If you've ever experienced a flare or diagnosis of a chronic illness while being self-employed, you'll understand the overwhelm of navigating your health and your business interests. It can be hard to focus on rest and recovery when you're fearful about the longevity of your business and the cash flow you need to live.
I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2020 and I experienced a particularly nasty 3-month flare that had me severely fatigued and unable to move beyond the sofa or the bed. Thankfully I'm now in remission, but I want to share the tactics I used, and still use, to navigate this time in the hope it's helpful for others struggling with running a business and managing a long-term health condition.
An essential part of moving through any chronic illness is spoon theory. How many "spoons" do you have to spend today? On some days, that might look like showering and making lunch, but on other days you might have more spoons to spend than that. Honing an awareness of your energy and what your limits are for that particular day is an important part of navigating a chronic condition. Learning to be ok with a reduced schedule and cheering yourself on for small wins — which in your pre-illness life weren't even considerations, like taking a shower - is really important to keep your spirits up.
Part of running a business with a chronic condition is learning to let go of needing to do everything yourself. What areas of your business can you get help to remove some of the daily burdens? If outsourcing professional help isn't an option, who in your network of family and friends might be able to offer you assistance? This doesn't have to be taxes or editing, but it could be the kind assistance of a friend helping you to clean your office each week, or a family member bringing over a hot meal. Lean into the help, and things might become a little easier.
Diversify Your Income Streams
If being on your feet for 8 hours or longer is no longer possible when your condition is flaring, think of ways to diversify your income streams that don't require you to be physically on your feet. Ideally, these will be streams you can do from the sofa or your bed. You could consider:
- Photography mentoring
- Selling E-books
- Online classes
- Editing or retouching services for other photographers
- Social media contracts for other photographers
Cultivating a few different income streams based on your strengths and any other skill sets you have, will give you a greater foundation of stability. Not only that, but you're laying long-term foundations and creating relationships that you might need to fall back on in the future if your condition flares again.
I recently wrote an article about templates to speed up your workflow. Alongside implementing stock emails and templates to help you manage workflow, investigate what systems you can use to automate processes. This could be anything from social media scheduling to using something like Notion or FreeAgent to handle contracts and invoicing.
Adapt to Your Needs
If you're able to and you've kept some shoots in your calendar, think about how you can make those as manageable as possible. That might look like reducing the number of hours you commit to shooting, bringing in an assistant to set up, pack down, and do the heavy lifting of the day for you. If you need to, reduce your capacity and commit to fewer photoshoots until you're back on your feet and schedule regular short breaks where you could sit down for a few moments on set.
Start an open dialogue with the client and let them know where you're at with your condition. You'd be surprised at how accommodating clients can be if you let them know what's going on and how you might need to tweak the day to make it work for you. If the client loves your portfolio and has a great relationship with you, they will understand and be willing to be flexible.
Take It Slow and Take Care of Yourself
The reality is that living with a chronic condition often means you just can't move at full speed anymore. Learning to accept that is part of a process. For many chronic conditions, stress is a trigger that can worsen symptoms. Staying on top of blood tests, pharmacy runs, medication deliveries, scans, and outpatient procedures is so important, and all part of the new normal. Yes, it's long-winded and tiring, but it's essential to stay on top of your health. After all, what's your business without you at its heart? Spend time recharging in ways that fill you up and don't guilt yourself on the days when not much gets done.
If you're also navigating a new diagnosis, a recent flare, or have been managing a chronic condition for many years, you're not alone. I would love to hear how you approach running your creative business in a way that's sustainable for your health, too.