Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Self-Employed HSP and the Importance of Planning

I am self-employed, and have been-- in one form or another-- for many years.

Even while I was working for various companies, I always had some kind of "sideline business" going.

Self-employment is quite common among HSPs, moreso that among the population at large. In her book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person," (highly recommended, by the way-- useful book for all HSPs!) Barrie Jaeger advocates self-employment as one of the better chances we have at getting involved in work that truly is our "calling."

It's not surprising: most HSPs find traditional workplaces oppressive and filled with rules that squash creativity, as well as excessively competitive and not friendly to someone sensitive. The physical environment of many workplaces-- noisy, cramped, windowless-- also does not bring out the best in us.

Whereas self-employment typically offers the best opportunity for creative expression and freedom, it is not without its challenges, especially for a Highly Sensitive Person. When I consult with HSPs about their one-person businesses, the greatest challenge seems to be the "business end" of having your own business. This is not surprising: With so many of us being intuitive/creative right-brain processors, we find it difficult to deal with the distinctly left-brain "nuts-and-bolts" aspects of business: planning, record-keeping, accounting, budgets, etc.

Some might even say "Oh, I can't DEAL with that sort of stuff! I'll just figure it out as I go along and everything will just work itself out."

Not so fast.

Typically, such an approach is a recipe for disaster.

Or, at least, a recipe for getting yourself immersed in a sea of chaos, leading to HSP-overstimulation, possibly leading to frustration with being in business for yourself.

First, let's tackle the "I can't" myth-- as in "I can't deal with that sort of stuff."

Even if you are a "creative" and "intuitive" and "right brain" type of person, let's remember that it's simply not true that you "can't" use the left (logical, number crunching) side of your brain. Unless you happen to have had a lobotomy, you can engage the left side of your brain-- it's just not your dominant function. And you may feel resistance because "left brain activities" feel difficult, restrictive and boring.

"I can't" is just a story we tell ourselves when faced with something we don't like.

As it is the beginning of the year, I recently finished doing my business planning for the year (and years) ahead. When you are self-employed, having a plan-- and actually formulating and writing it down-- is very important, because it helps us define what it is we're trying to do, and then gives us a road map of sorts helps gauge whether we're "making it," or not. Just having the plan "in your head" is not enough!

As an HSP and a veteran of "doing this," I can't overstate the importance of taking the time to have a business plan, both for the current year, and for the future.

Before you panic, business plans don't have to be elaborate, or contain 40 pages of numbers in little columns. At its root, a business plan is no more than a written statement of "where you are now," and where you want to be (by some date, like "December 31st," or "Five years from now"), and even the most rudimentary statements about "what that entails."

The main things a business plan does is force you to "quantify" what you're doing.

"I want to be a successful author by 2017" is NOT a business plan.

"I want to write and publish three books in my field of expertise by 2017" is a business plan.

And yes, it can be "just that simple."

If you're feeling resistance-- for whatever reasons-- to having a PLAN (it feels "restrictive," it "limits your creativity" or "plans involve numbers and I HATE numbers!"), her's something important to remember. Once you've made it, you don't have to become a slave to it!

All it's there to do, is help you define and think through the process that gets you from "right now" to your dream of (for example) "successful author." The level of detail you want to put into it-- when each book needs to be finished, or how much you need to write every month/week-- is completely up to you. Just get "the bones of the process" down on paper. Make a few rough estimates ("guess-stimates") of the time you need vs. the time you have, any major expenses you might encounter and how you're going to fund them, research what one actually gets paid each time a book sells.

But don't overthink it or overdo it... as HSPs we often get bogged down in details, which can lead to "analysis paralysis."

I'll close by bringing up the "map analogy" again.

Your business plan is your road map. Indeed, if you need to travel by car from one side of New York city to the other, you may well be able to do so, using your intuition and "figuring it out as you go along." But odds are it will take you much longer, and you'll get lost several times, and burn a lot more gas before reaching your destination... than if you'd had a map. Having the map doesn't mean you're going to sit with it in your lap, the entire time... you're just going to pull it out now and then when you're freaking out a little and thinking "now... where the hell AM I?"

Talk Back! Are you self-employed? If you are, do you have a written plan? If not, why not?  If you are not self-employed, would you like to be? If the idea appeals to you, but you've chosen not to... what's holding you back? Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!


  1. This is definitely the most useful explanation of what a business plan is that I have come across so far (could you do a post like this on bookkeeping too?)

  2. Thanks for this entry Peter.
    I too am self employed (and hsp) and successfully supporting myself, albeit not my dream job, it has worked for me for 20 years.
    Not glamorous - a cleaning business for businesses and some houses - but I work alone and have some interaction with people. It enables me to live remotely and enjoy nature (commuting to work).

    The business end is actually quite easy for me because I like it, and yes planning and structure really are vital.

    What I'd like to "plan" next is a way to work from home...

  3. Caroline, thanks for the kind words-- and your suggestion. I might do one on the importance of bookkeeping and record keeping, as well.


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