10 things about self-employment you need to know

By Suraya

Many people like the stability of a full-time job but are also envious of entrepreneurs who “work for themselves”. Not having a boss seems like a nice concept, even if all your bosses are nice.

Whether you’re currently self-employed, or considering the jump, you’ll find the information here insightful.

So here goes – the 10 things about self-employment you should know.

1. You’ll still have bosses

Quitting your job so that you can be your own boss is a popular reason why people choose self-employment. But here’s the thing – you will now have to juggle between at least five bosses/employers/clients.

You still have to be a good employee who is easy to work with AND delivers results every time.

To be fair, you can choose who you wish as a client. But being ultra-choosy is not sustainable for your business. If you find fault with everyone who contacts you for work (already a rarity), you will end up with no clients. And that means no income.

2. You’ll still have to do things that you don’t necessarily like

A misconception about self-employment is you get to do only things you like. Not really. Sometimes you do have to do types of work you don’t like or don’t fully agree with.

To quote Cheryl Yeoh, the former CEO of MaGIC, “Play the 80-20 rule. Sometimes, in order to fulfil a bigger purpose (the 80%), we have to compromise and do things we don’t fully agree with (the 20%). As long as it doesn’t violate your personal values and principles, you can live with it.”

3. You don’t have to limit yourself to earning only in ringgit

Many self-employed Malaysians look for work from other Malaysians. But depending on the industry, this can be pretty limiting. Selling products and services to only Malaysians will stagnate your income.

So try and market your products or services to international clients.

You can set-up a website, or list USD prices in your Facebook shop (with delivery costs), or advertise to a non-Malaysian target audience.

4. You have to step up your personal branding game

People buy your products and services because of “you”. So you must immediately project your capability in solving your client’s problems, whatever these may be.

This goes for your values and professionalism as well. Choose what you say carefully when you’re online. Avoid using abusive language, don’t complain without offering a solution, and avoid doing or saying anything that will “cheapen” your image.

5. Pricing yourself high will get you better clients

Clients are generally divided into two groups. The first prefers the cheapest cost possible. The second prefers “get this job done right despite the cost”.

Both are good, as long as they pay up.

Can you get cheap, yet high quality work from a self-employed individual? Yes. But it usually takes a lot of searching. Also, cheap tends to be synonymous with “not good”.

You should price yourself high because:

• The connotation of expensive = good is a powerful first impression. Those who contact you will assume you’re good at what you do.

• You can always reduce your fee if the client is interested in working with you, but it’s harder to increase prices.

• Often enough, clients who don’t haggle with prices tend to be easier to work with.

6. Pricing products and services is a very hard process for the soul

Self-employed people, especially in the services industry should be able to relate to this. This process forces you to ask “how much do I value myself and my time?” and actually put a number to it.

How much do you want to price your time? RM10 per hour? RM20? RM5? RM100?

7. Public holidays mean NOTHING

You work weekends, public holidays, festive seasons.

8. Clients not paying up

It’s not uncommon for some clients to pay less than agreed. Or to give you coupons instead of cash for work done.

Even writing out a contract can only do so much. When it’s time to cut ties, you have to cut ties. And ideally warn others about it, because that’s the right thing to do.

9. Income/expense accounting and taxes can be confusing


You must make an effort to understand how to tackle the following:

• The need to separate business from personal bank accounts

• Set-up a company

• Handle accounting for small businesses

• Give quotations and invoices

• Accept money from international clients (beyond PayPal)

• Learn what you can and cannot claim as part of business expenses

• Monetise your website

• Get a virtual assistant to help earn more/get better work-life balance

• Learn how to outsource

• Remote working

• Automating processes, especially marketing

• Become an influencer

• And others, via online research and asking around

10. It’s hard until it’s easy

Extremely common: Months of little/no income when you first start out.

Extremely rare: Making money right from the start.

Steep learning curve? Yes. The first few months of self-employment can get depressing. You might not make any money. And begin to doubt your abilities (we tend to believe the amount we earn is relative to self-worth). Despite feeling stressed out, continue anyway.

Then one day it just… stops being hard. Enough things fall into place and some previous clients contact you for repeat work.

The best advice on how to go through the hard part is to follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice: “Done is better than perfect.” Don’t fret about getting things perfect. It’s enough to just get things done – you can always make it better later.

This article first appeared in ringgitohringgit.com

Suraya is a corporate writer-for-hire and the blogger behind personal finance website Ringgit Oh Ringgit. She is more of a minimalist, less of a consumerist, a konon DIY enthusiast, a let’s-support-small-businesses-over-big-corporations kinda girl. Prior to her current role, she worked in various capacities within the non-profit industry.