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Take the stress out of self-employment

by | April 20, 2018

April is ‘stress awareness month’, and this year it coincides with the first month of self-employment for people in my network who have recently left with redundancy packages to start their own businesses. Having permission to step away from corporate life can be a big de-stressor in itself, but there’s the potential for a huge amount of stress in your first year as you make the transition from employee to fully fledged business owner.

When I went out on my own 17 years ago on the back of an unexpected corporate re-org, most people thought I was crazy. Let’s face it, walking away from the security of full-time employment is hardly ‘perfect timing’ when you’re married to someone who is also self-employed, you’re in the process of building your own house and simultaneously paying out on mortgage, rent and building costs – plus planning to start a family in the near future with all the additional expense that will entail! There have been some hairy moments along the way, but overall, that decision to strike out on my own has surpassed my expectations in every way. Through self-employment, I’ve found a way to sustain my own lifestyle and that of others, plus enjoyed more flexibility and autonomy than would have been possible had I stayed as a corporate employee. I’ve also been able to collaborate/network with many other small business owners and been able to learn from their experiences too.

If you want to put in place some working habits now that will enable you to minimise some of the stressors of self-employment and serve you and your business well into the future, here are some suggestions:

Play the long game

If you’re fresh out of a corporate job, chances are you’ve been working quarter to quarter for most of your working life. When I first started out, I was given some great advice that has stayed with me ever since…..”It takes 4 years to build a business”. A whole 4 years before you reach a point where customers are contacting you voluntarily, and you feel confident your business has legs. Sales and marketing experts may disagree, but in my experience, the principle of the 4 year rule has rung true for many business owners I’ve worked with.

What’s helpful about viewing your fledgling business in this timeframe, is that you liberate yourself from the self-imposed pressure of completely unrealistic financial targets you might be tempted to set in your first year of trading. (It’s very unlikely you’re going to match the corporate benefits package you’ve been used to in your first year!)  You’ll get a shot of dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, every time you make progress towards a goal, so set yourself goals that are achievable and allow you to experience early success, feel positive that you’re making progress, and stay motivated. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

Get your inner cabinet in place

A common issue I hear from people deciding to head back into corporate employment having tried working for themselves, is the sense of isolation that self-employment can bring. Turns out that too much time on our own is really not good for the soul. Evidence suggests a large part of our happiness and wellbeing comes from our relationships with people and the day to day connections that may not initially happen when you start working for yourself.

Make it a priority to establish and maintain relationships with people in a similar situation to you. Find the people you can be really honest with about the ups and downs of your business, who you don’t need to impress with a shiny sanitised version of how things are really going, who will help you find the humour at the bleakest times, can empathise with you, celebrate successes with you. Seek these people out and set up a routine of regular face to face contact with them. Your sanity depends on it.

Know when good enough is good enough

For any fellow ruminators out there, the potential to ‘over think’ every single aspect of your new business is absolutely endless in the beginning. No-one will think about your business as much as you do. But excessive pondering about every little decision you’ll need to make along the way is simply going to slow you down as you seek a level of perfectionism that probably doesn’t exist.

It’ll be tempting to spend hours looking at pantone numbers so you can find the exact shade of blue that will 100% match across your website, business cards and compliment slips because no-one will care about this as much as you do. But the fact that no-one will care about this as much as you do means this level of overthinking is not productive. Rumination will sap you of precious time and energy which can be better used elsewhere, and so keep it to a minimum.

Manage your boundaries carefully

If you’re not careful, this overthinking about your business will leak into every aspect of your life, particularly if you’re working from home, and especially if your business needs to become a significant source of income in your household. It’s something you’ll be starting from scratch, will have your name on, and you’ll be desperate for it to succeed. But you’ll test your personal relationships to the limit if you’re constantly preoccupied with your business. You also need proper downtime and rest so you can maintain a clear head and sense of perspective to face the many new situations you’ll find yourself in.

Put a structure in place from day one so that you and your family know when and where you’re working, and when you’re not. When you’re finished for the day, switch the devices off and firmly shut the home office door. Your business is not who you are, it’s something you choose to do, and so don’t allow it to consume you.

Shape your product / service as you go

Avoid the temptation to isolate yourself for months whilst you 100% perfect a product/service that you can launch to the world. This is simply going to cost you time and money. And you’ll feel demoralised when you realise you’ve invested hugely to create a brilliant product/service that everyone is bound to need…..only to find no-one actually wants it!

Identify who your target customers are early on (and I mean real people with budgets, not just target industries), go to the places these people go to, find out what their current issues/problems are, engage with them, listen to them and shape your product/service to fit their current needs. Then evolve your product/service as you go and start offering it out to other potential customers too.

Batch your time

Once you get busy and you’re responding to customer demands, it’ll be easy to spend all of your time making other people’s businesses brilliant, rather than your own.

Batch your time so you’re working ‘on’ your business and not simply just ‘in’ it. Set aside time each day/week/month to keep on top of business development and actively manage your pipeline of future work. Allocate time to develop your own skills and expertise. At the end of each busy week, ask yourself, ‘what ONE thing have I done this week to move my business forward? What ONE thing have I done to invest in myself?’ Be ruthless about batching your time from day one and it will become a habit.

Cash flow

And finally, your business will not survive if you’re not completely on top of managing healthy cash flow. Put simple processes in place now that allow you to easily track income and outgoings. Be tenacious about requesting (and then chasing) PO numbers from customers before you commit to work. Send out your invoices the moment you’ve completed work. Chase late payments the day they become overdue. This is your business, your livelihood and this is something you need to be all over!

So, to sum it up…..self-employment can be hugely fulfilling if you approach it in the right way, but it’s not without its stressors. If you want to minimise stress and get through your first year in style, avoid over thinking everything, interact with people, and be ruthless about your time and cash flow.

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