A former marketing executive with Unilever, then director of a smaller company, he practises what he preaches; he has been self-employed for the past 20 years. "I had reached a glass ceiling," he explains. "I had stopped climbing the ladder and I wasn't very excited at the thought of moving to another company and climbing up their ladder."
While it was satisfying working for himself, it was also, he says, "scary. You realise how alone you are." So in 1988 he set up the Breakthrough Network as a support system for the self-employed. Now, he says, as well as people who are already running their own businesses, he is also contacted by people who are on the point of change and want help to take the next step.
Self-employment, according to Ferguson, is not primarily about making money: it is about personal fulfilment. "Workers want to be rewarded in their souls, not just in their wallets" is one of his principles. Money, he says, far from buying quality of life, takes so much time to accrue that it squeezes all the quality out.
To scale down (or scale up, depending on how you look at things) a proper career-plan is vital. "Look at going part-time in the field you are already in, and simultaneously building up excellence in what you want to do. As you're putting less energy into the job you've been doing, you can put more into training, building your skills and building up your contacts." Think niche marketing, think starting small, think travellable skills that you can carry with you, he advises.
Which is all well and good: but what do I live on in the meantime? One of Ferguson's key points is the minimalisation of costs. As much as a third of income can disappear on staying in the rat race, he says. "What do you need to live on?" he asks. "Say pounds 35 a week. Some people say they need ten times that, others manage on pounds 15. When you are doing what you want, you don't need so many treats, like foreign holidays. My only holiday for the last 15 years has been running workshops abroad - it may be a busman's holiday but I enjoy it."
pounds 35 a week certainly won't cover the mortgage, though. "You may have to scale down your property," says Ferguson (who lives and works from one room in London and one in Scotland, where he spends half his time). "Or let a room. I know someone who's bought a house that's larger than he needs; he'll rent out two rooms and the house will pay for itself."
As for other commitments: avoid. "Minimise unproductive, unnecessary costs. Defer any irrevocable commitments such as children. Too late? Then set up a Family Council and engage them in life shift. Introduce the family to the economic realities of life and the joys of self management." In other words, kids, forget those new trainers.
Once you have downscaled your costs and perked up your expectations, the next step depends on you. Most clients, says Ferguson, see him regularly over a two to three year period, the average transition time. Full membership costs pounds 29.75 quarterly; counselling is pounds 45 for a 90-minute session. He believes that, 25 years from now, virtually everyone will be self-employed and the time to get used to the idea is now. And, he says, it is no bad thing. "The new century will be the freedom century." H.L.
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