If you ask freelancers and entrepreneurs why they decided to set out on their own, their stated motivations will vary. They may have wanted to solve a problem, or to pursue a sense of purpose. Others were lured by the possibility of making more money or the independence of being their own boss. And then there are those who were focused on defining their own work-life balance. For me, four of the above were contributing factors -- to varying degrees, of course.
These days, I meet daily with freelancers, founders, and entrepreneurs. So, in addition to my own experience, I hear about their journeys as well. The consensus? It's an exhilarating, incredible ride with significant obstacles and periods of disenchantment. While industries and objectives do vary, points of frustration are usually the same:
- Pressure: Even at the most basic level, running your own business means answering to a lot of different people: your customers, your bank, your bills, your government, perhaps even your spouse or employees (if you have them).
- Working Too Much: From accounting and legal to marketing and sales, you may find yourself wearing many hats. It may be exciting at first; but over time, it can become quite exhausting. In turn, your confidence may suffer, causing you to question your decisions and capabilities.
- Loneliness: A byproduct of stressing and working too much? Spending too much time on your own (or surrounded by people, but still isolated and in your own head).
- Hitting Walls: Though you feel you've done everything you can, there isn't enough awareness; the funding isn't coming through; or maybe your sales won't improve. You're left questioning what to do next, and the obstacles seem pretty overwhelming.
- Burnout: After long enough, it may stop feeling worth it. Passion stagnates. Motivation suffers. And you're quite possibly questioning your choices. Unlike a full-time job, there's no boss with whom to discuss the issues. You're the one who defined your company's mission. You set your own responsibilities. Where do you go from here? You can't quit your own company... can you?
If you've felt any of the above, you're definitely not alone. Here's how to navigate these situations:
- Make Time For You: You hear it often, but are you actually doing it? When feeling pressure to get things done, you may think it's better to keep hustling. Research shows this isn't the case. First, set your "work hours" (aim for no more than 8). Your "off hours" will give your brain a break while making "work hours" much more productive. Take it one step further by setting rules for how you work. Personally, I avoid client meetings on Mondays and Fridays. Mondays are my day to set the plan for the week and focus on client deliverables. Fridays are devoted to organizational design and then a little me time. As for your "off hours", do what makes you happy. When I first started giving myself this time, I was amazed by the spike in creativity and strategic thinking.
- Work Smarter: While it's important to understand the ins and outs of your company, you will do more and do better if you focus. What do you love to do? Why did you go out on your own? Use your answers to draft your own job description. The tasks you don't love should be given to someone who does. Not only will you be happier, but you'll provide work to others, and become much more scaleable as well. Subsequently, isolate your top two objectives (subscribers? revenue? awareness? quality control?). Before you take on any task, ask yourself, "is this necessary to meet my objectives?" If the answer is no, do something else. Busy doesn't translate to effective.
- Find Support: Seek out others with similar goals and commit to meeting them on a regular basis. When I first went out on my own, I reveled in all the alone time; but it wasn't long before alone time turned into plain old loneliness. These days, I meet with other female founders once a month, and female change-makers once a quarter. I talk to WhyWhisper freelancers almost daily. This has created a community with whom I can share feelings of both fear and excitement, seeking advice when unsure how to proceed. Along the same lines, I tend to steer clear of such conversations with those who don't share my values. I view it as exposing myself to negative energy, and we give ourselves a hard enough time as it is.
- Define Your Processes & Evaluate Performance: Whether you're a one-man shop or a multi-person company, take the time to define your processes around workflow, sales, marketing, accounting, and more. You will ensure consistency in output and quality, be better able to identify what's working and what's not, and be able to add on or adjust, as needed. As a side note: I use several online platforms to help make my life easier: Asana for project management (assigning due dates and delegation), Freshbooks for finances (expense tracking, time tracking, invoicing, and accounting reports), and scoop.it, Swayy, Zite, and Buffer for content discovery and community management.
- Celebrate Little Wins: We have a tendency to link our confidence and self-worth to extraordinary, long-term goals. We forget that those very same goals are only accomplished by reaching little milestones along the way. Forget the 2000 things you think you have to do and celebrate the completion of your daily to do list. Take your eyes off the annual revenue and celebrate one new client or customer. Are you enjoying a new project? Learning a new skill? Celebrate. You'll find much more pleasure in the process when you stop obsessing about long-term outcomes.
- Take a Vacation: When speaking with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, the most common question is how I find time to take a vacation. The answer, "I take a vacation." Find a place you really want to go, a place that will allow you to relax. For me, it's the beach. For you, it could be skiing, a visit to a vineyard, or a quiet reading retreat. Identify the time of year that makes the most sense for your business (i.e. don't disappear during high season). If it's possible to put your business on hold during that time, notify your clients or customers that you'll be away, set up your out of office message, and take off. If it's not possible for your company to cease work, use the next couple weeks to record everything you do on a given day. Create a list people who can take ownership of each role, and write up instructions on how they should operate. Do everything you can to avoid having to work while on vacation. Then... take a vacation.
Maybe the most important thing to remember is the power of helping one another out. Though you may be tempted to write off the statement as being naive or idealistic, in reality, the more you support others in building their businesses, the more help you will receive in return. By sharing your fears and your setbacks, you let others know they're not alone, and you open yourself up to helpful conversations, collaborations, and creative solutions.