A friend who is thinking of going into business on his own asked me today what I think are the main desirable characteristics for a self-employed person. I blathered on for a while about being self-starting, motivated and probably a bit of an egotist, but then it occurred to me: to succeed in self-employment you probably need to be ridiculously, perhaps even pathologically, organised. There’s a lot to remember, after all: book-keeping, accounts, returns to Companies House, VAT submissions, travel planning, stationery ordering (like that’s a chore!), oh, and the work and the clients. By way of illustration: I have a Filofax with a diary section and a year planner section, a wall planner and a kitchen calendar – so every appointment and booking is recorded in at least four places. I also have a “preparation timetable” document, where I note each client booking, when I need to get the outline to them, when I need to get the first draft to them, and when it all needs to be finalised. I believe it comes from being an overdue baby; apparently we spend the rest of our lives trying to catch up.
It might also be a family trait. A distant cousin of mine is legendary for his forward planning. He once decided to go on holiday to Asia, and researched all the jabs he would need. He then booked appointments at the travel clinic to get them done in good time. In such good time, in fact, that by the time his trip rolled around they had all expired and he had to have them all again at Heathrow – he was like a pin-cushion.
Interestingly, I once heard a radio interview with, well, let’s call him a flexible lawyer – one who is well aware of the regulations but is quite prepared to apply or not apply them as circumstances dictate. He was asked what made him such a good money launderer, for indeed that is what he had become. He thought for a moment. “Organisation,” he said finally. “The best criminals are chaotic – that’s what makes them hard to crack. But they need someone organised to keep track of the money and the stories – that’s where I come in.” So should I ever feel the desire to move across to the dark side, it seems that I have all the skills I need.