Freelancing can be liberating – but it can also be challenging

Sabrina Bramble

Freelance writer, Mental Health at Work

Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work.

Freelancing can be exciting and rewarding – but there are certainly challenges too. Freelance writer Sabrina Bramble shares her experiences of taking the plunge into freelance work, and what she wished she knew before she started.

A new year presents a new place to call home post the challenging year of 2020. We have seen presidents go, Brexit agreed, and Covid unfortunately linger – which means most of us will have to keep working from home until its safer to do otherwise.

In light of the unrelenting virus, the workplace lines have certainly blurred. There has been a flurry of new start-ups with people re-inventing what it is that they do in order to support their families and livelihoods. While this is a positive step forward (especially if the change involves rolling on a beach in Honolulu with only a laptop and a piña colada to keep you company!), changing work gears can prove to be somewhat of a culture shock, no matter how aspirational they may be.

I wish I was warned about the mental health struggles before I went down this path

Contrary to popular belief, being a freelancer is a business. The common assumption of skiving off is quite a way from the truth, as working from home is not all about watching round the clock day-time TV in Snoopy slippers – although that is a perk! It’s much more than that when your position becomes administrator, tax form filler, social media guru, scheduler, and most importantly professional coffee drinker.

Alison Grade, author of the acclaimed Freelance Bible book, says “Freelancing allows you to focus on doing the work you are great at, for those clients who value those skills” and she couldn’t be more right. It’s certainly liberating to do something you are passionate about in conjunction with being the boss of your own diary. But with every silver lining there are some pitfalls to be aware of before taking up the freelance gauntlet. I, for one, wouldn’t change my work status because of those pitfalls, but I wish I was warned about the mental health struggles before I went down this path, to better aid my wellness and prepare me for those inevitable tough times ahead when working alone.

A woman builds her website at home.

As a self-confessed workaholic freelance singleton in London, I had to get to grips with booking months in advance to see busy family and friends. With no dog, cat or even goldfish to buffer the lack of social life, that was soon to become excruciatingly challenging. For some reason, I imagined that an inbuilt team would suddenly appear around me similar to the one I had at school or university, who would cheer profusely when I got a new client or celebrate with a glass of bubbly at the non-existent work parties that awaited me. I didn’t take into consideration that when you become self-employed you are your team, and that included outside of work hours too.

Matthew Knight, founder of Leapers Leapers Leapers is a community that supports anyone who wants to work differently: remote, freelance, self-employed and more. View organisation, a project that supports the mental health of the self-employed, says “Setting boundaries -the differentiation between when you’re working and when you’re not- is the core aspect of working well when self-employed, and your wellbeing at work needs to be a critical part of your business plan in order to look after your company’s most valuable aspect: You.”

I became increasingly aware that I had to be more mindful of my choices away from the desk

Isolation and loneliness can draw a heavy cloak over your shoulders chiefly when your support network is limited. For example, sharing with colleagues seems like an easy option when you have it in abundance, but when you don’t, finding work associates to shoot the breeze with is few and far between. The feeling of being a burden or taking up too much of someone else’s time also comes into play; even more so when those you turn to already seem to have a strong unit of support around them.

Personally speaking, finding friends in my forties seemed like the saddest thing to do in my life. It’s really not something I thought I’d have to deal with. But in time I found that if I was just as proactive with my social skills as I was with my day-to-day workmanship, I could make things happen there too. So, I purposely went out into the world (pre-Covid) and got involved in things that I either had never tried before, or had always wanted to do but had never done. I became increasingly aware that I had to be more mindful of my choices away from the desk to maintain a level of self-care, and by making myself visible I was introduced to so many wonderful individuals and communities who were looking to do exactly the same thing. Jenny Stallard, lifestyle journalist and founder of the Freelance Feels Podcast, says “I would advise people to join online groups and find a community where you can ask questions and find other like-minded freelance souls.”

A freelancer takes a break to chat with online friends.

Forming connections​Leapers: Slack group Web page Leapers runs a Slack group for people who are, or are considering, working outside the normal nine-to-five pattern: freelancers, homeworkers, the self-employed, SME owners and everyone in between.FreeProvide your email address to receive invitation By: Leapers View resource, as Stallard suggests, is one of the most significant things to do when working in the confines of your own space. This is why I created an event organisation called My Staff Room where I bring freelancers together to help improve their wellness outside of work, and there are many organisations doing fantastic things for the self-employed worker such as Freelance Heroes, Doing it for the Kids, Self-Employed Club – and if you’re looking for an excellent guide to aid your new self-employed venture, Survival Skills for Freelancers by Sarah Townsend is an absolute must.

The truth is, living with this virus until it subsides for good boils down to acceptance, and as time goes on, we may have to make even more decisions on how we do things. On the plus side, most of us have had time to reflect and re-evaluate our needs on an individual scale, without a rat race of distractions, long distressing commutes or time poor breaks.

The need to connect and show love hasn’t been changed by this pandemic

Now I’m not looking to put a shiny spin on these turbulent times – the boredom is real and the patience is wearing thin on us all. I understand making the same calls to the same people, playing the same games can be monotonous, but it’s most definitely the lifesaver we couldn’t do without. Surely that’s because even though the place we call home may look a little different, the need to connect and show love hasn’t been changed by this pandemic one bit. In fact, it’s brought many of us closer together. That has to be a win in anyone’s book.

Visit Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners, along with practical resources to support you.

About this website

Your guide to mental health at work

Whether you work with 10 people, 10,000 people or just yourself, paying attention to mental health in the workplace has never been more important.

Find out more