Humans

I was on the edge of burnout

Katrin Press
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4 min read

When Corona hit in the beginning of 2020 a part of me was relieved. It took me almost a year to understand the reason for so openly welcoming change – I wasn’t happy with where I was in my life. My business was growing, though.

I’ve been a commercial photographer for over 10 years. My food photography business has witnessed the rise of food blogging, the diversification of the food industry and the emergence of online food businesses. Over the years food has become one of the most important topics of discussion. All this brings bread to my table. Literally. There was a steady growth in the revenue and I got bigger and better clients. In spite of that I used to cry in my car on the way to shoots and I had developed heartburn an upset stomach due to stress and repeated exposure to food odor without being able to eat. After 10 years of building it up from scratch – I hated my job.

I know that my clients might be reading this and I’m still running my photography business, so if they care to keep reading, they will find out that I’m in a much better place thanks to Klapp.

When I joined the Hack the Crisis hackathon in March 2020, I was looking for something else to get involved with. Immediately I found it. I knew how small business owners around me were feeling. I had had my own crisis meeting beforehand and with the savings for not more that 3 months I was ready to take any job and start growing vegetables in my garden if necessary.

All government measures were targeted to layoffs, but if you are a solo business owner, you’ll just have to survive somehow. I started thinking how different businesses were facing a similar situation and – how little do we actually know or care about each other. Because we spend our days in a hamster wheel, alone.

When we started to look into the freelancer lifestyle with the team on The Global Hack, we found out that inconsistent income and loneliness are the biggest issues for freelancers. From overworking, to loneliness to depression and burnout – started to look like a typical diagnosis. The vicious circle is fuelled by the gig work marketplaces that take big commissions from already cheap labor.

I witnessed something totally different when working together with the hackathon teams. Renewed energy, teamwork, synergy, complementing viewpoints and huge progress in only a few hours. If only had I those people around me when I was trying to set up my own web page or when I weighed a business decision… So I decided – freelancers need teammates too.

After the Global Hack in April I had 10 teammates from all over the world (Hello Dharma, Tina and Elena!) and almost zero knowledge how to make a team work. I discovered that I tend to speak too much when I’m nervous and don’t listen nearly as much as I should. I started reading and listening to podcasts about leadership and discovered that it’s not the same as management. I found out that people who own and run businesses no matter what the size, have more in common than those who are employed.

Nothing much changed for me and many fellow freelancers in terms of daily routines when the lockdowns were announced. We have been remote and juggling kids and household duties for ages before. I realised that the independent professionals are best prepared for the future of work ahead of us and we have interesting insight to share with the rest of the world.

The whole journey has been one experiment after another. Building up a business around a set of beliefs and ideas and constantly learning and putting them to test in everyday situations. Finding friends and teammates along the way who have had similar issues and needs in their own businesses. Today we are an international remote team of 5 freelancers. Our home base is Tallinn, Estonia.

We are part of what Forbes calls a freelance revolution, and this is exactly how I feel about my new role. We’re inventing new ways to work and grow businesses for independent professionals. Every time we have a doubt about an idea, we think back to the day we started our freelance journey and ask – is this the life I wanted for myself. The feeling of accomplishment and belonging is our North Star. We can’t fail until we stay true to our ideals.

I feel extremely lucky to be where I am at the moment, because the training programmes various startup accelerators offer in Estonia is probably the best business education you can get around here. Hand in hand with implementation of course. And since I still have my freelance enterprise to run as well, with the new skills, attitudes and supporters – I stay on top of that also. More or less. There’s always something to learn.

The conclusions of my almost one year long experiment are:

  • you don’t have to go through the difficult times alone, there are other people like you
  • recognise where you lack skills and learn to ask for help
  • as a solo business owner your ‘being’ is your ‘doing’, make sure you feel good being you
  • if you’re overwhelmed, you probably need to narrow your focus and plan better
  • it’s not either or – you can have a busy schedule and joy in your life
  • freelancing might not be your destination, it may be a springboard to something bigger.

Katrin Press is the founder of Klapp.

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