Being honest with yourself – what are your sellable strengths and worrying weaknesses?

We all have a view on what we are good at, and what we are not good at.  I’m good at making curries, and finding practical ways to solve problems, and I’m not good at doing anything that involves being up a ladder or on scaffolding.  However, the things that spring to mind as our “best” and “worst” areas aren’t always the ones that are relevant to our capability to make money.

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Perhaps it’s better to focus on our characteristics and how they make us good at some things and bad at others, because it’s those characteristics that we can apply to new situations which will make us good at new (money-making) things.  So, for example, it’s my calm and logical approach that helps me to deal with panicking tenants, or to troubleshoot problems with an online assessment system, or deal with most other problems that life throws at me on a daily basis.  My preference for things that I can do by myself in my office without having to speak to people is an area that I have to keep an eye on to make sure I don’t miss out on opportunities in an attempt to avoid less comfortable situations.  It’s about knowing yourself and understanding what sort of money-making activities are compatible with your character strengths.

I’ve always been the calm and practical type.  Many years ago when I lived with my mum and my nan, we got a phone call from my neighbour on a Sunday evening.  He was an older man, a foreigner who had lived in the UK for 30 years but still had a very strong accent, and he had lived alone for over a decade since the death of his wife, keeping himself to himself.  I answered the phone and he said with a degree of panic in his voice, “There’s a bat in my living room!” but given his accent, I wasn’t sure that I’d heard him correctly, and in any case, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do about it.  I replied “There’s a what in your living room?” to which he responded “A bat.  A bat.  I just hit it with my coat.”

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Thinking that it couldn’t get much stranger, I told my mum and we both went round and knocked on his door.  He was something of a hoarder, and not familiar with domestic cleaning techniques, so we braced ourselves.  He invited us in and up to his living room, where he gestured to the window area.  We picked our way across the room between the tables, footstools, records, ornaments and general detritus, and found a small bat lying dazed on the laminate flooring.  The neighbour confirmed that as darkness had begun to fall, the bat had woken up and appeared from the back of a picture he had earlier purchased at a car boot sale.  He had responded by flailing at it with his coat and knocking it onto the floor.  I poked it gingerly with an unidentified nearby object and it displayed signs of life.  The decision now was what to do about it.

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It didn’t look very well.  The weird foreign neighbour stood in the lounge waiting for us to do something about the errant and now damaged bat in his living room.  I went home and returned with all I could find at the time which may help with the situation (this was pre-landlord days so I was not well-equipped) – a small seaside-style bucket, a small fish net and a roll of cling film.  I was going to put the bat in the bucket and take it outside and put it out of its misery, but when we went to pick it up with the net, it flapped and managed to gain about 5 feet of lift, before giving up and falling neatly into the bucket I was waving in its general direction.  Given its valiant attempts at survival, I stuck cling film over it, poked some holes in the top, and called a local wildlife shelter, run by a moderately crazy woman in a mid-terraced house on an estate on the opposite side of town.  We jumped in the car and dropped the bat off to the even battier woman for recuperation.

Maybe the moral of this story is that it helps to be a bit batty…

Girl power, facebook and drinking tea

Being a Self-Employed Mum isn’t all about independence and girl power.  Sometimes it’s a little bit lonely, with no colleagues to chat to, and nobody to share the responsibility of the mountain of tasks that must be completed to ensure that the money comes in.

Sometimes it’s quite frustrating, when people assume that you MUST have lots of money because clearly you do NOTHING all day except browse facebook and drink tea, and you still manage to buy things and pay bills and all sorts, therefore they must be entitled to interest-free personal loans from the Bank of the Self-Employed Mum.

Sometimes it’s hard not to scream at them that their timing is awful, that in fact YOU could use a loan from THEM because some idiot somewhere hasn’t paid their bill on time and your cash flow is out of the window, that you’ve over-committed yourself in an attempt to save money in the long run, that actually if they worked a bit harder – like YOU do – and looked after their credit ratings – like YOU have to – then they too could be in the enviable position of having their friends make the assumption that they can and indeed should lend them money.

Nicer problems to have

When initially searching for ideas on how to be a Self-Employed Mum, the prospect of making even a basic living wage whilst enjoying some independence and flexibility sounded like it would solve all my problems in one fell swoop.  What I didn’t realise at the time, though, was that the more successful my enterprises became, the more that particular set of problems would just be replaced with a different set of equally real problems.  Problems that may be nicer to have, admittedly, but problems nonetheless, and problems cause stress.

Some of the most stressful problems that come with achievement relate to maintaining relationships with people.  Jealousy is a terrible thing, and it can make people very bitter.  I’m very lucky, I have some great friends, one of whom in particular is always hugely supportive and never resentful, even when he is struggling financially and I’m doing well.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t ask for a loan here and there… but I know that he genuinely is pleased for me when I do well, and he will go out of his way to assist me in any way that he can in furthering my enterprises.  Friends like that are rare, and must be appreciated, and cultivated, because for every one of those, there will be numerous people who you thought were friends but who actually end up resenting you for the achievements that you have worked hard for.

Growth strategy or happy accident

Not everyone sets out to escalate their work-from-home activities into a bigger business that generates a higher income, but if you enjoy what you do, and you do it well, it naturally grows, in an organic way, and it basically happens when you aren’t looking.  You aren’t looking because you’re too busy just DOING it.

People often say to me “I want to have my own business”, without particularly having any idea of what it is they want to actually do, much less what is going to set them apart from any other people doing something similar,  which just makes me want to slap them, because “the business” is merely the administrative product of doing whatever it is you do on a daily basis to service your customers. Focusing on “having a business”, rather than on giving the absolute best product and/or service to the customers, clearly indicates a totally inappropriate attitude for successful self-employment, and ultimately spells impending failure.  In my less charitable moments, I might say that failure was well-deserved.

If you have the spirit for successful self-employment, you will go through processes of trial-and-error, through which you will optimise your products and/or services, develop a good client base, and you won’t be able to say “no” to opportunities that present themselves.  Over time, if you’re fortunate, hard-working and sensible, you will find that the scale of your operations increase and the revenue increases too.

Then you find out who your true friends are – they’re the ones who help you out when you have over-committed yourself and have no time to pick the kids up or make dinner or go out on a night out that you’d all planned.  They’re the ones who don’t constantly tell you how lucky you are and expect you to pick up the bill because they’re “a bit skint and you know how it is at the end of the month when you get paid monthly, but it’s ok for you isn’t it, you don’t have that problem…”

No woman is an island

You need the support of people who genuinely want you to succeed, but it’s important to identify the people whose intentions are good, and on the flip side work out who will resent your successes and relish your failures.  If you’re going it alone, you need all the support you can get, and unfortunately some of your friends and even family members may show true colours that you wouldn’t expect, as you start to build up a lifestyle they envy.


Next time…  Being honest with yourself – what are your sellable strengths and worrying weaknesses?  (That was meant to be this time but I felt compelled by recent events to write this post instead!)