Working well when you’re self-employed

Matthew Knight
Matthew Knight

Founder of Leapers

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.

All employers have a responsibility to look after the mental health of their employees, so when you’re your own boss, you too have to remember to look out for your most important employee – you.

I get it – you’re not only doing the work, but also finding new work, chasing payments, the accounting, the marketing, the taxes, and planning around the future of your business. It’s a lot, so forgetting to prioritise your own wellbeing is easily done, but taking a sick day from work related stress​Managing stress PDF Our jobs, relationships, family life or money can all add to our levels of stress. This guide explains what stress is and has tips to help identify and control it, in ourselves and in our teams and workplaces.Free By: RBS Group View resource is far more of a problem if you’re self-employed.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to keep things on track. It starts with creating time to think about it; a healthy dose of exploring of what causes you stress; and ensuring you’ve put steps in place to build yourself some support.

A self-employed wedding photographer snaps the happy couple.

Our research shows that the main stressors of the self-employed fall into three buckets:

  1. Emotional: I’m not good enough, I’ll never find the work, I’m worried about money, I’m feeling isolated. The thoughts and feelings that swim around in your head, and get in the way of doing good work.
  2. Behavioural: I’m too busy, I’m not busy enough. The practical issues of how you work and what you need to work.
  3. External: The client went quiet, the client didn’t pay me, IR35. The things which are almost entirely outside of our control.
It can be hugely beneficial to share these stressors with others.

Depending on how you think, act and engage with others – the stressors which have the biggest impact on your emotional state is entirely individual, so our recommendation is to keep a diary to understand what things make you feel what emotions, and build from there.

Understand your stressors

At the end of each day in a notebook or file on your computer, note down positive and negative experiences from the day. Did something get you excited? Did something frustrate you? Did something worry you? Capture it, and at the end of the week, reflect back to see if there are any themes. Do this for a while and you’ll start to see patterns in which experiences have the most impact upon how you’re feeing.

Share your challenges

It can be hugely beneficial to share these stressors with others. Talking about your experience with others who have been there helps you discover and learn techniques for coping. There are many communities focused on supporting the self-employed​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 – some are sector specific, such as FJ&Co for freelance journalists or Blkbk for designers; some are situation specific such as DIFTK for self-employed parents; and some are general groups which cover many aspects of self-employed, such as Freelance Heroes.

Not only will you learn from others, simply vocalising an issue it can make it much clearer in your own mind about how to start seeing or reacting to challenges in more positive ways.

A self-employed fitness instructor leads a gym class.

Create time for regular check-ins

Spending time in these communities is the modern watercooler, the Swedish idea of Fika, or the British tea break. Even just five minutes catching up with your ‘team’ each day can help, so see it as part of a regular routine of support. You could go even further and establish a meetup or group for yourself with others locally. Perhaps a ‘monthly team meeting’ at the coffee shop, or even a weekly status call with others where you check-in and share how you’re getting on – which also helps you celebrate your achievements.

Build up resilience and ways of working well

When you gather an idea of where your main stressors are coming from, you can start to tackle them head on. Your own group of individual stressors and challenges are unique, but there will be common answers to many of them. There’s not time to go into these within this blog, but Leapers and Mind are building a library of resources, guides and tools to help maintain your own mental health when self-employed. Make use of the guides to help you identify the stresses, and find ways of starting to address them.

Put proactive foundations in place

It can be easy to focus on the things which are causing you worry now, and forget to put things in place that stop stress from happening in the first place. We talk about the ‘foundations of freelancing’, (although they apply to any form of self-employment), and they’re the five things which we encourage everyone to think about proactively, not just reactively: Financial Futures; Healthy Habits; Support Networks; Working Relationships; Learning and Development. We’ll be sharing more on each of these themes over the rest of the year on the blog.

Don’t put a brave face on things.

Isn’t this adding more stress?

Perhaps there’s a lot to consider here, but a critical part of any business plan means developing a strategy for working well. However, if there’s just one thing which I’d encourage any small business owner, any freelancer, any member of the self-employed workforce, or anyone who is considering working in this way, it would be this: Don’t put a brave face on things.

Share how you’re doing with others who get it. Ask for help when you need it. There’s over five million of us, the self-employed, and we need to support each other.

You might be working for yourself, but you’re certainly not working alone.

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.

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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.

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