Permanent employment vs. going freelance in the FM sector

David_KentishDave Kentish’s response to the question below originally appeared in FMJ.

What are the advantages to giving up permanent employment in order to go freelance or to take a fixed-term contract? Is the FM market stable enough to go freelance and are there sufficient opportunities for this in the FM industry?

Should you be contemplating a career as an independent freelancer or consultant, which means giving up your permanent employment status, the first question to ask yourself is; how risk averse am I? There are simple tests you can take to find that out, but I believe that, deep down, we all know where our comfort zone is and whether we are willing and able to move out of it.

The second question to ask is; what prompted this desire to operate independently in the first place? What influenced this decision? Did someone you respect suggest such a transition? Or is it that you believe there is more to life than working for someone else?

The third question to ask yourself is; where am I in my life right now? What is your personal situation, which in turn may dictate your financial needs?

It is hugely important that a decision to quit your job and go self-employed within your industry is taken with those who will be there to support you throughout the journey.

The answers to the three questions above are all interdependent. At different ages and at different points in your life, your answers will change, depending on your current circumstances.

Let me give a couple of different examples:

  • You are in your late twenties / early thirties and you are married with two young children and a large mortgage. You have a permanent job, the salary covers your household bills and you have some money left over at the end of the month to go towards a holiday and some extras.
  • You are now in your late forties / early fifties, married and your two children have left home. Your other half is working and your mortgage is nearly paid off.

In which of the two scenarios do you think it is most likely that the person would seriously consider going freelance?

Once you’ve weighed up your own standpoint in the matter, this is another vital question to address; ‘are there sufficient opportunities for freelancers and consultants in this industry?’

In addition to considering the benefits of going freelance, one also has to explore the downside before a decision is made.

In my view, the benefits are:

  • Being your own boss
  • Flexibility – setting your own hours and fitting work around other commitments in your life
  • Independence
  • Being in control of your own success

What you would give up:

  • A permanent job offering security and a steady income
  • Statutory support
  • Benefits – including company pension, private medical, annual leave entitlement, annual pay rise / bonuses
  • Social interaction with colleagues

When you have made the decision to become a freelance consultant, then you must make a biannual and annual plan. Be very clear with your plan and, if needs be, get yourself a coach to help you achieve your goal. If you don’t already network within your industry then you must start.

Conduct market due diligence, speak to others who are working on their own or who have set up their own businesses (networking will provide a lot of this information), and work out how best to approach the area you are focusing on, as there may be the opportunity to collaborate on projects.

If you can, make your current employer your first client – either as part of a retained relationship or on an ad hoc project-by-project basis? This will give you a level of security when you first start out.

Going back to my two scenarios. Which one did you think most likely to take the plunge and strike out on their own? There is no right answer. It is all down to individual choice.

I did this many years ago and I would not go back. Yes, there have been times when the going got tough. There will be peaks and troughs but the rewards (not just financial) are many and should you follow this path, you will discover them. 

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