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What life’s like when your EBA is with yourself (aka you’re a sole trader)

What life’s like when your EBA is with yourself (aka you’re a sole trader)

Just as I was leaving my last job at a superannuation fund, we were in the midst of re-negotiating an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). You know, the document that sparks passionate discussion about parental leave entitlements, pay increases and income protection – all the things that have been festering away since the last agreement was implemented.

It becomes an ‘us and them’ affair – the haves and the have-nots, the strong hand of the executive, the uprising of the peasants, and the ambivalent settlers. 

I was leaving to go solo. To set up my own design studio and achieve the dream of all dreams: working from home. I stepped back from the discussions, knowing that I was about to have the opportunity to write my own EBA. The thought was thrilling. I relished in telling a fellow small business chum about how I was going to do sun salutations every day, drink cappuccinos and write gratitude affirmations in my moleskin diary. 


Little did I know that when you work for yourself, the Arnotts Family Selection in the kitchen doesn’t refill itself. And there is no cupboard from which to steal bulldog clips and Post-its.

Here are the three things I forgot to negotiate with myself in my own EBA.

1. Temperature control.

Wore the Aldi sleeping bag onesie to work for six months straight my first winter out on my own.

My first winter working from home can be described in three words: frozen keyboard fingers.

The second winter saw the installation of a glorious wood-burning fireplace. I sat in front of the ambient glow that warmed me to the core, and enjoyed the satisfying sting in my warm tootsies too close to the hearth.

Unfortunately, my EBA didn’t stipulate the outsourced and mandatory resupply of firewood. So on a day where the combination of a heat pack and multi-layered fleece couldn’t solve my temperature problems, I took myself and my laptop down to the Gungahlin Lakes Golf Club and bought a membership. With free wi-fi, 1940s prices, and a well-made sandwich from the kiosk, I started to wonder if it was acceptable to work from the club full-time.

Costs to the company:


Annual club membership: $5
Lemon, lime and bitters and a salad sandwich: $9.45
Parking: Free

2. Dress code.

Looking the goods on a Tuesday morning.

The most consistent comment I get from people when I tell them I work from home is, “That’s so great, you can even work in your pyjamas!” Which is very true, but I believe a very slippery slope into the destruction and separation of home and work. I made it a “company policy” (lol, in my own EBA), that I must be showered and dressed before starting work each morning. Not only providing a sense of achievement, getting dressed allows me to draw a line in the sand between bedtime and work time, and motivates me to start the day with a minimum standard of workplace pride.

Which is hilarious, because once showered all I do is trade pyjamas for stretchy pants.

When you work from home, you dress for comfort and warmth (aka in the previously mentioned Gungahlin Lakes cold snap of 2018), and in my experience, produce better work. Like the magic black blazer than makes all creatives legitimate, throwing on a bra, shoes that don’t expose your toes, and taking a keep-cup everywhere you go, is an easy quick transition from design-hovel-witch, to legitimate businesswoman running an empire.  

Costs to the company:

Aldi body wash, purchased in bulk: $11.99
Kmart ballet flats: $15
Target black blazer: $39
Cotton On black leggings: 2 for $24

3. Isolation.

I no longer have a ‘work wife’ but I do work with my best friend Murphy, my gorgeous Border Collie.

The last category I forgot to fully outline in my personal EBA was managing isolation. I’m a person who loves my own company and isn’t afraid to cappuccino and gratitude journal on her own, but it wasn’t until my third week in that I realised that this was how it was going to be from now on.  

One day, I went a whole nine hours where the only physical conversations I had were with my husband, the dog, and the woman who called to confirm my dental appointment. So I decided I’d catch up with my ex-colleagues for a drink at Ostani Bar.

I walked into Hotel Realm on a Friday afternoon. My former colleagues had invited me to after-work drinks – FYI it’s called “drinking alone” when you do this as a sole trader with no staff. After weeks of emails, the occasional phone call, and scrolling on social media – all things that made me feel connected to the outside world – it was the first time I realised things were different now. I was suddenly and acutely aware of how loud the crowd was. In a room full of people, I felt overwhelmed and anxious trying to be heard over the clang of the Attorney-General APS5s at the next table.  

The good news is that in the absence of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), I now have an invaluable sounding board in the Canberra small business community (most of whom experience loneliness and isolation while striving for success). They’re the ones who don’t laugh when you say “I went out to grab a coffee and got up to my primary school years before I realised the barista hadn’t asked for my whole life story”. 

Co-working spaces like KeepCo in Fyshwick are supportive and open environments for creatives and sole traders, and if you go into Tilley’s at 10.30am on a Tuesday morning, you’ll struggle to find a seat that isn’t occupied by someone on a laptop.

My goal for 2020? Appreciate the time alone to focus, but put on a bra and some ballet flats and find a balance.

Costs to the company:

Coffee with a pal: $9
Drop-in day pass @ KeepCo: $25
Saying hello to Steve the pigeon on your window sill: Free

A final note

While I miss the emails saying “There’s cake in the kitchen” and “I’m doing an Officeworks order because we seem to be out of Post-its”, not having an EBA has allowed me to work out what’s important to me in my business. I prioritise flexibility, and thrive and adapt when the situation isn’t quite clear cut. I celebrate the fact that I can get ready for work in a fraction of the time and my commute is 10 paces. I value my ability to take the day off without applying for leave, and assign true value to my craft and the fees that I charge.

So if you see me talking to myself – I haven’t hit rock bottom, I’m just having a staff meeting. 

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