I never aspired to be a freelance writer or solopreneur. To me, the thought of going solo was risky... and scary! I needed predictability in my career path. I grew up with the notion that safety meant securing a cushy corporate job and receiving a paycheck at the end of every month. Ultimately, fate had other plans for me. Ten years down the line, I experienced an awakening that would involuntarily propel me into the world of solopreneurship — and the change I didn't know I desperately needed.
If you're on the fence about whether or not you should go solo, know that I wrote this piece for you. Here are 6 vitally important lessons from my own journey that I hope will give you a loving little push into taking your own plunge into solopreneurship.
I used to believe that the prestige of your title and the company you worked for were the best measure of your success. I had a lot of achievements and my climb up the corporate ladder seemed to be working as the names on my CV got more and more prestigious (Estée Lauder, Financial Times, Porsche). But over time, in my bid to remain in sync with corporate culture, my 12–14 hour workdays were taking a toll on my health, wellbeing and mindset. Every other month I was at the doctor with stomach issues and other stress-related symptoms. I knew I needed a drastic lifestyle change.
Since going solo, I’ve come to realize that being able to work from anywhere is, of course, awesome. But my biggest win is that I get to choose my clients and the projects. You don’t have this luxury when you work for a company or agency. Taking charge of how I work and who I work with has had the biggest impact on my health and wellbeing. I no longer get the Sunday blues — instead, I'm excited about the week and projects ahead!
In 2016, I got the chance to dabble in the world of freelance marketing and writing projects during a sabbatical year spent in Bali. What was great about this opportunity is that it showed me that a lot of my corporate experiences could be transferred to freelance work! It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, as my self-exploration was met with a lot of resistance. Having been surrounded by the ‘protective’ shell of a corporate company, I was suddenly all on my own, exposed — with nothing and no one to hide behind. I would tell myself a string of lies that were usually along these lines:
As a result, I found myself hiding behind online courses and self-development books, trying to equip myself with more knowledge to prove that I was worth hiring. Even though I secured several freelance projects, I could not shake off my imposter syndrome. I still have these insecurities today but experience has taught me that my fear is not going to kill me, nor am I going to be alienated from society for trying to make it on my own. We are far more skilled than we give ourselves credit for. And when it comes to criticism, we are our most cruel critics.
As I explored freelance work in Bali, battling daily with my imposter syndrome, I would meet entrepreneurs and freelancers who seemed to have it all figured out. When they shared their success stories, they mostly talked about the wins — but rarely mentioned the blood, sweat and tears that form a painful but crucial part of the entrepreneurial journey. What I now know is a lot of people fake it till they make it. And most important of all, we all suffer from imposter syndrome — no matter how successful we appear on the surface.
I needed to feel ready — like a freelance expert who knew what she was doing — to fully promote my services. The funny thing about life is that you are never truly ready. I faced so much resistance to showcasing my services that I started to suffer from anxiety attacks — and angry red patches of eczema appeared all over my body. I was never taught that it was ok to make mistakes, so the fear that I might fail or let my clients down — literally paralyzed me. Over time I have learned to quiet my inner critic with tools I’ve gained through working with coaches and healers — and by incorporating meditation and yoga into my daily routine. A word of advice: if you can learn to quiet your monkey brain, you will be less inclined to give in to fear.
Most solopreneurs and entrepreneurs I’ve met have experienced some sort of epic failure before they figure it out. For two years I struggled massively. Looking back, I realize that I wasn’t fully committing to my freelance journey, nor did I want to go back to corporate. So I kept oscillating between these two worlds. Freelance jobs were trickling in, but my savings dried up within 18 months and I racked up €10,000 in credit card debt. I was traveling the world on borrowed money. So while I pretended everything was ok on the surface, underneath I was drowning in debt, self-doubt, and procrastination from my fear of failure.
Reality hit when I couldn’t withdraw any more money from my credit card. My only option was to move back home. There is nothing quite like the humiliation of moving back in with your parents at age 37 or the motivation that comes with realizing that you are broke and in debt — and the only way out is through. I made a commitment then and there that I would not let fear run my life anymore. I sat down and went through all my contacts to let them know that I was available for work — this time with a totally different attitude. I was done with struggling and stopped caring what people thought. The result was two new contracts amounting to a few thousand Euros and an open flight ticket again.
Here comes the super-fascinating part. It took a second trip to Bali to finally get my big break and financial freedom. The Island of the Gods had already introduced me to the world of spirituality and the Law of Attraction during my first time living there. But it took this second visit to finally understand how much my mindset was hindering my growth. Even if you don’t believe in this kind of stuff, my experience was crystal clear: when I was in self-doubt and working from a place of fear, work wasn't coming in. When I pushed through the resistance and negative self-talk — work was coming in.
I worked with a healer who helped me to break down my mindset barriers and finally make the commitment to my passion for sustainability. Within a week of making this change, I signed my biggest long-term client. What became apparent in the process was that I was looking for a permission slip to follow my dreams. I realized that I had let my negative mindset run the show, and I had not given myself permission to be a successful writer — and make it on my own. You will never fully silence the negative voices in your head. But with the right tools you can turn down the volume and accept that they are part of your solopreneur journey.
I'm a bit of a control freak. If the task at hand isn't done by me, I don’t trust it'll be done properly. This was fine when I was working with just a few small clients. But as I began landing bigger long-term projects and retainer contracts, it became clear that I wouldn't have the capacity to manage all my billing, taxes and general business admin — alone. I’m terrible with accounting and taxes and Xolo Leap has taken this burden off my shoulders.
If you are on the fence about taking the plunge into solopreneurship, all I can say is go for it! I wanted to write down my experience to show that the journey might not be linear and it will be scary — but the benefits of running your own show and working on projects that you love far outweigh the fear of failure. You are so much more resilient and resourceful than you realize, and trust me, if I can do this — you definitely can, too!
Sophie is an international marketer, communicator and writer working with change-makers, corporate marketing teams and small to mid-size companies. Her services include content creation, marketing support, content strategy and editing with a focus on sustainability. You can learn more at sophiegrut.com.
Sophie uses Xolo Leap to run her solo business from wherever her wandering heart desires.
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