Being a Solopreneur Sucks

This month marks the anniversary of my first full year as a solopreneur. It sucks. I have literally never had a job more difficult, more life-altering and more stressful in my entire life.

Money

I’d wager money is the biggest reason why people strike it out on their own. I remember when I started freelancing and did the math – $50+ an hour to sit at home in my pyjamas and write about personal finance? Sign me up! – the money became addictive and finally, by last summer I couldn’t resist. I quit my job and went all in on writing full-time.

My “magic number” is $3,000. $3,000 a month is enough money for me to live on, save for the occasional vacation and max out my TFSA. I’ve heard of other solopreneurs who make five figures a month from their blogs but I can’t (and don’t) compare myself to them. In July and August last year I earned $7,000 a month but felt as though I had wasted the whole summer. Everyone has different goals and priorities in life and I don’t think I want to make the sacrifices necessary to have a five-figure income from blogging.

Luckily, I have super detailed spreadsheets from the past year which are useful to review my first year as a solopreneur:

Month $$$ Comments
August 2015 5776.45
September 2015 3496.85
October 2015 3983.35 Went to Vegas to get married, worked everyday
November 2015 2521.05 Went to Europe for two weeks, worked most days
December 2015 2425.35 Christmas season = little to no work for two weeks
January 2016 3431.70
February 2016 2943.15
March 2016 2503.95
April 2016 816.75 Went to Montreal, didn’t work for two weeks
May 2016 2106.94
June 2016 2925.25
July 2016 924.35 Moved & studied, didn’t work for three weeks
Total 33855.14 Average: 2821.26

On the outside, it seems like I reached my goal. I made an average of $2800 a month last year. However, most of that money was concentrated at the beginning of the year. And, in months that I didn’t have time to work, I didn’t work and didn’t get paid. Turns out, the major benefit of being a solopreneur – unlimited time off – is a huge disadvantage if you actually take the time off.

Personal Sacrifice

Looking back at that chart, you’ll notice that both the week of my wedding and my honeymoon involved work. Lots and lots of work. I holed up in my hotel room and wrote, I sat at the airport and on busses and in foreign cafes and did admin work, I spent the morning of my wedding editing. Almost a year after these events I now realize how ridiculous I was being. Who spends an entire day sitting in a Berlin hotel room to earn $200? I prioritized self-imposed deadlines over my well-being and the well-being of my husband. Yuck.

Aside from the vacations spent working, there are days when I have no deadlines and have no ideas and literally have no work to do. Those days are the worst. I either spend those days in one of two ways:

  1. I look for new activities to do and adventures to have! Look at all this free time! I can take on the world! These days are usually the days I online shop or join a painting class or draw up plans for an ambitious new project. The problem is that I’m never not busy for very long and soon I find signed up for a half-marathon and no time to run 6 times a week for two hours.
  2. I end up like Marge in that episode where Homer gets a job with Hank Scorpio. I tidy the house, run errands and am back home by 10am. Or I stay in bed until 10am and spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. Or making an elaborate dinner or dessert. I usually end up in bed at one point or another crying because I have nothing to do and am wasting my life.

Neither of these ways is a good way to live a life. I don’t have a whimsical personality. I don’t do well with sudden changes to my day plan. I like structure and organization and knowing that I have to leave at X time and will be home at Y time.

Loneliness

Working from home, especially when you’ve just moved somewhere new, is a great way to make your cat your best friend. I easily spend more time talking to the cat than I do to any other person in town. Making friends as an adult is hard, but it’s 100 times harder when you don’t have anywhere to meet people organically.

Because of loneliness I’ve joined organizations and teams and whatnot in the community. The groups I volunteer with are great but no one’s really looking for friends. Same with my painting class and soccer team. Plus, to be fair, I spend most of my time talking to a cat. I’ve completely lost my ability to socialize and conversations with me are awkward as hell. No, of course you don’t want to hear about Wal-Mart’s $10 minimum wage strategy in the United States because that’s not what normal people talk about.

Then you’ve got the people who don’t understand what I actually do. From the people who call me a housewife, to the ones who think I’m on welfare, I congratulate you all in your stubborn refusal to understand that online media is a very real thing and has been for at least 10 years.

The Solution

I’m not the type of person to sit around and feel sorry for my decisions. Instead, I’m the type of person who tries things and if they don’t work out, moves on to a different thing. I probably realized sometime in December that a solopreneur lifestyle wasn’t for me but I couldn’t just quit! I needed an exit strategy from my “dream job” of writing in my pyjamas.

Choosing what to do next wasn’t hard. I’ve only ever seriously wanted to be two things in life – a lawyer or a teacher. Since law isn’t for me, I enrolled in an education program and spent July in the city at university. The program structure is pretty neat and allows me to stay in town while completing my courses online. Of course the program includes practicums and they too will be completed in town.

FAQ

But wait! What about your writing? Isn’t this just another big project that you’ll end up giving up when times get good? Well, no. I would be off my rocker to drop out of an education program I worked so hard to get into. I’ve spent the past 6 years kicking myself for having taken economics at McGill rather than education. I’ve been myself to register for that one English course I was missing for admission to this program since I moved to Alberta in 2013.

Plus, being a solopreneur is the perfect compliment to studying. The work is incredibly flexible, I can pick up tutoring jobs when work is slow, and the course provides the structure I need in my life.

LOL. What about your mortgage? Good question! From a reader point-of-view, I can see how this plan looks like it would put a bit of a damper on our aggressive 30 month mortgage payback plan. However, I’ve known about this education program since May (before we bought our house) and created the 30 month mortgage payoff plan with my education in mind.

Our mortgage payment and utilities are lower than in our apartment and, with my strict $715 per month budget, it’ll be challenging but doable to make my two $10,000 mortgage pre-payments this year and next year.

Is this why you didn’t raid your RRSPs to put towards your mortgage? Nope! I didn’t touch my RRSPs because they, like my TFSAs, are fully invested for the long-term. That money is for my retirement, not for education or for buying a house.

Are you going to go on student loans now and be broke all the time? I like being broke – it tells me I’ve put my money to a good purpose like my mortgage or my investment accounts. My lifestyle will probably not change at all, except that I’ll have a lot less flexibility to take random vacations (which is great for my bank account) and that I’ll have tuition payments of about $2,000 in each of the fall and winter semesters and $1,500 in the summer semester.

I applied for student loans since we had a seminar about them and I figured I might as well. The result was that “based on preliminary Student Aid Alberta criteria, you may be eligible to receive $0”. That was a bit of a kick in the teeth because I wanted interest-free money for no reason other than to throw it at my mortgage. Alas, someone else can have that money instead and I’ll find something else to blog about.

Ewww, why would you want to be a teacher? Don’t you hate children? I dislike sticky children who touch my things and scare my cat. I like my child-free life and enjoy sleeping in, reading in peace and taking vacation. Does this mean I hate children? Some people would argue yes, but I would disagree.

I want to be a teacher because I like education. I want to help teenagers through their tough years and break-through to that one kid who can’t seem to get fractions. I just don’t want to be someone’s mother 24/7.

Working from home isn’t something I ever envisioned myself doing, nor is it something I enjoy. Being a solopreneur is exhausting and stressful and completely contrary to my personality. The lifestyle isn’t for everyone and I’m glad I realized it in time to train for a new career.

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