Imposter syndrome: tips for sole traders from The Be Well Collective

Sarah Ann Macklin
Sarah Ann Macklin

Host of the Live Well Be Well podcast, Founder of Be Well Collective, and registered associate nutritionist

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.

The Be Well Collective aims to prevent poor mental health in young adults working in the creative industries. We asked founder Sarah Ann Macklin about the challenges facing freelancers and sole traders in this fast paced, exciting but often stressful sector.


Most people we work with at the Be Well Collective are freelancers or sole traders. While working for yourself can be exciting and give you a sense of freedom, it also comes with its own challenges. One of the issues we see frequently among the creatives we work with is known as ‘imposter syndrome’.

When you experience imposter syndrome, you cannot internalise your success, and you may feel self-doubt, anxiety, or depression. Often, people feel worried they will be exposed as a “fraud” in their work, even though they are successful, talented, and deserve the recognition they have achieved.

Sole traders have a lot of responsibility for their own success or failure

I see many young creatives worry with these feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. There are three reasons I believe people may feel this more profoundly when working as a freelancer or sole trader are:

  • Lack of external validation: When you work as a sole trader, you don’t have the same level of external validation as you would if you worked in a traditional company. You don’t have a boss or colleagues to give you feedback on your work, and you don’t have the same sense of accomplishment from being part of a team. This can make it easier to doubt your abilities and to feel like you’re not good enough.
  • High levels of responsibility: Sole traders have a lot of responsibility for their own success or failure. They have to make all the decisions, and they have to be responsible for everything that goes wrong. This can be a lot of pressure, and it can lead to feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
  • Isolation: Sole traders often work from home, which can lead to feelings of isolation. They may not have the same social interaction as they would if they worked in an office, and this can make it harder to feel connected to others and to their work.

Imposter syndrome is a common experience, affecting about 70% of people at some point in their lives. It is more common in women and in high-achieving individuals.

A woman reviews the pictures she has taken on a digital camera.

When it comes to coping with imposter syndrome, there’s a lot of information out there – a Google search yields more than 5 million results and shows solutions ranging from attending conferences to reading books to reciting one’s accomplishments in front of a mirror. But what’s less explored is why imposter syndrome exists in the first place, and what role workplace systems play in fostering and exacerbating it in women.

I suggest that firstly, write down all the reasons why being an imposter may be untrue. Our irrational mind can feel very hard to dampen down in these moments and we need to rewrite the narrative we are telling ourselves.

Take care of yourself

Next, set yourself realistic goals. This will help you to feel a sense of accomplishment and to build your confidence.

Lastly, take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising regularly. These things will help you stay physically and mentally healthy.

Also, I am very careful with language I use when talking about this with someone going through it – sometimes the words ‘imposter syndrome’ automatically ignite a feeling of fraudulence, as opposed to simply feeling anxious.

Two freelancers cross paths in a bar.

Of course, imposter syndrome isn’t the only mental wellbeing concern when it comes to sole traders in the creative world. There’s a lot of other issues that might be on your mind, such as:

  • Money anxiety: You might be worried about whether you’ll be able to make enough money to support yourself and your family. You might also be worried about how you’ll pay your bills if you don’t have a steady stream of income.
  • Loneliness: You might feel isolated and alone, especially if you work from home. You might not have the same social interaction as you would if you worked in an office, and this can make you feel lonely and disconnected.
  • Burnout: You might feel overwhelmed and stressed, especially if you’re working long hours or have tight deadlines. You might also feel like you’re not good enough, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and self-doubt.
  • Work-life balance: You might find it difficult to balance your work life with your personal life. You might find yourself working long hours, and it can be hard to switch off from work when you’re not in the office. This can lead to stress, burnout, and other mental health problems.
Any person in any industry should take time to factor in taking care of their mental health

I think any person in any industry should take time to factor in taking care of their mental health. Sadly, we haven’t been taught how to in school and therefore it is our responsibility as we get into adulthood to understand how you can do this for yourself.

And, if your mental health isn’t looked after, you will not be able to succeed at the level you may hope to.

Again, I would always advise you to have someone to talk to, whether that be a mentor, therapist or someone aligned with your career choice who you can feel comfortable speaking to. When working as a freelancer, you can feel you are the only one facing these obstacles and that can be very damaging to one’s confidence and ability to continue. Reach out and talk because you will gain support and realise you really aren’t alone.

Two women chat while sitting on swings in a park.

You need to be the CEO of your life and that means creating some structure for yourself. When we are our own boss, it can easily feel that our day can start quite chaotic, needing to do 101 things at once. I would advise you to write a weekly list of between three and five key goals you’d like to achieve, and organise your days by breaking them down into things daily you can do to achieve them.

And finally, take time to notice those small wins. So often when working for ourselves, we overlook our achievements. I like to end every day by writing down some things I am proud of. It helps me see what I’m achieving, what I’m capable of, and reminds me I’m no imposter!

Interested in hearing more from Sarah Ann? You can sign up to her newsletter here, and check out the Live Well, Be Well podcast for your weekly slice of wellbeing news. Sarah Ann also offers a free 30-day training course to help you explore your physical, mental and emotional wellness.

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