The Swiss Federal Statistical Office’s March 2020 report on work and income (available in French and German) reveals that an eighth of the Swiss workforce is self-employed. Have you ever thought about starting your own company? What does it take to make a successful transition into self-employment? We spoke to Johanna Seeliger about the essential qualities and prerequisites.
Johanna describes herself as “an enthusiast entrepreneur and change agent” on her Impact Hub Zurich profile page. She’s an expert in the subject with lots to say about it, as you’ll find out if you keep reading.
The most important thing of all is to enjoy what you do. Starting your own business is a big leap into the unknown, and you can’t expect to be an expert in every aspect. You’ve got to have the courage to put yourself out there and tell the world your mission. Like a lot of other people, I sometimes found it hard in the early days. My attitude changed once I found my niche: diversity & inclusion. I’m not scared of being the center of attention anymore because I don’t see it as a test but as an opportunity to do important work.
It also helps if you like having your own freedom. If you enjoy being your own boss, organizing your day as you see fit, and making your own decisions, then self-employment will appeal to you.
Generally speaking, I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as a natural born entrepreneur or self-employed person. I think there’s a lot you can learn if you really put your mind to it. The will to make a go of it is paramount. If you’re just looking to get rich quickly, self-employment probably isn’t for you. Depending on your industry and role, you might end up working more than you would as an employee but earning less.
Some qualities genuinely are essential: you need either to be a “people person” or to have abilities that are in demand and extensive know-how. For example, if others can do what you’re offering, you can stand out from the competition with a friendly manner and good interpersonal skills.
I think people overestimate the risk involved in being self-employed. Most people who have their own company worry that it might fail, but self-employment helps you to develop various skills that are very much in demand on the Swiss job market. Having start-up or freelance experience is a bonus in many jobs.
The real risk is that you might be earning less for a year or so, so I don’t see self-employment as particularly risky. It’s more of an investment and an opportunity to learn.
A good financial cushion is very useful. It can often take longer than you expect until the money starts rolling in. Processes might be slower, and you might not be getting big orders right from the outset. It’s soul-destroying if you have to give up because you’ve run out of money, even though financial success seemed to be just round the corner. Money causes stress.
I’ve noticed that selling your own products or services tends to work best when you don’t have an urgent need to sell. Potential customers can tell when you’re desperate for them to accept your offer. Putting yourself under too much pressure blocks your creativity.There are various ways to bolster your finances. You can dip into your savings, take a part-time job on the side or cut down on your living costs. The important thing is to ease the financial pressure.
“Do what you love!”
I’ll admit that, personally, I rarely lack motivation. That’s probably because I’m so fired up about what I do. Of course, I’ve had doubts from time to time, and they were crippling. I dealt with them by talking about them at length with my husband, my friends, and other self-employed people.
What’s my secret? Do what you love! Have the right people around you. Above all, stay true to yourself. It’s important to be yourself!
That very much depends on what you want to do and what else is important in your life. If – like me – you work in a service industry, you can decide for yourself how much work you want to take on, and you can organize your time and your jobs as you see fit. That gives you a certain amount of flexibility in the start-up phase. If you’re leading a team or accountable to investors, on the other hand, that takes away a lot of your flexibility. Generally speaking, I’d say the sooner, the better, but there’s no upper age limit. One of my friends became self-employed shortly before retirement age, and she flourished.
It’s fundamentally helpful if you don’t just see the risks all the time. Having the courage to try new things is a useful attitude. Don’t be too timid! If something doesn’t work, there’s no shame in it.
It’s important to communicate your abilities, projects, and references to others. This includes posting testimonials and achievements on your website.
It certainly helps if others around you are self-employed as well. I spent three years working at the Impact Hub, where I was in contact with start-up founders all the time. Some were successful, some weren’t, but life went on, and nobody ended up on the street. They either moved on to found another start-up or went back to full-time employment. I watched as perfectly normal people plucked up the courage to go it alone, and that gave me the courage to try it for myself.
It’s important to communicate your abilities, projects, and references to others. This includes posting testimonials and achievements on your website. That reminds me: I really need to update my website (laughs).
I personally think it’s important for a business idea to bring some sort of benefit for society. If you want to make money from it, there has to be a market for it. And you have to feel enthusiastic about it. Ask yourself what you need to do day to day to make it work, whether that’s genuinely what you want to be doing. You have to answer these questions honestly to judge whether it’s the right idea for you.
I started my first company when I was a student. Looking back, I think we should have asked for more money (laughs). Above all, it was a lot of fun and the best training in the world. If we’d focused solely on profits, we’d have missed out on a lot of exciting projects. With that in mind, I’m very proud of our first taste of self-employment.