Feast, famine and feeling the fear

Aye, we’ve all been there, hovering over a draft email, fearful of firing it off into other folks’ inboxes. But as the saying goes, feel the fear and do it anyway.

If, like me, you’re a sole trader or small biz owner, feeling the fear is par for the course. The daily uncertainty of the entrepreneurial existence is part and parcel of being your own boss, but believe me, there are times when self employed life is totally terrifying.

It’s the not knowing, see. Not knowing where the next job is coming from, or when. It’s the sickening, stomach-plummeting feeling that comes as you emerge blinking into the light after a frantically busy spell only to discover that you’ve got no work AT ALL lined up for the following months. Never mind Hallowe’en, this is an ongoing horror show.

The key to self employment survival is learning to tolerate the feast or famine cycle, but rolling with the punches of sole trading takes guts. It also requires acceptance that it’s always like this. In your sunnier moments you might idly imagine that one day work will come steadily, readily and at just the right pace, but naw. Folks, that’s an absolute fantasy. It’s always a bloody roller coaster, always. Trust me, this is not the right kind of career for fearties or those who need the reassurance of the monthly pay packet.

Admittedly you do get used to the terror, sort of, but there’s never any room for commercial complacency. For me, the fear never completely abates – I’ve been in the game long enough to have developed some perspective. I’ve also got sure-fire certainty that wallowing in worry ain’t going to get the phone ringing and the email pinging. So that’s where the second critical element to self employment survival comes in – self promotion. No, not the desperate, self-aggrandising variety, just a determination to get up off your arse and actively seek work. It’s about making a commitment to reminding people of your existence and skills. Learning to do that in a self-confident, non-apologetic way can be tough, especially for those of us brought up in a don’t-blow-your-own-trumpet culture. Sadly, telling your network or client base, or even your pals, that you’re available for work is somehow perceived as commercial weakness – displays of fragility are just not the done thing.

Well bollocks to that. Sometimes you simply can’t wait for the famine to end – for most of us lone wolves there’s a very fine line between make or break. But it takes courage to admit that trade is way down. It takes strength to overcome fear-driven inertia to embrace proactivity. Fear of being seen as a failure can overwhelm the need to reach out. Well folks, recently I had to do just that, and d’you know what? The response was AMAZING.

My advice? Don’t be afraid of hitting the help button. Even if you’re secretly quaking in your sole trading shoes, it’s got to be worth asking for support if you want your business to step back from the brink. If the going gets rough, ready yourself for a wee promo push. Don’t be desperate or unpleasantly sales driven, just prepare to ask some preferred people to keep you in mind and help spread the word. Then summon the chops and send that email or publish that post.

You know it makes good business sense.