When is it for real? Five questions to help you spot genuine self-employment opportunities.

Woman daydreaming


When is it for real? These five questions will help you to spot genuine self-employment opportunities – and identify those to avoid!

Social media channels frequently contain links to opportunities to work flexibly from home, many of which might appeal to parents who want to combine work with being at home for their family. But are they all genuine self-employment opportunities? This piece contains five key questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge.

Is it a genuine product? The first step to try out the product yourself, or try it on someone you know well and ask for honest feedback. Does it work and would you buy it? And if so, can you describe what makes it special, or its ‘unique selling points’, as an advertiser would say? Also take the time to find out if there is any independent research to support any health or wellbeing claims made by the manufacturers of the product. Ideally this should be research published in an academic journal, by a university or by another independent organisation. Products may have received genuinely positive reviews from individuals, but without independent research you can’t be confident that the same benefits will be experienced by a wider group of people. Ultimately, if you are finding it a struggle to get enthusiastic about the product, then call a halt to any plans to sell it to others.

Picture of juicy oranges


Is there a demand for the goods or services I am offering? Time spent on market research is never wasted and you should take a moment to think critically about the product you will be selling. Is it something that everyone needs and uses on a regular basis, or more of an occasional or luxury purchase? If the price-point is high and the product is non-essential, then you will almost certainly have fewer potential customers. While goods might be described as high quality and priced alongside famous brands, remember that they won’t have received the same investment in terms of design, marketing and advertising. If you have never heard of a brand up till now; the chances are that your prospective customers won’t have heard of it either. Conduct an informal poll by asking 10 – 20 people the following questions: do you buy this product, how often do you buy it and what are you prepared to pay? If the results are not what you want to hear, perhaps it is time to rethink your plans.

Is the promised income in proportion to what I am being asked to invest or sell? Many entrepreneurs take very little salary in the early days of their business. However, if you are being asked to attend a lot of unpaid training or pay a significant amount of money to join a business, then these might be signs that it is not a genuine self-employment opportunity. Try working out when you would be likely to ‘break even’ on your initial investment. A simple way to do this is to cost your time at the equivalent of national minimum wage. Compare that total to the number of sales you might make in the average week. How many weeks would it take for you to pay back that initial investment of money and time? On the other hand, if the promised earnings are very high, does that seem realistic and in proportion to the margins on the products? Look at the cost and sale price of one of your products and calculate how many would you need to sell in order to generate the promised income. As the saying goes: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Be extra careful if information about the pricing of the product is not freely available from the supplier or distributor.

Cosmetics in different colours


Am I free to develop my business at my own pace or in my own style? If another person is trying to heavily influence the way in which you conduct your business, what you are doing and when, then this might be a warning sign that it is not a genuine self-employment opportunity. Put it another way, if you did all the hard work of opening up a stall at a craft market – making the goods, carrying the table, unloading all the stock – would you then let someone else take charge of how you price and sell the products? While employees generally have to work at an agreed location, for fixed hours and within a management structure, self-employed people should be free to set their own terms, answer to themselves and turn down work if they wish. The freedom to develop a business in your own way is the upside of the lack of regular salary!

Am I comfortable with what I need to do to make the business successful? Finally, it is important that you feel true to yourself and are comfortable with what you do as part of your work. If someone else is pressing you to adopt behaviours that are not normal for you, then this is a warning sign. While we all might need the occasional push to step outside our comfort zone, you should still feel able to say no without fear of repercussions. Ask a trusted friend or relative what they think about the business and whether you are suited to that way of working. The views of someone who knows you well are always worth having, even if you choose not to act on their advice. As a general rule, if you are regularly being asked, or even pressured, to do something that you feel goes against your own privacy, safety or which intrudes into your personal and family life, then consider whether you want to continue with this business in the longer term.

Woman daydreaming of a new idea


So if you can answer yes to all those questions – good luck with your business, go forth and prosper! If you cannot answer positively then you may want to take a look at these further resources.

Citizens Advice Bureau page on avoiding common scams, including employment or business based scams.

If you are thinking of selling dietary supplements, click here for an NHS research-based guide to their regulation and the evidence for their use.

Government information on the rules for ensuring that goods and products are safe and fit for purpose, including cosmetics and children’s toys.

The Direct Selling Association has pages on how to identify genuine direct selling earning opportunities and how to avoid illegal schemes.

Please note that this blog is only a guide and you should always seek advice tailored to your own circumstances before making decisions that may have financial implications.

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