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How to Create a Career on Your Terms

By Rebecca Newenham, founder and director of award-winning virtual agency Get Ahead

Do you feel that you’ve ever had to choose between a career and family life? A few generations ago, many women didn’t get to make that choice. Men went to work. Women stayed at home to look after the house and family. The lack of choice for women not only made millions of women feel undervalued and unfulfilled but society also missed out on the fantastic qualities that women offer in the workplace.

Fast forward to today and the evidence shows that things have certainly changed. Here in the UK, data from the Office of National Statistics highlights that as of June 2020, more than two-thirds (72.7%) of women aged 16–64 are employed, up from 52.8% in the first quarter (January-March) of 1971. That’s a significant shift. So do women still have to choose between work and family, or can they really have both?

There are some amazing, flexible organisations out there that do allow women to have the career they want, in the way they want. But in my experience, they are still too few. Many women still feel forced to choose between their career or their family.

Perhaps that’s why more and more women are turning to self-employment and running their own businesses. In the UK, self-employment has risen substantially. As the IPSE Women in Self-Employment report states “the rise in self-employment since 2008 has been driven by a 69 per cent increase in the number of highly skilled female freelancers, choosing this way of work because of the freedom, flexibility and control it provides. The number of freelance working mothers has also increased by 79 per cent since 2008. Freelancing allows mothers to pursue their career and spend time with their family in a way that simply was not possible half a century ago.”

So how can you create a career on your own terms? For many women, self-employment or running their own businesses is the answer.

Being your own boss enables you to:

- Work when you want. Be in control of your own diary. Set your own working hours. Work school hours, evenings, weekends. Whatever you choose to do, not what your contract dictates.

- Do what you want. You choose the type of work you want to do. Of course, there has to be some demand for it in order for it to be a viable business idea, but once you’ve established that, you’re in control of what you do with your time.

- Be yourself. People sometimes feel they have to be a different person at work – to play a different role or blend in with other personalities at work. But running your own business allows you to be yourself. After all, particularly if you are running a service-based business that’s what people are buying – you.

So how do you go about becoming your own boss? Whether you are setting up your own business or simply trying to reset your employed career to be more on your terms, try these steps:

1. Really think about what you want. In order to create a career on your terms, you have to define what those terms are. When do you want to work? How much? In what capacity? Doing what? You’ll only be able to measure your success if you really get to grips with what you are trying to achieve. Put down on paper your values and your purpose. What do you really want from life? Being clear about your purpose is very valuable to keep you on track if times get tough.

2. Identify your strengths. What are you good at? These could be skills from home or the workplace. Think broadly, not just how you might currently use these skills. If you always get the kids to school on time, that’s time management. If you recently completed a work report you are proud of, that could be an example of data analysis or presentation skills. As the world recovers from the impact of COVID-19 and technology continues to move at pace, the world of work is changing more than ever. New jobs and careers are beginning that didn’t even exist before. Our population is ageing. All these factors mean that transferring your existing skills by using them in an entirely new way could be a great opportunity.

3. Be honest with yourself about your weaknesses. That way you can avoid getting into clients or situations that you know simply won’t work for you. Think about how other people could address your weaknesses as well. If you know you’re not one for numbers, then prioritise finding a good accountant to help. Or if admin drives you mad, considering hiring a flexible VA to support you.

4. Believe in yourself. You are your biggest asset and you deserve to have the career you want. Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams and don’t give up if things don’t go quite to plan. Some of the most profitable and successful people are those who have made mistakes and learnt from them. Keeping evolving until you get it right. The hard work will be worth it in the end.

Creating a career on your own terms might not be easy, but it is possible. The corporate nine-to-five role isn’t the only way to work. You don’t have to put up with the commute, tricky boss or Sunday-night feeling. With the right mindset, you can create the career you want.


After a successful career in corporate buying for retail giants Superdrug and Sainsburys, Rebecca Newenham founded virtual agency Get Ahead in 2010, to enable her to work flexibly around her family. Get Ahead’s award-winning team of over 40 experts delivers flexible business and marketing services to help businesses of all sizes and from all sectors to get ahead.

Website address:

Twitter: @GetAheadVA




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