Bag a better future!
Having realised he wasn’t happy to have a boss, Quest’s regular civvy contributor Ryan Mansfield decided to be the boss. And, having found his new ‘roll’ in life, he’s here with the recipe for those of you who feel the same
For most people in ‘normal’ careers, leaving one job and moving on to the next usually happens rather naturally, and somewhat predictably. You, however, are not ‘most people’, and you certainly do not have a ‘normal’ job (whatever that might be). Your story so far will have a certain uniqueness to it that means it cannot easily be compared to anyone else’s.
Being a ‘civvy’ myself – and being known for that in Quest – I have only my own personal interpretations of stereotypes and tales of those who have served their time in the Forces to go on when piecing together my rather blanket generalisations. But, regardless of job role, only in rare cases do we see someone completely ‘jump ship’ and make a total U-turn in terms of how they decide to earn their crust. To a certain extent, however, you have very little say in this matter. Despite the progression you have noticed in yourself – whatever the context – there may be no obvious route carved out for you as you plan your departure from the Services, as few other jobs come close in comparison.
As a result, you might be left at a slightly awkward crossroads of uncertainty. However, although it may seem easy to shine a negative light on this situation, only your own attitude will dictate that. For no matter how individual you think your time serving is – or was – like all Service leavers you will have gathered many transferable skills along the way that could be applied to a whole host of mainstream jobs – with a little bit of nous.
Personally I find working a bit of a bind. I struggle to stand still when it comes to being someone’s employee and quickly get itchy feet. New jobs begin, I’m keen to impress and all seems to be well organised … but when I gradually determine that many colleagues are just a hindrance, that bloke in the interview who promised me the world was in fact Pinocchio, and most bosses are rarely fit to run a bath – let alone a company – the same realities always dampen my spirit in the end. So, subsequently, the novelty soon wears off, leaving my latest mission for occupational satisfaction tainted yet again, pushing me right back to square one. It is therefore my biased assumption that this is not something that would particularly appeal to you – or anyone else for that matter!
Abiding by someone else’s tight deadlines isn’t always fun, and feeling snowed under at the wrong end of the hierarchy makes the light at the end of your tunnel seem like its running out of gas. So, after carelessly hopping from one job to the next, I realised that my varied excuses for my working discontent were precisely that. I didn’t have a problem with every boss I’d ever had – quite the opposite. Instead, my issue lay purely with the reality that I had a boss at all. For that reason, I finally decided I had to go it alone.
So maybe it’s time to be even savvier with those transferable skills of yours and find a way to dictate your own future earnings?
Until you can fluke all six lottery numbers, the very essence of setting up on your own means that you decide what you want to do with your life. Starting up my own business – a joint partnership with my father – was the best work-based decision I’ve made so far. Although my new sandwich shop, On A Roll, in Nuneaton, is still in its honeymoon period as I write, I can say with some assurance that the sense of liberation is one I haven’t experienced in any other job. There are several positives to being self-dependent when it comes to making a living. Implementing your own ideas to achieve your own potential is really quite invigorating, while pulling the strings of your own business can result in it not really feeling like work at all. Even when busy to the point of brain fry, self-employment doesn’t seem to melt the soul a fraction as much.
It is therefore my belief that most people engage in the fantasy of working for themselves at some point. The reasons for this are many and varied, and no two people – even from the same background – will have equivalent visions as they piece together in their minds possible niches that could be exploited. Self-employment is not just about what you’d like to do, but assessing what is needed, and where this necessity is required. It’s the fine line between calculating what you’re prepared to do wholeheartedly and what others would regularly part with their hard-earned cash for.
I work as many hours now in a week as I ever have, yet the days just don’t seem half as laborious since the grand opening. Therefore the freedom I refer to is more a psychological pleasure than anything else, I suppose. Maybe generated by the knowledge that the boss isn’t on my case? Or knowing I’ll never have to watch ‘that’ member of staff dote on them again like some attention-starved puppy? Or maybe it’s the glorious reality that never again will I have to pretend that I care – because now I actually do.
However, there are of course always two sides to every coin. There are some misconceptions surrounding self-employment, and one of them is the fictional hypothesis that being ‘the boss’ allows you to have limitless free time to mould everything around your glamorous personal schedule, as if mortgages, mouths to feed and all other inescapable realities of life no longer need attending to. Well, think again. Workloads don’t decrease as you embrace self-employment; they grow. There used to be a whole squad of you that pulled together to complete tasks and drills; now you do the labour, the admin and make the calls … and everything else in between that consumes time. Fully committing your time and effort is a pivotal factor, as work doesn’t stop once you rotate the ‘open’ sign in the shop window or close the van door. Your advertised hours of business equate to 80% of your working day – if you’re lucky.
