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Message to Struggling Sole Traders

Life can be incredibly lonely as a sole trader and these anxieties are often significantly exacerbated by the long working hours and clients who are unappreciative of what you do for them.

So today I’m going to share with you a  recent conversation I had with a client of mine who provides SEO services for a couple of dozen clients (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website). Who came to see me with a problem.

I have used a dash of poetic licence here and there to illustrate the points being made, including the client’s name who for the purposes of this Blog, I’m calling Frank.

Struggling Sole Trader’s problem

“Dear Dave, I’ve come in to see you today because I’m considering packing in my business. As you know I’ve been a sole trader for nearly six years and am completely stressed, working at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week for, yes, reasonable money but for very unappreciative clients. I feel like packing it all in and sailing into the sunset and then finding a completely a none stressful job that at the end of every day I can leave work at work and go home and forget.

Right now, I feel like a failure, I don’t want to discuss my concerns with my family as I don’t want anyone else worrying. I can’t describe it properly, but I feel like I am in a constant state of anxiety wondering what the day is going to bring and what is going to go wrong. It means everything takes so much longer as I just cannot focus. It is affecting my health and I am not sure how much more I can take and what I can do.”

Dave’s reply to Struggling Sole Trader

“ Dear Frank, I’m really pleased you took the time and, I’ve no doubt, courage to be honest with me today. Your story has resonated with me, even though I’m not someone from your profession. I have labelled myself a bit of an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ after an 18-year career working in a so-called safe job in the Civil Service. Running any business by yourself, is tough, tiring, frustrating and anxiety generating; however, to most of the outside world, we are believed to be ‘living the dream’ and making ‘loadsa money!’ to paraphrase Harry Enfield. This attitude, is often from (and let’s be honest here) friends and people we know, and in itself compounds our stress with a massive dose of imposter syndrome, as we then start to question where we are going wrong.

When I first went self-employed, I topped up my income (of £zero!) by working in a restaurant for 20 plus hours a week. My original plan was to have more time at home and have more personal freedom. After spending a full week trying to build up my business, followed by the equivalent of another three working days for the restaurant, quite the opposite happened. I felt that I was becoming estranged from my family as I was constantly working.

In the early years, if I’m honest, there were occasions when I felt like pressing that big red panic button and shooting back into a simple job. However, what I’d not realised in the frantic struggle of 80-hour weeks is that I hadn’t started out with a strategic plan of where I was going and how I would achieve it. I had just hit the ground running… and running… and running and spent too long working. I wasn’t able to properly relax and didn’t take the time to sit back and review my business, I was just too tired and stressed.

Mature hindsight is a perfect science and looking back, I’m now sure that it had a negative impact on my mental health and It was only when I stepped back and took the time to review what I was actually doing that the pieces started to come together, and this would be my advice to you too.”

Dave’s Struggling Sole Trader advice:

  1. Temporarily stop what you are doing and take a step back and if possible, take a short holiday
  2. Question everything you are doing right now – is it all really productive or necessary?
  3. Do you have to do everything yourself – can it be outsourced or delegated?
  4. Your clients – do you need to sack some of them? Seriously, I mean this.
  5. Review your pricing structure to ensure it matches your worth – again be prepared to lose a few clients as there’s no point being a busy fool.
  6. Ultimately, decide what do you want to achieve?

There is a song from country singer Gary Allen and I really find the title inspiring, ‘Every storm runs out of rain’. Sometimes, when we are going through these periods of life, we can lose hope and focus and think that the ‘storm’ will never end; but believe me. it will.

Everything passes and you will be stronger and more resilient for this experience. But you must stand back and re-evaluate your business and how you’re running it, changes are clearly needed.

Image of David Jones Shrewsbury Accountant and Founder of Morgan Jones

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