I was recently asked what it was like starting to work for myself with a mental illness. Or, more specifically, what should people with mental illness know if they’ve going to try working for themselves? What do people with mental illness need to know about entrepreneurship? There is a definite appeal in working for yourself for many people, perhaps, especially for those with mental illness. But there are also special considerations for people with mental illness too. Let’s take a look at starting your own business if you have a mental illness.
Positives in Working for Yourself with Mental Illness
Recently, something came across my Instagram feed. It’s a common entrepreneurial sentiment. It said this: when you sell your time to a company, there is always a finite amount you can give. There is no limit to the number of items you can sell.
Now, obviously, this mostly applies to people making widgets, but to some extent, it works for owning your own business in general. And it’s one of the biggest perks. You can, theoretically, make more money working for yourself.
Here are some other positives to working for yourself when you have a mental illness:
- You can set your own hours daily and weekly and work around your mental illness.
- You can make the amount of money you need by raising your prices (thoretically).
- You can find a place for yourself outside of a workplace that may has shown that it doesn’t want you.
Negatives in Working for Yourself with Mental Illness
But some of the positives are also negatives when it comes to entrepreneurship and mental illness:
- Money, money, money — it’s harder to make on your own than you might think.
- Income fluctuations — if you don’t have steady work, you can go from feast to famin from month to month and your lifestyle may not be able to withstan that.
- Health insurance, paid time off, and other benefits don’t exist unless you create them by making more money and buying them yourself.
When I tell people I’m a contractor, I often say that just means I get no days off — or every day off, depending on how I look at it. And I mean it. I really do work almost every day. Working for yourself can be an absolute grind.
Starting to Work for Yourself with a Mental Illness
I can’t tell you the number of people who have asked me how to be a writer, or speaker, or something else where they’re self-employed. And I absolutely don’t want to discourage people from trying an avenue that might work for them. But please understand this: anyone can write words, few people can make a living as a writer. Anyway can speak about their own lives, few people can make a living as a speaker. And so on, and so on. Please understand that just because you want to doesn’t mean you can, and it doesn’t mean that you can make a viable living either.
That said, if you want to work for yourself with a mental illness, first determine what you want to do, and if you can, try to do more than one thing. Personally, I do writing, speaking, and various forms of consulting. Some of these things pay better than others, and that’s okay. Many people sell things on Etsy for a living.
The next thing to do if you want to start working for yourself is to make a business plan. Yes, I know, it’s not sexy or fun, but you need it. At a very minimum, you need to figure out how much money you need to make a month and how that translates into clients or gigs. Don’t forget to take into account necessary mental health downtime, paid holidays, childcare, health insurance, office supplies, etc. Consider how much you will charge for each service. (Many professional bodies offer guides on what to charge.) Then you need to make a plan for how to get that many clients or gigs or more. And remember, you won’t get every one you try to get, so be prepared to do extra work, especially at the beginning when you’re building a roster. Also, you won’t bolt out of the door with enough work. Plan for your first few months to be supplemented by some other earnings or savings if you can. And learn to get comfortable with hearing “no.” That can happen a lot when you’re looking for work.
Mental Illness and Entrepreneurship
If you have a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you should not plan to be a business mogul unless you have a lot of help. Most businesses (as in, manufacturing a widget, hiring people, etc.) require more than 40 hours of work a week, not less; so, if you’re getting into working for yourself because you can’t work 40 hours a week, understand that entrepreneurship of that type will not be easier.
Some other things to consider if you’re going to start working for yourself:
- Where will you work? Do you have a home office? Is you chair comfortable enough to sit in for hours on end? A good chair is really important. If you can, spend some real money on it. It’ll protect your back and neck.
- Do you have enough time and space to work? For example, thinking you’re going to work while taking care of kids probably isn’t realistic.
- Do you really have enough skills and experience to do this? Be honest with yourself. If you don’t have the skills or experience, can you work for a few clients for free or very little while you gain a portfolio?
- Do you have a proper website that advertises your services/products? If you don’t, hire someone to at least help you with design. A bad website can tank your business before you even start. Also, remember you may have to pay for website maintenance if you’re not doing it yourself.
- Do you have a professional social media presense? Any social media that has pictures of you drunk doesn’t count.
- Do you know how to build a brand? You will shortly become your brand. It’s people with consistent and thought-out brands who succeed.
- Do you have buisness cards? Business cards are cheap but their design is critical. Hire someone to help you with it if you aren’t a designer.
- What do you know about advertising? How will you get clients? Learn about social media and other forms of advertising.
- What will you do if you fail? Make sure you have some kind of cushion because success isn’t guaranteed.
And yes, there are many more things to think of on top of that as well. I recommend getting a mentor if you can. Pay them if you need to. It’s much less expensive to buy a few mentoring hours now and avoid mistakes than the other way around. Also, get in touch with other writers/speakers/business people by looking up groups for them on social media. Tips are often offered there for free and are valuable.
And finally, know that this will be hard. In a year, you might be successful, or you might not be. But it’s possible that in a year, you may have clients, income, and a schedule that is your own. You won’t know unless you try.
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