Do you dream of working for yourself? Setting your own hours, being your own boss, never having to answer to an unreasonable manager or cantankerous customer again? It might sound like paradise, but it isn't. A number of studies over several years have shown time and again that solopreneurs suffer from worse mental and physical health than their employee counterparts. In short, being a one-person company can be extremely stressful.
But it doesn't have to be. As a (relatively) well-adjusted person who's been a solopreneur for decades, I can tell you that it is possible to work for yourself and retain some mental balance. It isn't necessarily easy. But it will help if you take a little time to think about the biggest stressors for solopreneurs and how you might address them. There are always ways to make things better.
1. Financial uncertainty
Perhaps the biggest stressor for most solopreneurs is worry over making enough money to pay the bills. Because freelance incomes are inconsistent, and because freelance customers don't always pay on time, you can easily find yourself faced with a utility, mortgage, or rent bill and no way to pay it.
Short of marrying someone wealthy, there are a few things you can do to mitigate financial insecurity, all of which will take some time and planning. The first is to make sure you have a diversified customer base so that if you lose a big customer for any reason, you'll lose part but not all of your income. The second is to create some savings so you'll have a financial buffer if things go wrong. One solopreneur I know spends only money that she earned last quarter during the current quarter, saving this quarter's earnings to spend next quarter, and so on. The third is to create some sort of contingency plan for what you'll do if your income dries up. It might be moving back in with your parents, or taking a full-time job, or selling some valuable possession. The idea is to create some mental calm because you'll know what you'll do in a worst-case scenario.
2. Unpredictable workload
The flip side of worrying about work drying up is worrying how you'll get it all done when you're given too much work at once. I've struggled a lot with this particular problem, and I've found a few things that can help. First, as much as possible, establish ongoing relationships that will result in a predictable flow of work. This will both help with financial insecurity and give you a somewhat more regular workload. It will also allow you to schedule your time better.
It can also help to line up people who can subcontract part of your workload or perform tasks that don't require your particular skills. A virtual assistant can take a lot of the grunt work off your plate. Finally, keep in mind that one advantage to being a solopreneur is that you can always say no to a particular job or task. It's scary to do, but often better than killing yourself and then producing substandard work.
The work life of most solopreneurs is a lonely one by definition. After a few years in a highly sociable office, I remember listening glumly to the deafening silence when I started working at home. You will need to make a deliberate effort to fight isolation, for instance, creating social events for yourself in the evenings, taking a class, or finding a workout partner. And don't forget to explore industry or professional groups. Often, the other members will also be solopreneurs who want to feel less isolated.
4. The inability to turn off work
Many solopreneurs report that they're not really able to take vacations: Even when they're away at the beach, they find themselves pulling out their laptops. And if they don't, they still find that work occupies most of the space in their heads.
There's not much you can do about thinking about work--and being away from the office may give you a new perspective on a problem or on your career. That can be valuable, so long as it doesn't distract you from the people you're spending time with. On the other hand, you definitely can and should avoid working during vacation. If you absolutely must "check in" by email, phone, text, or chat, do that once a day and then walk away.
Taking a vacation--a real, not working, vacation--is essential for your physical and mental health. And preserving your mental and physical health is essential if you want your solopreneur career to last.