the ups and downs of being self-employed

23 June 1664

Click above to read his diary (mostly about money matters)

I have been self-employed now for 50 years and have enjoyed most of it except when I ran a business without taking professional advice and inter alia allowed my credit card debt to spiral to £26,000. I realised that I had nothing to pay my debts with. This happened in the late 1970s when £26,000 was a considerable sum. I had to write placatory letters to the banks and credit card companies and offer to pay at £10 a month. This I managed to achieve and in consequence I have avoided getting a County Court judgement against me which believe me it’s something you don’t want to have because it does affect everything. Behind-the-scenes, lenders have to be very savvy and aware of each other’s activities otherwise the fraud rate would be even higher than the stellar rate it is now.

There is no question that someone who is self-employed has a mindset that is totally different from people who work in an institution be it commercial or public service.  As a self-employed person I never switch off. If a call comes in on Sunday morning from someone wanting something then I will deal with them straight away. To be fair, most people do not call on Sunday morning and strangely enough if they do so they are more likely to be time wasters. I work hard because I know that if I do not work, there will not be money to put food on the table. However, if it is self chosen work then it does not seem like actual labour. I cite the recent examples of my gardening where it is just a pleasure to bring happiness to others. I turn down jobs if I don’t like the people and that makes a great difference to the ‘burden’.

There are down sides like having to be Chancellor of the Exchequer and collect money from people who have varying degree of reluctance to pay promptly. I find that if you build up a good relationship with the person they are more likely to pay and if you ask them if they are happy with the work and they say yes and if you asked them if there’s anything else that needs to be done and they said no they are more likely to fork out. Overall though I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is possible to become professionally lonely and I do think that support groups possibly local support groups are more effective than LinkedIn where you do not necessarily get the quality of comradeship that is possible with a face-to-face meeting.  I think as a self-employed person you have to become more extrovert and in a way sell yourself before you can sell your product.

The main reason why I wrote this blog is because it’s about cycles. You do your best to announce yourself by giving out cards and advertising in the papers and on the media. Sometimes you get brilliant response and you are totally busy, at other times days go by when you get no response and if you were not aware of the inevitability of the cycles, you would start to panic. There is absolutely nothing that can be done about the cycles which seem to have a life of their own. You can almost call it a famine to feast and then to famine mentality. Someone wisely said to me, unless you are saving money, you’re losing money. I will let you figure that one out.

it’s also worth remembering that the press will only tell you about the very successful and the very unsuccessful in other words billionaires or bankrupts. Most people trundle along owning a penny, supporting their family, and not doing anything newsworthy.

Françoise and myself run a micro-economy at home. We do not have a mortgage to pay, we are not in debt. Our annual earnings between us are not much to write home about but our annual expenditure is quite low and consists of the normal statutory charges plus basic expenses plus maintaining our car, a Volvo V70 – no less – of amazing vintage, which is our work horse for the gardening, for going back and forth to the supermarket and going on trips. The Volvo is built for distance driving. This marque was after all created and engineered in Sweden where long distances apply. From North to South, Sweden is 1250 miles distance so the cars have to be designed for this. They do indeed purr along the motorway with a very good mpg. Don’t ask me what the petrol consumption is for local journeys. You will not get an answer except a rolling of eyes.

Anyway, back to the topic of self-employment. We have been doing all right with gardening but not brilliantly. I think it is fair to say that no two years are the same and you cannot assume a continuing trend of any activity in any direction. So, I get a call out of the blue. If you think about it most calls are out of the blue except those from your friends and partners. It was from a lady for whom we worked a couple of years ago. She is a good payer and very appreciative of our work and on the answering machine message said that we were the people who had done wonderful work for her. That always makes self-employment worthwhile to be encouraged. The work that I described yesterday was in a similar category. The couple concerned walks around the garden time after time hardly believing what they proceed with their own eyes. It should be remembered that gardens are very personal things and people have often put years of their life into it and when you reach an age when you can no longer function it is very important for an incoming gardener to respect the heritage of the garden and what has been put into it.

Other Half on right and the new allotmenteer breaking the back of the recently taken over plot

This morning we went along to help a new allotmenteer. I am secretary of the local Allotment Association and I try to help any new tenant especially if they are inexperienced to help them get their plot into working order. I absolutely do not mind doing this because I think of the overall appearance of the allotment. One derelict plot can spread seeds all over the place and contaminate other conscientious plot holders’ land.

My home town of Midsomer Norton. the main street has a river running through it and was in fact the main reason I decided to move here was that the river was well maintained. That told me a lot about the quality of the local council. We bought a house and have been here ever since. Perfect.


it is summer festival time and the local area in front of Sainsbury’s has been utilised for a variety of art stalls


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