In 2020, many of us self-employed folks were just trying to survive. Some of us couldn’t work at all due to pandemic restrictions or home schooling needs. Others — serving industries like travel, food service, or personal care — lost our entire market overnight. And for the rest of us, the economic impact of COVID-19 may have caused our clients to cut back spending or cancel their plans. We struggled with reduced revenue and scrambled to find new clients, projects, and ways to move business online.
Now in 2021 — with vaccines and renewed government relief — recovery is on the horizon. But we’ve been in survival mode for a long time. How do we move from that way of operating to one that supports us to thrive instead?
Small business expert Rhonda Abrams recently said, “being committed to surviving is something that entrepreneurs are good at: ‘It’s an attitude — this is not going to kill me!'”
Agreed, you need that tenacity to survive when you’re barely hanging on.
But as the Mississippi-based nonprofit For Brown Girls points out: “There is a fundamental difference between thriving and surviving. Surviving means, ‘to continue to live or exist,’ while thrive can be defined as ‘to grow or develop well, to prosper or to flourish.'”
Here are four practices I believe are essential for a self-employed professional to make the journey from surviving to thriving — now in 2021, or at any time.
1. Keep your aspirations while letting go of expectations. A very wise psychotherapist once told me, “Stress is the result of insisting that your expectations are the only permissible outcome.”
When your expectations are too rigid, you don’t have the flexibility to “go with the flow” of what’s happening in your world. There are times it simply isn’t possible to work with only your ideal clients, or to meet your income targets, or to afford the best quality tools. Something has to give.
But this doesn’t mean ignoring your goals and dreams — far from it. You can set aspirations without believing that you’ve failed when you don’t achieve them. Establish targets and make plans to achieve your vision. Do your best to accomplish them. When circumstances or your own limitations prevent the outcome you wished for, assess what happened and begin again with new targets and plans.
Repeat as necessary. But skip the part where you beat yourself up for not making it happen.
2. Celebrate what’s working instead of lamenting what isn’t. There will always be stuff that doesn’t go right in your business. Prospective clients will choose to work with someone else. Your new course won’t attract all the attention you wanted. Clients will cancel projects and appointments with no warning. Sometimes, there will be changes you can make to prevent these happenings. But often, they will occur no matter what you do.
A valuable practice to keep you focused on what’s going right in your business — instead of what’s going wrong — is keeping a success journal. Take a few moments every day to note the positive events. Some days, the best you may be able to say is: “I got through the day without quitting.” But other days, you’ll realize that you made a challenging sales call, or wrote an improved marketing email, or heard back from a new client that she was ready to get started.
The more of these successes you notice, the more attention you’ll give to them. Which means you’ll have less focus on what’s not working.
3. Tackle the hard parts before doing what’s easy. Yes, you should look for an easy path to get what you want. But sometimes there isn’t one. For example, getting clients requires both marketing and sales. You can absolutely seek out ways to make this easier for yourself. But no matter what approaches you choose, it’s a good bet that you will find some elements of sales and marketing hard.
It’s human nature to put off difficult tasks. The problem is that most of them don’t go away. Instead, they sit in the back of your head or on your to-do list, making you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and incapable.
Make it your practice to do one hard thing as your first task of the day. You will be amazed how much this will make the rest of your day feel easy.
4. Don’t try to get there alone. A struggling plant may be the only one of its sort, standing fast against the elements. But thriving plants live in gardens and fields, surrounded by others of their kind.
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve lined up four other solopreneurs I can take socially-distanced walks with in my neighborhood. I’m running three different online groups of self-employed folks myself, and I’m a member of three more regular online gatherings. I didn’t start with this many, but as the months of quarantine stretched on, I realized this level of support from other humans was what I needed to thrive. And, I’m an introvert!
Humans need other like-minded humans around them to thrive. Get yourself a business buddy, join an action group or mastermind group, take part in co-working sessions, or enroll in a group learning or coaching program. Extrovert or introvert, gregarious or shy — find a supportive tribe and you’ll do better.
As we begin to inch toward recovery this year, let’s each aspire to let go of struggling and scrambling, and find our own path to prosper and flourish.