Running your own business can be tough. The idea that we sit around working in our pyjamas until midday paints such an unrealistic picture of the daily effort that is working for yourself. That’s not to say there hasn’t been the odd day my postman has caught me in my dressing gown working at the kitchen table, but as a daily reality? That’s just not a helpful way to start the day and get motivated, and I think perpetuates a sadly common impression that working for yourself is a breeze.
I don’t want to give a wholly negative view of freelance life here. There’s a lot I simply LOVE about working for myself – I wouldn’t do it otherwise – but it comes with a large amount of the tough, and I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. The more I speak to other freelancers and business owners, the more I realise we all struggle with a lot of the same things.
One of the main reasons I set up my own business was because it was one of the few ways I could see myself actually being able to work. I’ve had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for over 10 years, and struggled intermittently to hold down ‘normal’ jobs. It’s just not really the done thing in most workplaces to go and have a lie-down for half an hour in a darkened room because your body demands it. I needed work that was flexible enough for my needs.
I wanted to work when I felt able, rest when I needed to, and chop and change my activities depending on whether certain things felt more difficult that day or not. But not just that: I wanted to do something I was passionate about, and I craved being able to follow my own creative direction.
I decided to set up my own business.
It was a while in the making. My previous job doing Communications work helped me realise how much joy I got from designing print materials and messing about with websites (yes, that’s the technical term). I re-remembered my life-long love of creating, and that’s what I decided to do. I spent time trying new things, experimenting with creative endeavours, learning new skills and re-training. It was a labour of self-love – in fact, it still is – and it was a few years before the business came.
I expected some things to be difficult. I knew tasks like managing accounts and taxes would probably be a headache, but there were some things I simply wasn’t prepared for.
I wasn’t prepared for the fact that running my own business has meant my greatest fears and insecurities have been pushed so close in front of my face that the only way to move forward has been to acknowledge them, take them on board and actually work with them. It’s been hard, so very, soul-wrenchingly hard, but it’s also one of the most wonderful, fulfilling and joyous things to go through.
I also wasn’t prepared for how lonely it can be. I didn’t fully appreciate the daily camaraderie and support that co-workers provide until I didn’t have any. To be freelance is to build your own support system, and it took me a little while and a dose of isolation to truly understand this. My experience so far tells me that cultivating this support is an ongoing process, always a little fluid and shifting as my business and I change. It’s also made me have a really good think about what support I need in my life and why, and that’s been incredibly helpful to my overall wellbeing.
Something I still find incredibly difficult is actually standing up, waving my hands and saying “Hi! I’m here! This is me and this is what I do. Hire me!” I can see the wonder and worth of everyone else, and I love helping them share that with the world. But myself? Ooh it’s tough. This post is a small, but for me very significant step towards actually waving those arms in the air. With the support of some wonderful friends and the amazing work of Cerries Mooney, I’m becoming clearer on what makes me special, and I believe in myself a little more every day. In time I know I’ll stand up straighter, wave those arms higher and call a bit louder, but I also know it’s a gradual process.
I started this blog with the intention of sharing more practical information to help small and solo biz owners get to grips with web stuff. I was so worried I needed to give the impression of seeming “professional”, “in my game” and “expert” that I’ve struggled with the idea of posting this article. I’ve been worried it would make me seem weak and vulnerable, and would make prospective clients run a mile. But I realised yes… I can post this.
Vulnerability is a good thing, and I certainly don’t count myself as an expert, just someone trying to do as good a job as I am able to. I’d like to share more of myself with the world, I believe it makes me a stronger person and better at my work. I want to help other people running their own business by helping us all feel less alone, and remember that it’s ok to be ourselves. It’s ok to be different. And the way to start that is to share my vulnerabilities, so here you go.
I find running a business tough too.