Working for yourself has plenty of advantages, but top of the list for most freelancers is the flexibility it offers. Choosing when, where and how you work is, for many of us, the definition of Living the Dream.
But being your own boss comes with its own set of challenges. There isn’t the traditional support system or structure of a permanent role: it’s all down to you, and that can be overwhelming at times. Our tips will help you look after yourself and your business – so you can stay motivated, and your small business can swing from strength to strength this year.
What is burnout?
Burnout is usually understood as feeling exhausted or dissatisfied with your work, and as a freelancer, it can be tricky to manage. When you work for yourself, there’s no coworker in your corner to bounce ideas off. Or finance department to chase your overdue invoices, or new business manager to help you reel in your next contract. You might go whole days without speaking to anyone – resulting in a very intense conversation with the bloke in your local corner shop. And if the stapler goes missing, there’s no one to blame but yourself.
Burnout can have both mental and physical symptoms, including headaches and exhaustion, feelings of negativity or cynicism towards your job, and reduced efficiency. If you’ve noticed any of these while you’ve been working for yourself, don’t panic. The sooner you feel yourself burning out, the sooner you can take steps to reduce the effects – and avoid burnout in the future.
Work out your working hours
A surefire way to reduce burnout is to set up dedicated working hours – and stick to them. Treating your freelance workload like this will mean you’re less likely to take work home with you if you don’t finish a task on time. Establishing working hours for your business is particularly important if you work from home: no one wants to be answering emails over dinner, or sorting their invoices in front of Netflix. Don’t forget to schedule regular breaks for yourself, otherwise you’ll be losing concentration as the day goes on. Managing your time carefully will boost your productivity, and help you maintain a healthy work/life balance.
Keep an eye on your expenses
One of the main sources of stress for freelancers is not having a steady source of income. That can make budgeting difficult, especially when you factor in late invoice payments – the bane of every freelancer’s life. You might not be able to control your income, but you can look after your overheads to keep yourself in the black between jobs. Create a monthly budget, and work out exactly how much you need to cover the costs of running your business (website fees, phone bill, insurance etc). Shop around for deals on your phone, wifi and insurance – and cut any unnecessary spending (like your takeaway lattes). Don’t forget, you also need to be saving regularly as you earn so that your tax bill doesn’t come as a nasty surprise!
Create a comfortable working space
You need somewhere comfortable with minimal distractions to do your best work, so take the time to set up a proper work space. Whether you’re working from home, a coworking space or a local coffee shop you need to make sure you’ve got proper seating and lighting, or you’ll get increasingly uncomfortable (and unproductive!) throughout the day. Getting rid of clutter and investing in proper storage will save you space – and prevent you from being distracted by that pile of ironing or stack of old magazines.
Reflect on your progress
When you’re your own boss, there’s nobody monitoring your professional progress apart from (you guessed it) you. That might come as a relief if you find performance reviews a bit cringe, but it’s important to keep track of your successes and failures so you can learn from them as you build your business. Take time every six months or so to assess your progress. What skills did you improve? And what could you do better? Setting achievable goals will help focus your career and avoid burnout – and don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done.
Ask for help
You might work alone, but you’re not on your own! There might be times when you struggle with your workload, or you’re not sure how to do a particular task, or you need to have a difficult conversation with a supplier or client. When you’re not sure what to do, don’t be afraid to ask for help. From your friends and family to your professional network and social media communities, there are so many sources of information and support out there for you and your business. Give an old colleague a call for advice, check out Facebook groups for freelancers and look for professional meetup events or industry advice panels you can attend in person. You never know who you might meet, and how they might be able to help.
Make time for a social life
It might seem obvious, but spending time with your friends and family is really important if you work by yourself. Feeling lonely or unable to vent about work can exacerbate feelings of stress, and contribute to burnout. Spending time with others will give your mind a much needed break from thinking about work, and boost your morale. Take advantage of your flexible working hours and join a running club or a yoga class. Even just a walk around the block or a quick trip to the corner shop is amazing for clearing your head – and don’t forget to make time for your friends, family and or partner, too. Being around other people can really improve your mental wellbeing – it’s been proven!
Just remember that feeling stressed is a totally normal, understandable part of running your own business. Managing your stress properly will help build your resilience and help you avoid burnout, so you and your business have the best possible chance of success.
About the author
Lily Smith is a National Film and Television School trained writer, currently freelancing at ANNA Money. She’s collaborated with remarkable, inspiring people and together they've won Gold Lions, D&ADs, and secured $9M in Google Ventures funding.Read more of Lily's writing