Challenges and Solutions for the Self-Employed

As the number of self-employed increases, so, too, does the competition for work. Here’s a look at today’s challenges for people who work for themselves along with some solutions for overcoming the problems.

Self-employment is a way of life for millions of people in the United States. How many millions? Well, the answer to that question seems to depend on which statistics you read.

One report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), states there were 9.6 million self-employed in the US in 2016. Another BLS report says there were 15 million self-employed in the US in 2015. Meanwhile, a report on freelancing published by Upwork in 2018 found there are 56.7 million self-employed in the US. It’s likely that the differences in numbers are related to how self-employment and freelancing are defined in each report.

One thing most reports and predictions about self-employment agree on, however, is that self-employment will be increasing.  That trend is one that already seems to be presenting a challenge to today’s freelancers and independent contractors.

Increased Self-Employment Leading to Increased Competition for Work

According to the results of a new survey conducted by QuickBooks Self-Employed, an overwhelming majority (85%) of the self-employed survey takers said they were experiencing more competition for work than they have had in the past, and 71% said the competition is affecting their business.

The financial security that many hope for by becoming their own boss seemed elusive for many respondents, too. Whether the money concerns were due to increases in competition alone, or to other challenges such as getting paid and maintaining consistent cash flow, two-thirds of the 753 US-based survey takers indicated they felt “somewhat” or “very” financially insecure.”

Lack of Time and Money Limit Growth

People who work for themselves have to fill many different business roles. Planning, sales and marketing, inventory management, order taking, producing and delivering goods and services, customer relations, website, and social media management, and bookkeeping are just a few of the tasks that must be handled. And each takes time. Hiring other people to delegate some of that work to requires money.

Thus, it’s not surprising that money and time were the top growth challenges for self-employed individuals. Almost a third (31%) of the respondents cited money concerns as a drawback to growth, while almost 18 percent listed time as a major growth challenge. One in seven (14%) said they work more than 50 hours per week and many indicated that they have two jobs – one being their own business, the other being for work for another employer.

Lack of Measurable Goals

Interestingly, while 57% of the survey takers said that their goal was to increase business by 40% or more, only half of the respondents indicated that their growth goals are measurable. The other half either had no growth goals or weren’t able to measure most of their growth goals. Written, measurable business goals can help business owners stay focused on success and see their progress – or lack of it. Running a business without measurable goals is like throwing a cork in a lake and hoping it gets to the other side by itself.

How to Overcome Self-Employment Challenges

To overcome the things that are holding you back you have to identify them and then make appropriate changes. These suggestions will help:

Assess the Situation

The first step in attacking the challenges of self-employment is to sit back and assess your situation. How strong is the need for your products or services? Is the need growing or declining? Are you getting new customers, repeat orders and referrals? If not, why not? Who is the competition and how are they doing? Is there anything they offer that you don’t? Or vice versa?

Be Sure You Do Have Written and Measurable Goals

Be sure you list the steps that are needed to achieve your goals, and that you track your progress toward them. Goal tracking and time management forms can help you stay focused.

Implement Cost-Effective Strategies for Growing Your Business

Lack of money doesn’t have to limit your business growth. When cash is in short supply (and even when it isn’t!) learn to put growth hacking tactics to work to build your business. Identify and implement ways to get other people to talk about your business and refer you. Word of mouth has long been a leading source of business for the self-employed and other small companies.

Look for Ways to Streamline Your Work and Save Time

You can increase your productivity without working more hours by learning to focus and block your time. For instance, instead of logging into your social media accounts daily, block out time once a week to write out several social media posts. Then, use a social media scheduling tool like Hootsuite to automate sending the posts out to all your social media accounts on the days and times you want the posts to appear. Manage your time better by planning and prioritizing tasks. Spend less time on email by turning off email alerts, and only reading and writing email on a schedule you set. Unsubscribe from mailing lists you’re not interested in. Move any non-important mail into “read later” folder so you concentrate only on the important mail.

Systematize Your Work So You Can Delegate It

You’ll be able to grow your business faster if you can pay someone else to do some of the routine tasks for you. But to get good results, you’ll want to have systems and routine procedures in place and that you can easily explain to the people you hire.

Competition, lack of time and lack of money have long been challenging for the freelancers and other self-employed individuals. But you can still grow your business by learning to work more efficiently and keep your marketing costs down.

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