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The 4 Gruelling Phases of Self-Employment

You’ve talked about quitting your job for ages—and now you’ve done it. The resignation letter was handed in. The goodbyes and the well wishes are done. “Now the hard part is over,” you think. “On to the fun stuff of making a new career for myself!”

Hard part—hah! Quitting is the easy part. It’s everything after that’s hard. The euphoria of leaving behind the 9-5 lasts for precious few weeks… maybe precious few days. Then reality sets in like a ton of bricks.

Here are the four gruelling phases of self-employment. You’ll probably go through them. Since they’re so gruelling, knowing what they are might help you out a little bit. And here’s a spoiler: getting through these phases is about one thing: keeping it together and staying the course.

Phase 1 – The euphoria of new beginnings.

One-liner: I can’t wait to get started!

Timeline: 1-4 weeks after quitting your job.

Customers: None.

Type of customers: N/A.

Success level: None yet.

Remuneration: None.

Bank account: Full.

Psychological state: Euphoria.

Activity level: Zero. You have no customers.

Main goal: Get customers.

Phase 2 – The discouragement of slow beginnings.

One-liner: What happens if I never find work?

Timeline: 2-6 months after starting.

Customers: One. Or two. Maybe three, if you’re lucky.

Type of customers: Lousy. You just need work so you’re taking bad gigs from bad customers.

Success level: The gigs aren’t going well, because you’re just taking anything, and not what’s right for your skillset.

Remuneration: Paltry. These are lousy customers for lousy pay.

Bank account: Dwindling.

Psychological state: Discouragement. Why am I not succeeding at these contracts that are really beneath me? Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was.

Activity level: Not as busy as you’d like to be.

Main goal: Get more customers. Get better customers.

Phase 3 – The first regular customer.

One-liner: I’m getting paid, but I’m not getting paid what I’m worth.

Timeline: 6-12 months after starting.

Customers: A few lousy customers, and one decent customer (finally!).

Success level: You’re working on the right kind of gig with that customer, so you can’t complain (yet).

Type of customers: That one customer isn’t great, but at least they’re giving you steady work (because you’re a bargain).

Remuneration: Better than before, but still much lower than it should be.

Bank account: Near-zero. But you’re paying the bills. Kind of.

Psychological state: Happy… but you want something better.

Activity level: That one customer is filling up your days, which is good. But at the same time, now you don’t have the time to look for real customers.

Main goal: Find time to find a real client.

Phase 4 – The first real customer.

One-liner: Finally! Now this is why I quit my job!

Timeline: Anywhere after 1 year.

Customers: A few okay customers, and now one really great one.

Success level: Excellent. You’re getting the right work.

Type of customers: The right type.

Remuneration: You’re finally making fair money.

Bank account: Increasing.

Psychological state: Tremendous relief and happy optimism.

Activity level: You’re busy, but it’s finally the right kind of busy.

Main goal: Get more customers like this new one.

Phase 5…

Yes, there’s a phase 5. It’s about building on the success of phase 4. It’s a wonderful phase, so don’t give up and make sure you get there.

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