The loneliness of the sole practitioner

Being your own boss is great:-

  • No-one to tell you what to do
  • No-one to disagree with you
  • A business built on your ideas and expertise
  • Everything is your call

However, being your own boss also has its downside:-

  • No-one to tell you what to do!
  • No-one to disagree with you!
  • A business built on your ideas and expertise!
  • Everything is your call!

It’s quite a paradox that a sole practitioner, in a relationship-based profession and dealing with high levels of demand from clients, team members and others on a daily basis, can commonly feel isolated and alone.

It’s not an experience that is limited to the more shy and retiring types either, or those struggling with their impact as an employer. I meet accountants who are great with their clients and teams, who love to meet up, get involved and get out there, but who also talk about the loneliness of their role.

You can have the best team, the best clients, the most caring of family and friends and yet still feel alone at your desk.

I’m no psychologist, can barely spell it, I can only write from experience and discussions with others in the same position, but there seem to be some common mental barriers for those on their own at the top:

  • Who do we turn to when we are supposed to be the people, as employers and advisors, to have all the answers?
  • Who else understands the full implications of the big decisions that we face?
  • Who else can we give all the facts to that will understand what they mean?
  • How do we reach out for help without looking like a failure?
  • How can we express our weaknesses when we’re not supposed to have any?
  • Who else can help us build, what is, after all, our own personal dream, when it becomes too hard for us alone?

The mind of a sole practitioner can be a scary place at times. It doesn’t take much to undermine the energy, belief and self-confidence that is so important in driving the performance of the firm but, at its worst, the impact on health and relationships can be traumatic.

What steps can you take to open the curtains and let more light in?

  1. Keep work in perspective, there is so much more to life. Be aware of your health and make time for the things away from your office that really matter
  2. Remind yourself of why you do what you do and what your prime goals are. Some of this stuff really doesn’t matter in the full light of the day
  3. Don’t assume that it is a temporary feeling that will go away if you work hard enough. Head down tends to create a longer shadow over time
  4. Trust your team. They may not be right for your deepest concerns but they can often help you far more than you would expect
  5. Don’t isolate yourself. Get out to see clients, attend courses and society events, do a bit of networking. Not only do you get a break and a bit of fresh air but you just might pick up that gem or piece of inspiration that makes the difference
  6. Get yourself a mentor, someone who isn’t limited by the reservations of family, friends, competitors, team members or clients. As Bob Hoskins used to say in the BT adverts back in the 90s, “It’s good to talk”. This is not a sales pitch but it is what I do! You can always talk to me.
  7. Speak with your professional body. You may have frustrations with some of what they do but member support, when it is asked for, is generally one of their stronger points
  8. Write it down. Expressing thoughts to paper, either written or drawn, can help to clarify your thinking and trigger wider fields in your brain.  Don’t hold everything in
  9. Listen to those around you. They may not be able to help but they can tell you what impact the issues are having on you as a person
  10. Remember that it is your firm. Ultimately, you can decide what it does and doesn’t do. You are in control, don’t be bullied by your work
  11. Most importantly, if you are experiencing physical symptoms or have any concerns for your well-being, get professional help. Don’t delay or excuse yourself, think how annoyed you get with clients who don’t come to you soon enough with their problems

One final point…

I’ve always been fortunate to have a fantastic partner, as my wife as well as business partner, and the ability to share is invaluable. Even though you are a sole practitioner now, giving consideration to having a partner, through recruitment, merging or selling, is something not to be dismissed. If you want to grow your firm then it is a strength to recognise that, just maybe, you can’t do it all on your own.

You don’t have to marry them, of course!

Richard Brewin

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