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When you’re the boss and running the show, insecurity and uncertainty are a fact of professional life.
Sadly, no one provides you with a crystal ball or your personal psychic that can help you understand what to expect from month to month. You could lose a major client, deal with an unexpected internal issue, or get off track due to smaller inconveniences like having the sniffles for a few days.
Can you relate? It’s difficult to know what to do when you face insecurity and uncertainty as a freelancer or business owner.
Do you let a major client go to work on your own business this month? Or do you hang on to them and work twice as many hours to fit everything in, for fear that next month a different client will let you go?
Should you invest in that expensive new course that promises to give you all the tools and knowledge you need? Or do you pass because you’re not convinced the education will provide the value it promises?
Can you handle using your status as remote worker to take an extensive trip and travel through a foreign country you’ve dreamed of seeing? Or do you stay at home because you’re not confident you’ll be able to keep up with your workload on the road?
Without the ability to see into the future and understand what might pop up in a few weeks, here’s a game plan for how to overcome insecurity you face as a self-employed business owner.
1. Establish a financial safety net
Everyone needs an emergency fund, but for self-employed individuals, the need for a financial security net is even more pressing.
This is probably the most valuable piece of advice I can share with you, because the more money you have saved, the more confidence you’ll have to make bigger and bolder decisions with your business.
This means that freelancers and business owners need a larger safety net than most.
Instead of aiming for the oft-cited three to six months worth of funds in your emergency savings, freelancers and solopreneurs should aim for 10-12 months of living costs stashed away.
2. Plan for known trouble spots
You may not have a crystal ball to help you spot all the rough patches in the freelancing life, but there are some things you should know about ahead of time.
For example; do you know your work always slows down in the summer months, or around winter holidays? Have you always had trouble with a particular service or product?
Do what you can to plan ahead for the things you can see coming. Set aside some cash reserves from your busy times so they can help you through the slower weeks. Or hire some backup ahead of your peak work months so you’re not stuck trying to pull yourself out from a mountain of client work and attempting to find a reliable contractor to help you.
3. Face tough decisions
There are two tactics I use when facing a tough decision in regards to my business. Running a question or idea through this process allows me to feel more secure about a course of action, even if I can’t be 100% certain about the coming months.
Make a pros and cons list: If I need to make a decision but feel stuck because I’m scared of making the wrong decision, I bust out a notepad and a pen and make a good ol’ fashioned pros and cons list. I ask myself what are the possible positive and negative outcomes of choosing to act on my decision in a particular way, then I write it all out.
Then I walk away from my list and come back to it a day or so later. The answer as to what I should do is usually pretty clear. I did this to help me finalize my decision to quit my job back in May!
Define the worst case scenario and make plan B-Z: When I need to make a decision about what to do in my business, I first ask myself what the worst-case scenario is, then I create Plan B, C, D and so on.
For example, let’s say I’m debating whether or not to let a hard-to-work-with client go. I’ll run through the worst thing that could (reasonably) come of this situation. That’s losing a portion of my income for good.
Next, I brainstorm what my next plan of action is, or Plans B, C, D, etc. I’ll ask current clients for referrals or if I can do more for them; I would pitch a few ideal clients I had my eye on and ask if they needed help; I would start looking through listings on job boards…
4. Admit your freelancing fears
Obviously, a lot of our issues with uncertainty come from a place of fear.
We fear losing out on income, we fear losing clients, we fear being unable to keep up with the demands of our work (physically and emotionally), we fear damaging our reputations as experts, and we fear that our work or businesses aren’t sustainable.
Or we’re afraid of doing things outside our comfort zone — even if the end result could be awesome for us or our businesses.
It can be really scary to think about incorporating when you know nothing about the tax or legal implications of that process. It’s intimidating to hire someone to help us if we’ve been flying solo for years. It’s terrifying to think of investing back in your business in a big, serious way that could allow you to grow in an equally big, serious way.
And of course, there’s that one very big, bad, horrible fear tied to our uncertainty that gets in everyone’s way at some point: the fear of failure.
We have to manage those negative emotions, or else they’ll be managing us.
- Understand what’s going on, on a deeper level: Getting familiar with fear and understanding why your brain is doing this to you may help you overcome it. It could just be your “lizard brain” talking, or that primitive part of your mind that was designed to protect you from danger when we were still living in the wild and running from a variety of situations that posed a threat to our lives. Your brain is trying to keep you out of trouble, but the primal part of it may not understand that taking a leap in your business is not the same as walking into a literal lion’s den.
- Embrace your fears: On a similar note, a good way to get over fear is to readily embrace and accept it. Examine it up close, from every angle. Ask — and answer — why you’re afraid, when you feel that way, and, most importantly, is it a legitimate fear or that lizard brain in overdrive. If it’s just a primal response, gently push it back into the primitive part of your mind that it came from. If it’s legitimate, make a plan of action that you can implement to overcome it or work through it (or even give in to it; some fears can be good gut-level indicators of whether or not you’re making a wise choice with your present actions).
- Realize that nothing happens within your safe zone: You have to push yourself if you want to achieve more. Greater risks come with greater rewards. Just be sure you’re taking a calculated risk; don’t make too many blind leaps.
As I continue down my path as a solopreneur running her own business, I know I’ll come back to these ideas, tips, and tactics to get me through my own insecurities and uncertainties. It’s tough facing a big unknown, over and over again each and every month, but it’s part of this amazing life you can build as your own boss.
The next time you’re trying to figure out how to overcome insecurity, focus on the rewards that are well worth the struggles that come from the unknown, the unexpected, and the uncertain.