Better off self-employed?

by | Nov 18, 2014 | Blog, Jessica Chivers, Mind & Personality, Workplace Psychology | 0 comments

Have you ever wondered if you’d be better off self-employed? A number of women in substantial jobs have used coaching time to explore this  recently and some have approached me about becoming an associate with The Talent Keeper Specialists. Time to tackle it in a column I thought, because self-employment is not for everyone.*


Personality traits of the ‘successfully’ self-employed

Organizational behaviour researchers Pankaj Patel and Sherry Thatcher used longitudinal data to unpick the personal qualities and beliefs that are most likely to encourage a person to go into self-employment and stick with it or quit. In summary, the research tells us you’re more likely to enter self-employment if you are emotionally stable (confident and resilient) and are open to experience (flexible in thinking and behaviour, curious and enjoy problem-solving).

Self-employedWhat’s interesting about their research is that whilst those who believed they could ‘master their own environment’ tend to be more drawn to self-employment, having this belief  does not make you more likely to persist in it.

What does count is just how important autonomy is to you. If it’s really important (as it is to me) you’re more likely to be successful as a self-employed person. This might also account for another finding which is that people who a) tenaciously persist with goals and b) are able to reframe negative situations as a positive (even when things look really quite bleak ) are more likely to persist with self-employment. The takeout for me is that if you really value autonomy you’ve either got to find a really grown-up, trusting and flexible culture and line manager to work in/for OR you’ve got to be prepared to work damn hard to make going solo financially worthwhile. Kirstie Allsop might suggest finding a rich man – I’ll leave you to make your own mind up.


Questions to stress-test self-employment


What’s really behind it?

  • Is there an obvious trigger for you thinking about self-employment that may go away in time?
  • Is there an element of your current role that, if you were to wave a magic wand and change/delete it (e.g. a different line manager; the ability work flexibly; greater pay; an open, trusting culture) would mean you would probably be keen to stay in it?

How good can it get?

  • What’s the best case scenario you can envisage if you were to become self-employed?
  • What would you stand to gain? How important is that to you?
  • Is your ‘vision’ of self-employment compelling enough to leave what you’ve got now?

What’s the impact?

  • What would you give up if you became self-employed? How much does that matter to you?
  • In what ways could you mitigate the downsides of self-employment?
  • Who else would be impacted by your self-employment? What does that mean you might need to consider?

How much time and energy have you got?

  • How quickly would you need to experience ‘success’ (however you define that) to make self-employment a feasible and worthwhile next step?
  • How small can you afford your earnings to be and for how long?
  • Who can you bring in to support you on this journey?

These are some of the questions I’ve been discussing with coachees who are starting to wonder about leaving to go solo. They are essentially ‘stress-testing’  provocations and if you’re giving them more than a second glance, do get in touch rather than ruminate and go round in circles. Coaching can be incredibly useful for working through the issues and coming to a conclusion for the time being. From our focussed coaching time you might conclude that self-employment isn’t a good move for you right now (and so putting the issue to bed and finding ways to increase satisfaction in your current role). Equally, through non-judgemental, exploratory talk-time, you may overcome the mental barriers to taking the leap and we could build a robust action plan to exist your current role and build afresh. m


* During a recent business ‘crisis’ where the web hosts of and declared that all data connected to the sites had been irrevocably lost, I  reflected for a moment on how this wouldn’t happen if I were employed. And then I reframed it and cracked on.


The inspiration for this piece comes from Patel, P., & Thatcher, S. (2012). Sticking It Out: Individual Attributes and Persistence in Self-Employment Journal of Management DOI:10.1177/0149206312446643 which was handily digested by Alex Fradera on the British Psychological Society’s Occupational Digest blog.

If you got something from this post, you might find these useful/interesting too:


Share this

mailtwitter fblink