The same applies to your application of duties and your management of people. Palming all your responsibilities on to an employee might seem tempting. After all, you’re in charge now and your old boss did that to you, right? Well unfortunately your old boss and you are not that similar. They inflicted their castaway jobs on to you because they were probably smart enough to figure out they could afford to. If it wasn’t done right – or even at all – it may just have escaped punishment or notice, as they represent only a tiny portion of a much bigger operation.
You, on the other hand, have to build your empire from the ground up. Every single decision you make reflects on you and your business. This applies even if you are not present, so be sure to hire wisely when expansion is hopefully necessary. Your workforce, equally, is a representation of you, and although some can be invaluable, by the same token one mistake or careless act can contribute to tarnishing a reputation you’ve worked so hard to try and assemble so far. My last boss – an absolute gem – who was a supervisor for the first time in his career in charge of me, advised me to reflect on ‘all the shitty bosses I’d had, and their flaws’ when I handed in my notice to take on my solo venture. Obvious but sound advice, I would have thought.
Although, at the start, the potential cons may seem the main focus, these are all an essential part of the process in getting your business venture successfully up and running. Literally anyone can set up an enterprise, but it is estimated that more than 50% of all businesses in the UK vanish within five years – proving that not everyone is cut out for it. Some people are more naturally equipped with the required skills, and only time will tell if I fall into that category. Turning rags into riches isn’t achievable by everyone, else we would all be doing it already. The early stages can be brutal, and I’m still riding the waves of inconsistency. Therefore it seems fairly obvious to suggest this high failure rate comes down to an element of naivety somewhere along the line. Many ventures that crash early are probably good businesses – or at least good ideas – but don’t have the finances or time to flourish. Once you’ve committed to your idea, it’s always going to be against the clock if you want to keep the wolf from the door. If you run out of time, or money, or patience, then you either didn’t plan well enough or your idea was appreciated by you more than anyone else – so be sure to rule with the head and not the heart.
This preparation may include seeking the help of a financial adviser, for a fee. Although not particularly cheap, a business plan will boost your chances of getting a business loan from a bank and inevitably highlight potential kinks you would never have imagined for yourself. Their job is to run the figures and inform you whether the fantasy vision in your head has the potential to marry up with reality, so a green light here can act as a huge nerve-settler.
In any case, there will be many more hoops to jump through before you’re quoting a job price or serving your first customer. As a result you should see my slightly more pessimistic side, shall we say, as realistic and practical advice from someone fresh out of the self-employment traps. Equipment won’t pay for itself and seemingly made-up overheads soon build up to unbelievable heights, adding an element of risk and pressure to what is an already tense time. Set-up costs will more than likely outmuscle your financial predictions, so make sure you’ve done your homework and not only seen the gap in the market but have planned meticulously to ensure you find the proof of the pudding!
Once under way, you’ll have to examine your pricing strategy with a fine-tooth comb. Whether you’re extending hair or houses, be prepared to offer deals, discounts or downright freebies in order to undercut your competitors and turn heads in your direction. This is another surprisingly attention-sapping topic once you sit down with all your figures and overheads. Advertising does work, but word of mouth will always be both your most valuable and cheapest friend. Making a good first impression in the public eye is essential – and your pricing is exactly that.
Self-employment is how I imagine it to feel owning a dangerous pet. One day it can feel enthralling, making you wish you’d done it sooner, while a quiet week or a few errors can make you question why you bothered in the first place. But that’s another reality you have to face. No large business ever became what it is today without evaluation. Good organisations don’t stand still – they keep what’s working, improve what could still work and scrap what doesn’t.
In closing, my intention is not to sway you from setting up on your own, but to make sure you’re fully equipped for the challenge ahead. I want you to be prepared and, more importantly still, I want you to succeed. Manage your expectations realistically and patiently, and work hard at it – there are too many hungry sharks lurking in the water if you don’t. You aren’t owed a living, or success, or customers, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ve stumbled across that one unique idea that no one else has ever thought of. So constantly adapt your ideas, be prepared to change what’s not working and don’t let stubborn pride overrule logic or reason.
Most important of all, be sure to believe in both your service and yourself. If you don’t, then how can you really expect anyone else to?
As always, the very best of luck!
Case Studies See all
‘When serving in the Army I didn’t think about my future,’ says Craig Froggatt, who, having served for four years, found himself homeless on the beach in Skegness. ‘I presumed that, when I...Read more »
with RAF Aircraft Engineer, Richard KearRead more »