If you have depression or PTSD, working for yourself may sound like an escape from the stress of an office. But if you’re not careful, self-employment can be catastrophic for your mental health. Running a successful business without sacrificing mental wellness means being organized, disciplined, and mindful in your approach.
On one hand, self-employment means flexibility and the opportunity to pursue a passion project. When you’re mentally worn down from spending 40 hours per week at an office where you feel undervalued and under-stimulated, the opportunity to be self-directed sounds like blissful freedom. You don’t have to talk to people on your bad days, and you don’t even have to change out of your pajamas. And at the end of each day, you have the satisfaction of knowing you accomplished something for you.
On the other hand, working for yourself means putting yourself out there. It makes you vulnerable, and it opens the door for criticism. Working for yourself also means no sick days, no vacation days, and no pay if your work is incomplete. Some days, that so-called flexibility could feel like a cage.
Despite the challenges, however, being a small business owner with mental illness can work. But if you’re going to cut it without putting your mental health on the line, you need to be strategic. If you have your sights set on a future where you run the show, Recovery Program Solutions of Virginia offers the following insight to help you along the way.
Keep Finances Top of Mind
For most people, financial stress is the hardest part of owning a small business. Unlike having an employer where you’re paid consistently, income for the self-employed is variable. There are months when you earn a lot and months where business slows to a near-stop. With smart financial management, you can stabilize your income throughout the year.
The first step is establishing a business emergency fund. Like a personal emergency fund, this is money you can use when something unexpected happens. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be enough to give you peace of mind. Your emergency fund can exist in the form of cash reserves, but more than likely, it’s a business credit card you can use in a pinch.
Next, forecast your cash flow. A cash flow worksheet projects when money comes in and when it goes out. It’s a key budgeting tool that prevents you from spending money that should be earmarked for future expenses. It also tells you approximately how much profit you’ll see. The Small Business Administration provides more details about projecting cash flow.
Make Recordkeeping a Priority
Forecasting cash flow isn’t enough. It’s critical to track business income and expenses throughout the year. Don’t fall behind on recordkeeping; it doesn’t take long for accounting tasks to grow into an overwhelming amount of work. Automate these tasks as much as possible so you’re not spending hours inputting receipts and sales data. Accounting software is a must, but it’s not all you need. Software and apps that let you scan receipts, send and track invoices, and manage bills are a must for getting the to-do list out of your head.
Bear in mind too the importance of separating your personal and business finances. The easiest way to do this is through an online small business bank account. Do yourself a favor and find a banking service that simplifies your accounting. It can help streamline your recordkeeping.
Look Out for Yourself
Find space in the budget to create your own benefits package. It’s hard to take days off when you’re in the thick of it, but you need time away. Build vacation time into your budget so you don’t get burned out. Health care for the self-employed is costly, but it’s worth it to pay for a policy that lets you meet your mental health needs.
Finally, take time to center yourself every day. This can mean leaning on your support group, going on a walk each morning, getting up from your desk once per hour, or practicing breathing exercises when your head starts swimming. Do what you need to focus your energy and remind yourself that you’ve got this.
Navigating the rocky path of becoming an entrepreneur when you have a mental illness can feel almost insurmountable. But it isn’t. You have the strength and the ability to pull it off if you create a strong foundation, manage your time and your money, and give yourself room to breathe. It’s going to be tough, but you’re tougher, and you can make it happen.