Facing the stress and doubt of unsteady income as a solopreneur? Don’t be afraid to change course.
I left my job in journalism in 2014 and opened a web design business. The daily grind of magazine writing was hell. And after making a quick jump to public relations and a quick jump back to journalism, I was completely burnt-out and worse, uninspired. I can usually see the humour in any situation, but only a handful of years into my professional career, there was nothing funny.
As I saw things at the time, I only had one option: get out at all costs.
And there would be huge costs. This was was the best paying job I had ever known. I had just ditched my 10-year-old car and financed something new (a safety decision as much as anything else). I didn’t have much in terms of savings. I had moved back home.
Money be damned. When I finally decided to leave journalism and start my own business it felt like I was escaping a life sentence. I would find a way to finance the business, to pay for the car. I had to. My survival was at stake.
I was going to prove to myself that I could build a successful business and make a living doing something I loved.
Getting started was the easy part.
My little business grew quickly with help from those around me.
From my parents and my friends, who I turned to for moral support and advice, to my horribly overused Visa card, that I could count on for financial support during those initial months, I leaned on everyone and everything I could.
Being a solopreneur is hard. Not only the business aspects, which are difficult but definitely manageable, it’s the trials of getting up and going to work every day by yourself. Social isolation is tremendously difficult to handle. It becomes very easy to lose perspective on even the smallest of tasks. Little things feel huge; procrastination is a constant struggle. Luckily for me, the fear of disappointing clients is a strong motivator.
Keeping it up was another story.
I had another problem. I perpetually undervalued myself. I based my rates on my salary when I left my job (as if I was still going to work 8-hour days and 5-day weeks). Anyone who’s self-employed will tell you the reality is closer to 12-hour days and 7-day weeks if you’re going to actually make your business work. I’m being light on the details but the fact was I never seemed to make enough money. I was always busy, but I never saw consistent financial gains.
As someone who does not cope well with stress, financial stress was the worst. Any happiness I gained by doing something I loved was being spent worrying where my next client would come from, if there even would be a next client.
I persevered but the daily struggles were real. Periods of financial strain for solopreneurs might be a reality but if it continues unabated there comes a point where any reasonable person begins to reevaluate things.
At the height of my distress I received a note asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a writing job. Full-time, salary, benefits. It was the answer I was waiting for but it meant I would have to wind down my business.
I didn’t even hesitate. I wanted to interview, and I was determined to get the job. My biggest motivator was my happiness, driven by social isolation and financial stress. Here I was, ready to say good-bye to the job that I loved and I didn’t feel like I had much to think about.
As it turns out, I didn’t get the job, but the interview experience was one of the most positive in my life and it gave me the confidence to follow up on another opportunity, which worked out even better. I got a real job. And I couldn’t be happier.
Happiness is a work in progress.
I adore the team I work with and I have as much or more freedom in my work now as I ever did working for myself. My finances feel like they are in order for the first time in a while. My stress is not quite zero, but it’s manageable. I’m sleeping again. It’s not always perfect. My day starts at 5 a.m. and I’m lucky if I’m home before 7 p.m. – commuting is the worst – but if traffic is the worst thing I have to complain about, I’m probably doing pretty well.
And my website business? Turns out I didn’t have to close it down after all. I have become much better at managing expectations, talking openly about longer deadlines, and making sure I can handle everything I’m taking on. It often means I can’t help everyone that contacts me about a website, but I’m (slowly) learning that’s okay too.
So fellow solopreneurs, sometimes you’ve got to make the big sacrifice, the jump back to a regular job is not an easy one to swallow, in fact, it probably sounds downright unpalatable to anyone who’s just striking out on their own. But no matter what passion drives you, keep at least one eye open for every and any opportunity and don’t be afraid to adjust your plan, and your expectations of yourself. You might just find it works out better than you expected.