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Business coach Steve Gardner looks at how a lack of self-discipline and social interaction can affect you when you start working for yourself from home

So, you think you’ve got self employment pretty well sorted out? In my case, I had a good business plan, eight years’ experience as an employee in a similar business, a whizzo new computer, and enough skills and qualities for two people, including charm, shyness and modesty.

And yet after about a week I found myself feeling out of sorts and lacklustre; I just couldn’t understand it. Then my wife started complaining that, when she came home in the evening after a hard day at the office, I was machine-gunning her with words because I hadn’t spoken to anyone all day.

Doing All the ‘Good Things’

You do what all the books tell you are ‘Good Things’: cash flow spreadsheets, marketing plans, writing to potential clients. I was also ringing up all my chums to tell them how glad I was to have left the old company and set up on my own (aka networking), constructing a sophisticated database of contacts in case anyone ever returned my letters and calls, and learning about accounting for small businesses.

True, I was also playing computer games and working my way through a catering pack of chocolate cakes each day, but hey, I’m my own boss, I don’t have to ask permission. So, this malaise just didn’t seem to make sense.

You find excuses for postponing doing things. I found I was “too busy” and “didn’t have the time” for such essential tasks as following up speculative approaches with a phone call. And when my wife asked me, in her own peculiarly penetrating style, what I’d accomplished during a day, I found I had difficulty remembering anything significant, and tried to justify my apparent lack of activity by falling back on excuses and generalities. It was only when I caught myself one day watching a daytime TV chat show – surely, they’re actors? - that I got scared enough to question my behaviour.

I realised that I was lonely.

The Need for Feedback and Support

Full-time-employment involves lots of social activity. No-one working, especially your boss, will admit this, but it’s true.

I realised how much I missed having a quick chat with colleagues by the coffee machine or as I walked around the office; I missed having a whinge about life and the universe with mates in the canteen at lunch-time; I missed being able to collar my boss at inconvenient times to discuss my latest Bright Idea; I missed general office chit-chat around me, and I missed being able to discuss the semiology of the images in pre-Columbian Hopi Indian cave paintings with similarly well-informed colleagues. (Actually we talked football, but I’m trying to impress here.)

‘Full-time-employment involves lots of social activity…I realised how much I missed having a quick chat with colleagues by the coffee machine or as I walked around the office.’

You need feedback and support. Although I found it great that I didn’t have someone whose IQ was only slightly larger than their shoe size telling me what to do – and this was one of the key reasons why I went self-employed in the first place – I realised that it was less than great that there was no-one to tell me that I had done, or was doing, a good job, no-one to bounce ideas off and no-one to tell me I was making or about to make mistakes.

Finding Solutions

For me, what made the difference was doing the following:

  • I started a Business Buddies group with some friends locally who were also working for themselves (and who weren’t competitors!). We met once a fortnight for support and business socialising.
  • I joined a couple of networking groups, one on-line and the other in real life.
  • I forced myself to go out at least once every day – partly for exercise and partly to break the routine of being indoors.
  • I put on a suit every day.
  • I cut the plug off the TV.

The result? Within about a week of putting my solutions into action, I found I was back to feeling positive and enthusiastic about myself and about my business. As a result of my different approach, and probably some luck, shortly afterwards I got my first client and realised that I was actually in business.

Bear in mind that if you intend working for yourself from you, you need to be:

  • Self-reliant
  • Confident in your own decision making
  • Tough-minded
  • Very, very self disciplined

And you need to get out and talk to people – e-mail and telephone are not good substitutes for good ol’ face to face meeting-people-in-the-flesh.

Steve is a highly experienced Coach, Trainer and Business Consultant. He combines an ability to cut through to the essence of a problem with a knack of asking those awkward little questions that make people squirm enough to think differently. Steve is passionate about developing people and organisational potential and has no idea how to administer psychometric tests. Steve.gardner@arbus-black.co.uk

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