust an envelope full of crumpled receipts and invoices into my hands and run away. I’ve even processed one invoice which looked as though it had been being eaten by mice!

Now for a big lesson I’ve learned just this week – some of my clients don’t really need me. I have a client who was shocked by my first bill (I don’t charge much, but my clients do pay for my expertise) and asked me yesterday if there was any way they could input their own books and just have me check everything over at the end of the year. I’ve had to learn that sometimes less is more. I will be going over to teach this client how to use the software next week. However, this does free some time up for me to take on the potential new client who rang me yesterday.

  • Advertisers are a pain, and it’s easy to get conned

Advertisers will ring you constantly. I must get at least five or six calls a day, and it would be more if I actually answered them. I’ve had to change my voicemail message to explain that I don’t answer calls from unknown numbers or numbers I don’t recognise. They never leave a message.

However, when I was just starting out and needed to advertise, I had no choice but to answer their calls and I got myself embroiled in an elaborate scam which ended up costing me hundreds of pounds.

The first call I got seemed genuine enough. The amiable man on the other end of the line told me they produced a magazine for the emergency services, many of whom ran their own businesses on the side and might well need a bookkeeper. He told me that I would be the only bookkeeper to advertise in the magazine, which would go out quarterly for a year, and quoted me a very reasonable price. So I paid.

What I know now: when they tell you you’ll be the only one in your trade to be advertised in the magazine, then that is a hallmark of these types of scam.

About a week later, I got a call from someone from another publishing company all together claiming that I had agreed to take out an advert in “Fire Prevention” magazine. He was so convincing that I assumed I had agreed to this in my original phone call and I paid him too. This is the point at which alarm bells started to ring. I immediately rang my bank and cancelled the payment.

Within a couple of days, he was back again. I told him I thought he was scamming me and he acted completely horrified. Again, he was amazingly convincing. He said he would send me a copy of one of their magazines to reassure me.

What I know now: it costs next to nothing for them to print a mock-up magazine and send it to you, often including your “advert”. 

When I received the magazine, I assumed it was genuine and I paid him again.

A week later, yet another publishing company called me, claiming that I had agreed to take out an advert in “Crime Prevention” magazine. I protested, but the caller then became so abusive and threatening (court action, bailiffs etc) that I panicked and used my own personal credit card to pay him.

Now, I knew I’d been had. I contacted the credit card company straight away and stopped answering numbers I didn’t recognise on my phone. They tried to call me six times in one morning, then several times a day, and then eventually it stopped.

I recently got the money back from my credit card company, but the rest is lost.

These people are the lowest of the low. I have reported the whole scam (as I believe all three were linked) to Action Fraud, who are investigating my case. Recently, three men were jailed for an almost identical scam.

And lastly:

  • Use the internet and local business groups for support

Being self-employed can be very lonely. I don’t meet other bookkeepers very often. However, my awarding body, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, runs an excellent website with forums and numbers you can ring for advice and support. The forums in particular have proved themselves invaluable when I’ve encountered problems I’m not sure how to solve.

The ICB also have a network of local branches. It’s a struggle for me to get to branch meetings because I’m unable to drive due to my long term health condition, but the branch chair and vice-chair have worked incredibly hard to accommodate me, and I will be going to my first branch meeting this month. I’m really looking forward to getting advice and support from fellow ICB members and also to listening to the excellent speakers they have lined up.

So, there is what I have learned so far. I’m sure the learning will continue as I become more established. I hope what I’ve written here might help other self-employed people not to fall into the advertising trap I got caught in, and reassure them that we’re all experiencing the same challenges.

About Liz Terry

I love to write, and have had quite a few articles published over the years. I write non-fiction on all sorts of subjects, including my own life and what matters to me. I write a blog, called "My Random Ramblings", which you can access by clicking to view my complete profile and then clicking on the link at the bottom. I also wrote a new blog in 2013 called "The 365 Project - a photo diary in words". Intrigued? Then you need to click to view my complete profile and click on the relevant link at the bottom.
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2 Responses to Being self-employed: what I have learned

  1. Maggie Ramsay says:

    Hi Liz

    I hope you don’t mind me contacting you but I came across a question you had posted on the ICB forum about a company called Fairmile Accountancy. I believe that they were going to be your first client. I cant’ see that there was any response to this. I am in the same situation and it all seemed a bit too easy so I am just wondering how it went for you and if you are still doing work for them?

    Kind regards



    • Liz Terry says:

      Hi Maggie, as far as I can tell they are legitimate; however they do expect you to be able to get on by yourself, and I found that I didn’t have enough experience to do that. So I didn’t get past my assessment.


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