Before we even look at the impact our clients have on us, let’s start with the stats on entrepreneurship and mental health. We already know we tend to be overachievers, but it turns out we’re excelling in the area of mental health too – and not in a positive way.
Small business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to report having mental health challenges compared with the general population. In fact, a whopping 72% of us suffer from one or more issues, according to research from entrepreneur, Dr Michael Freeman.
Getting creative with mental health issues
Of course, this isn’t all that surprising. As Dr Freeman puts it, “People who are on the energetic, motivated and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states”.
Here’s what’s interesting though: if we look at the kinds of things that cause us stress, keep us awake at night, and have the potential to lay the foundations for poor mental health, quite a few of them relate to clients.
So let’s take a look at what’s going on with freelancers and their clients, and then figure out some answers. The numbers quoted below come from content agency Jammy Digital and the survey they carried out on 512 small business owners.
Challenges faced by freelancers and small businesses
When it comes to working with clients, the survey revealed:
> 70% of us have lost sleep because of difficult client situations,
> 89% knew in their gut that a client would be difficult but talked themselves into working with them anyway,
> 81% have had a difficult client in the last year.
This isn’t all bad. Often it takes being ‘burned’ by a less-than-ideal client to figure out what your boundaries really are.
Learning from your mistakes is key
Make sure you don’t keep repeating the same mistakes though. Learn from those boundary breaches, get good at spotting red flags, and outline clear boundaries in advance with new clients.
The longer you’ve been in business, the easier it gets to tune into your gut and take heed of those red flags. So if you’re not there yet, don’t panic. A challenging client might slip through the net occasionally, but you’ll get to the point where you run a mile from the difficult ones.
In the meantime, don’t be afraid to walk away from a project or fire a client if they’re impacting your mental health. In this case, it’s best to have a clear process for ending a client relationship – a documented ‘early offboarding’ process – so that you mitigate the risk of fallout.
At least we’ve got a decent work-life balance
One positive thing to come out of Jammy Digital’s survey is the news that a full 59% of us are happy with our work-life balance. This is great, and I hope we see that figure increasing as time goes on.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like our businesses are everything to us – a part of who we are – unless we make a concerted effort to avoid that happening. It’s one of the reasons I dedicate a lot of time to my strongwoman hobby.
Not only is movement good for your mental health, but doing log, stones or yoke keeps you in the moment and stops you mulling over an interaction with a challenging customer or fretting about the late payments that need chasing. Side projects help too. If you’re working creatively on things you enjoy – inside or outside your business – you’re going to get a lot more out of the experience.
In case you’re not in a phase where you have work and play nicely balanced, I’m going to share a quote from Brooklyn-based designer, Frank Chimero.
“Carving out time to play hooky”
He says, “I read once that hunting and gathering societies only work about 20 hours a week. Learning that got under my skin really bad…. so… there’s a lot of figuring out how to pace projects and follow through on responsibilities with strength and quality, all while carving out time to play hooky. My life is going to be filled with just as many Wednesdays as Saturdays, and I would like to claim more than 2/7ths of my life for myself, thanks.”
It’s a good reminder that there’s more to life than working five days (or more) every week. The question he likes to ask himself is, “How would I have it if I could choose?”
How would you live your life if you had a choice?
How about you? How would you live your life if you had a choice? (Hint: you do have a choice!) We all need to hit certain numbers to keep the show on the road, but we still have more freedom than the average employee. We just don’t always make the most of it.
Next time work feels like a struggle, how about playing hooky? Where would you go? What would you do? Sometimes some unscheduled time off is the best thing for your mental health.
And if you are one of the small business founders or freelancers dealing with mental challenges right now, remember that there’s help out there. One example: if you have legal expenses insurance, then you have access to a confidential counselling helpline.
Please ask for help if you need it
I know that asking for help isn’t always something us entrepreneurs find easy, but it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. Here’s to strengthening the small business community, normalising talking about mental health, and asking for the help we need.
And if your clients are keeping you awake at night, read this article about how to avoid ‘red flag clients’. And this one about getting your mindset right and putting boundaries in place.
Dealing with these challenges might just get you on the path to exactly the life you’d want if you could choose. And isn’t that at least partly why you went into business for yourself in the first place? To have the freedom to choose your own adventure?