The harsh reality of solopreneur illness

We go into self employment for a sense of freedom…right?

No boss telling you what to do, autonomy over the direction you want to take your business in, and the ability to pick and choose your work and who you spend the lions share of your life having to engage with…and of course let’s not forget the opportunity for wealth and abundance beyond our wildest dreams…OK maybe I am being a bit silly with that last one.

It does come as a bit of a surprise though when all of the above doesn’t come as easy as we expect.

The reality is that for many of us, we are the harshest boss we will ever have, we sometimes feel trapped doing things we don’t want to do in our business, we work longer hours than ever and can rarely shut off from it, we still have to deal with dickheads and time wasters sometimes AND NO…the money isn’t always rolling in as much as we like.

I am not moaning here.

As someone who has been freelancing and working for herself for more than 25 years I know the deal. I signed up to this life.

In my career I have also been in full time employment too at times, and know I’m not cut out for that life…but boy oh boy the perks, knowing your paycheck hits your bank every month (even if you’ve had a bit of a rubbish month), knowing that you have certain safety nets and safeguards if you are treated badly or have a major life event happen…you know maternity, sickness, bereavement. 

In 2021 I feel like I have spent half of the year unwell.

Now this is not strictly true. I had a few weeks off in the Spring after experiencing burnout, and I have recently had 2 weeks off due to COVID. Not to underplay this, on Tuesday last week I ended up in the Majors department of Homerton University Hospital…which isn’t even my local hospital…my 2 more local hospitals were no longer accepting ambulances. 

As I lay on my hospital bed hooked up to pain relief and oxygen, patiently waiting to see a doctor it felt like I was having an out of body experience, as all kind of thoughts ran through my head.

  • What is it all for?
  • What have I spent the last 3 years doing?
  • Have I had a life well spent?
  • If I die what will happen to my clients?
  • Who will sort out the admin of closing my business?
  • What legacy will I be leaving for my 8 year old?
The drama queen in me was like…ooohh lets get a photo of me hooked up to oxygen and post a final “lessons from life” kind of post before I pop my clogs….but it didn’t come to that.

8 hours later a handsome and kind doctor (they are always handsome) told me that the chest pains I was experiencing were muscular caused through all the coughing, and the breathlessness was literally my lungs recovering from the virus…and I was otherwise in really good health. No sign of lung disease or pneumonia, no evidence of heart disease or stroke…I was good to go.

And before you knew it I was having a good ole chin-wag with an Uber driver from Ilford, as he drove me the 16 minutes home at 2am.

So now what?

The last few days I have been resting up, with hundreds of messages from friends, clients, and general cheerleaders with calls to…

“Take it easy”

“Rest up”

“Don’t return to work too early”

“Work can wait”

Of course they are right, and work can wait to some extent.

BUT…I love my work, I need my work, without my work to keep me out of trouble who even am I…AND the harsh reality is for most solopreneurs who are the sole breadwinner in their family (like me), taking an extended break isn’t always viable in the longterm.

So I have been thinking about how we safeguard ourselves? How do we give ourselves the best chance of riding out illness, and I think it comes down to these main points.

1. Have the relevant insurances in place.

Have you got critical illness cover in your business? No…me neither. It’s one of those things I have been putting off. But it’s on my list to do this week…no excuses. None of us want to think about something like this happening, but the truth is we must. I need to do more research into insurances as I’m not sure what insurance policies would cover shorter-term breaks from income-generating activities but imagine having to take an extended break of a year or more? Go and look at this as a matter of urgency.

2. Stop trading your time for money

I am lucky that so little of my work is A. in person B. a direct time exchange. My clients have been very understanding and I have only had to cancel a few things this week. If you had to take 2 weeks off work, how many of your clients would be impacted, what impact would this have later on down the line? How can you free up your time, without sacrificing income?

3. Have multiple streams of income (passive or semi-passive where possible)

I make money from book sales, affiliate sales, online programmes, digital programmes, and masterminds. Yes, these all require upfront investment of time, effort and money, but they do offer some flexibility later on down the line, and things can be ramped up quite easily once you have these things in place. Knowing I have a baseline of income takes the pressure off I can tell you.

4. Look after your health

Yeah, yeah, yeah…self care and all of that stuff. One of the reasons I love self employment is I can manage my diary. I can schedule doctors appointments, do Crossfit a couple of times a week, go for a swim or a run when I fancy it, spend time cooking or meditating. The flip side of this though is it can be easy to work weekends, to burn the midnight oil, and to take on too much. Health is wealth…and with no occupational health, or wellbeing advocate in your workplace…you have to be that person for yourself.

5. Be honest and ask for help

When the shit hits the fan, don’t be afraid to share what’s going on with your clients, collaborators and cheerleaders. If there is enough goodwill already built up they may want to help you. They may be willing to postpone the delivery of paid-for services, they may be willing to pay in advance, or may have other unique solutions to support your recovery. If you have to do a flash sale, do a bloody flash sale…and explain why. It’s a win win…and we all like that right?

6. Build your bloody audience

I can’t stress this enough. Having an audience that isn’t just your mates and competitors hanging around on social media is the best way of safeguarding your business. I have 6000 people on my email list across two businesses. I am able to communicate directly with them, ask for feedback, make offers, build relationships.

7. Learn how to sell

Stop letting your fear of selling or not being liked hold you back from growing your business. If you are worried about coming across as desperate, or being told you are too pushy, or too expensive, too annoying…or any other kind of too, you are doing your business a disservice. If your products and services really help others…you are being a selfish so and so too, because you are limiting the impact you can have too. So have a word with yourself and learn how to do sales in a more effective, less icky way…it is possible.

It is so easy to put this kind of stuff to the back of your minds, and get caught up in the day to day of building your business, but it is only when it happens to you or someone close to you that you are forced to confront it. Remember, the world needs you and your business, and your business needs you to be in good health and/or to be able to take the time out when you need to…so plan for it, build a business that can be as resilliant as you are.

Think Bigger, Do Better, and Build Stronger. 

Love Always




Julie Creffield is a serial entrepreneur, engagement strategist with more than 20 years experience, and a creative business coach for solopreneurs who want to think bigger and do better in the world with their business ventures. She lives in East London with her 8 year old daughter Rose and their ginger cat Tom.

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