I have vivid memories of my first burnout, in 2013. This was my first year as a doula,  and clients came thick and fast (I became recognised for both birth and postnatal work within 10 months). I LOVED every minute of my first year as a doula. It gave me such a sense of fulfilment, that I often cried tears of emotion and gratitude. But I did too much, too fast. Towards the end of the year, I was juggling 3 postnatal clients living 45 min away from each other. I would drive to the first client, then the other in succession, each day. Lunch would be a sandwich eaten whilst driving. I felt physically, emotionally, and (that was new to me) spiritually empty. I had never experienced anything like this before. I called my mentor, and told her about my struggle. My wise mentor explained that, due to the spiritual nature of this work,  I needed to develop new ways of looking after myself. She also explained that I needed to keep some energy for myself, and not give all of myself to my clients. At the time I dismissed her because it felt wrong to me, I didn’t know how to do this, and thought that I could either give it all or give nothing. I shared more about this story in a blog post I wrote 7 years ago, called The Refuelling station, the importance of self care for doulas and birthworkers.

A solo heart business is a business that is driven by passion and a desire to make a positive impact, rather than solely profit-driven. It is possible (and necessary) to grow a business enough to make is sustainable, so that you can keep working, and therefore helping others. Here I share my experience with burnout as a solo heart business owner and offer insights on how to avoid burnout while still running a successful business.

As my self-employed life grew and evolved, I learnt to balance my needs and those of my clients, and felt that I had found equilibrium. But, naturally, new challenges occurred. Three years later, I found myself in a similar situation. I was busier than ever, working more hours than I wanted to, yet I realised that I wasn’t earning as much as I needed to make it sustainable. I felt stuck, and unable to work out the income and needs puzzle. I hired a coach to help me get out of that stuck place. It did work on some level, and certainly did wonders for my visibility, but this coach worked at a level that was too intense for me. So whilst my business grew, I also got more stressed, and felt guilty when I wasn’t doing all the social media stuff I’d been recommended to do. 

There was a defining moment, where I stopped to pick some berries on my way back from a meeting, and I felt guilty that I had stopped, because I felt I ought to be at my desk, working. I knew then that something had to change. I embarked on a process to learn to make space in my life. I used to think that I could only allow myself to relax once I had done all the tasks in my to-do list (but that time never came).  I learnt that I couldn’t make more space in my life by working harder. To create space and relaxation, I had to experience what spaciousness felt like, and give myself that experience. This is what led me to start practising year round wild swimming. I wrote about this in my post called getting out of overwhelm.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “fix” myself and my overwhelm, believing that if I found the right method,  the right tools, my overwhelm and procrastination would go away. I bought countless diaries that promised to fix my woes. Only it never worked, as the pressure, the tension, was inside of me, and no magic technique was going to fix that. If I had been a tree, it was as if I was focusing on pruning tiny branches, when I really needed to look at my roots. I talk about the steps I took towards solving this in my review of 2020

Over the last 3 to 4 years I have taken this further. I have learnt to create to-do lists that create calm instead of stress, and that take into account how much energy and space/time I have. I learnt that I had to put the self care tasks in the diary first, then my family tasks, and only then the work tasks. I go through the same order when I write my Ta-da list at the end of each week.

Find a support network of people who share your values, a mix of peers and mentors. I have been working with authentic marketing coach and joyful productivity coach George Kao for the last couple of years. I am very grateful for him as he’s like a zen master of running one’s business, and because he creates the most amazing community of heart centred business owners. On a recent call, he explained that when working as a solopreneur, it is paramount to keep things sustainable for yourself. He said that he’s the only one still going 10 years later, from the group of peers who started  with him 12 years ago. Thanks to working with George, my business is growing slowly, at a rate of growth that doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Remember that the most important work isn’t to take a course. Anybody can consume a course, because that’s easy. The results do not come from attending a course, they come from applying what you learnt in the course. This takes implementation, effort, time, and continuity. This cannot be done in one day. You need to implement this in tiny little steps, as if training for a marathon instead of a sprint, so you can keep going.

There are plenty of marketeers and coaches who charge thousands and promise you a 6 figure income in 6 months if you follow their system. In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. Each one of us is unique, with a unique set of circumstances. There is no magic, one-size-fits-all recipe, but the time and effort required to build an audience of true fans slowly, authentically, and with integrity.  

Since running market research and impostor syndrome and soul doula interviews, I’ve been saddened to hear about several new birth workers who got in debt (several thousand pounds on credit cards) when they just started their business, for a very expensive course out of which they got very little value. 

My two favourite business coaches, George Kao and Leonie Dawson, who are extremely successful individuals, offer courses that cost between 100 to 200 dollars each. Those courses are packed with information. They have also taught me that expensive courses aren’t better than cheap ones. The price difference is a marketing decision.

In summary, here are the principles I like to work with for sustainable business growth:

  • Put the wellbeing tasks in the diary first.
  • Start with an overview of what’s really important instead of getting bogged down in lots of tiny, unimportant tasks. Do a 3 month overview of small ,bullet point goals, then break it down in monthly, then weekly goals. 3 main bullet points for each are enough.
  • Prioritize your passion and purpose, and what makes your heart sing. Stay true to your values.
  • Plan the work week based on what’s important for you and my family, how you want to feel, and how you currently feel. Schedule things accordingly in the diary, rather than letting your clients dictate what your diary looks like.
  • Grow in tiny little do-able steps. Try something new (pick the thing that excites you the most), and see what happens. Only once a step has become easy and regular, add another one. 
  • Be aware of your energy. Plan work accordingly, making space for family tasks that will impact energy levels. Accept that you may have periods of high productivity, followed by low energy periods. On low days, drop all but essential tasks to prioritise rest (I have a lot of resistance to this, but if I don’t rest, I pay the price dearly, as I still try to work, achieve nothing, then beat myself up for not working AND not resting. When I give myself the permission to rest, my energy usually recovers very quickly. If you know about human design, I have the 2/4 profile so it’s part of who I am to function this way. )
  • Plan small achievable goals, and not over busy your to-do list, so you can build up confidence and a sense of achievement, instead of beating yourself up with not having achieved everything. Things often take longer than you think, and life gets in the way.
  • Have a work day with focused time of around 2 to 4h per day (At the most energetic time for you), keep easier stuff that doesn’t require a lot of brain power for lower energy times.
  • When feeling in a funk, acknowledge it and work with your feelings, instead of trying to plough through and try to flog yourself to be further ahead. Doodle, journal, dance or meditate on it.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others, or get too caught up in external pressures or expectations.
  • Stay true to your passion and purpose, reminding yourself of what makes your heart sing. Try not compare yourself to others, as we are all different.
  • Celebrate the achievements at the end of each week by writing a Ta-Da list.

To finish, I want to stress that I am far from having all my shit sorted out. It’s a process. I’m un-layering a lot of things, and I know that, as I keep growing, I always will. Over the last year, I learnt that I have ADHD, which explains a lot of things. Learning this has helped me realise that I have spent most of my life being really hard on myself. I am working on being kinder and more compassionate. This feels more important than anything right now. Overall, I feel much happier and more balanced in my life than I have ever been. I want to keep growing my business slowly, from a place of authenticity, integrity and sustainability. I want to be of service to a small audience of people who are really interested in what I have got to offer, and help them grow themselves too.


PS: The illustration above was created using the AI generator Mindjourney. I’ve just started taking George Kao’s course on AI tools for authentic business.


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