Self Employment

In talking to a number of different self employed people recently, a common theme to emerge in every discussion was that setting up a business from scratch, and guiding it through all of its early developmental phases, is hard work.

People spoke of the difficulties of physical and professional isolation – especially true for home based businesses; the highs and lows of developing products and services; finding new customers, keeping existing ones and losing others. There are stresses in not knowing what you don’t know (until you drop into a great hole); or in needing to be the technical, entrepreneurial and management/administrative whiz, simultaneously.  And that’s not counting the times one is also required to be the office and window cleaner, courier, supplies purchaser, outside gardener, basic maintenance person, painter, decorator, furniture remover, envelope stuffer and tea attendant.

A common experience too, was that sometimes, with or without apparent warning, people found they ‘hit the wall’, where everything about and in the business became too difficult to do.  They found that hitting the wall sometimes lasted a few days or a few weeks. When it happened it was frustrating, somewhat alarming and caused concern.

So what can be done when one’s hit the wall?

Recognise it for what it is

Hitting the wall means that peoples’ get up and go has got up and gone, temporarily. It doesn’t mean they lack skills, a positive attitude or wherewithal. It’s just that forward movement is halted. Temporarily. It happens sometimes.

Get support

Talk to those who know what it is like to be self employed and experienced in what it takes to create, maintain a business and to work through the highs, the lows and the states in-between.  It’s not the time to talk with those who consider that ‘getting a real job’ may be the only solution to a hit-the-wall-slump. Talking to like minded and similarly experienced wall hitters is valuable. It can be comforting and reassuring to be told ‘yes, it’s a difficult time for you’; ‘yes, isn’t it frustrating’’; ‘yes, but it’s temporary’ and ‘yes, just like winter, it’ll pass’.

Identify triggers

It’s useful to look back and determine if there are any triggers that contribute to the slump. Is it a one only occurrence or cyclical? For example, with a major project on the go, do you work at it dawn to dusk, without stopping for weeks on end, then slump at the finish because you’re mentally exhausted? Or doggedly work on something that’s not in your area of expertise, then get to the point where you can’t look at or do anything on it any more, because it’s too, too difficult, or totally, utterly uninteresting? What can you learn to do differently?

Develop strategies

It’s useful to have a few predetermined strategies to get you through.  For example, taking a holiday and leaving everything for a while may help, or a long weekend may be more manageable and suffice. Holding off making major decisions could be appropriate, especially if your thinking is all over the place, your judgement is less sound than usual and your perspective has gone.

Buying in expertise to do a piece of work that’s causing bother could lift a weight from the shoulders, as would delegating work to others, or just leaving something for a week or two.  Spend time on relatively non-demanding activities i.e. clean out your filing cabinet, rearrange your office, clean your desk.

A few treats won’t go amiss either. If  the norm is sitting at the desk from dawn to dusk, with micro pauses for lunch, stop it. Meet friends for lunch.  Arrange a late afternoon coffee date. Have some retail therapy. Take a day off work. Leave work early. Organise some fun things to do after work and on the weekend.  Beef up the self care activities. Find some activities to do that will take your mind off work.

Arrange some business meetings in a coffee bar, for a change in environment. Do some book work in a cafe by the sea. Watch the surf and gulls while inspiration and bird droppings descend upon you.  Create a ‘do-next-month’ file and put in it all the issues or pieces of work that are too big to consider. The work is still there to do, and there’s no chance of it being forgotten or lost however it’ll be easier to do when one is over the wall.

Re-prioritise the priorities. Determine what simply must be done now or next week and what can realistically can be left for later.    Talk to a trusted advisor or friend. Discuss the state you’re in. Ask for their perspective on your perspective. Discuss your re-prioritised priorities. Get their views as to whether they are realistic and appropriate.  Discuss the strategies you have instigated and those you could usefully add.

And give yourself a pat on the back. Being in business and staying in business is not for the faint hearted. It’s ok to hit the wall – it gives a temporary mental breathing space and once through it, the impetus to keep going.


First Published in NZBusiness March 2002�

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