I became self-employed in 2018 because I was too unwell to continue commuting and working full time as a Buyer in Manchester. I was heartbroken at the time, I loved working in Buying and I felt I was progressing nicely and was working towards my CIPS qualification, having received a Merit grade for the first two exams.
This was a difficult time for me, I hated my body for being so useless, for not being able to keep up with me, for making me give up a job that was turning into a flourishing career. I don't mind admitting I spent a lot of time crying in bed after I first lost that job.
But I knew lying around all day feeling sorry for myself would seriously affect my mental health, so I decided I would run a little Etsy shop on my good days - this little Etsy shop went on to generate £200k revenue in the 4 years I ran it, something I'm incredibly proud of.
Being Disabled in Business
As well as being born with a rare eye condition called Wagner Syndrome, I also have a condition called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and the POTS affects my life in much bigger way than my eye sight does, you can adapt more to not being able to see something properly, there are work arounds, vision aids but as yet they haven't invented a pill (to my knowledge!) to overcome fatigue so overwhelming you feel like your body is shutting down and the only thing you can do is lie in bed and hope it passes. Or the hundred other ways your body is affected by POTS.
Luckily, I was given medication when I was first diagnosed in 2019 and that has helped a lot with the shortness of breath, pre-syncope episodes, chest pains and heart palpitations that had become part of my daily life. But it hasn’t cured it and I don’t know if they’ll ever cure it, so just have to get on with it and do the best you can.
Being disabled, in any form and running a business is very challenging, we have to think outside the box, be creative with how we do things and, in some cases, work much harder to do basic tasks. We can often be under estimated, which is something I struggle with because yes, I'm disabled, but I am capable of running a business as well as any none disabled person.
With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the things I've learned about being disabled in business for the last 5 years, and hopefully you'll find at least some of them useful.
Top Tips for Disabled Business Owners
Be Time Efficient
If your disability reduces your energy levels as mine does, then being efficient with the time you do have available is crucial to success. Write focused task lists, in priority order and work through them, try not to get distracted by other jobs that won't move the business forward, but will zap your energy.
Know Your Limits
Over the last 5 years I've learned a lot about how POTS affects me, what my limits are, and I know that to be as healthy as I possibly can, I have to lead a rather structured life and when that routine is interrupted, I feel it and it can cause a flare up.
So it's important to know your limits, know how much you can do before you bring on a flare up, if you have that kind of condition.
Outsource and Delegate
I've always struggled with this because I am a bit of a control freak but I decided with Dotty that I was going to outsource as much as I could as soon as I could, so far I've used a professional photographer for my Christmas range, I've hired a freelancer to make me a load of Pinterest Pins and although this isn't really outsourcing or delegating, I have a business mentor, something I've never had before because I don't like being told what to do, but she doesn't! She's just amazingly helpful, a great sounding board and she holds me accountable.
So let go of the reins and if you can afford it, outsource whatever you can, but focus on what will bring in value and what will help grow the business.
Embrace your Uniqueness
I'm guessing if you're a disabled business owner then you've faced some challenges in life that others might find interesting or inspiring, so share it! Embrace who you are, embrace your disability and shout it from the roof tops.
There may be many people doing what you're doing, but you're the only YOU, so nobody is doing it in the same way.
For me adaptions mean a bigger computer monitor with the font enlarged and having really good lighting, as well as always having a magnifier to hand. Adaptions also mean only working part time, taking naps when I need to, not doing things like markets and events because I just couldn’t cope with the long days, snacking and staying hydrated as these help keep my POTS symptoms under control.
But for you it might mean an adapted workshop, with ramps or handrails, it might mean only dealing with customers online because you struggle speaking with people on the phone, or getting a TextPhone if you have hearing difficulties.
Whatever your disability, think of any adaptions you could make, to make running your business easier.
Don't Give Up
Running a business is hard, it's full of ups and downs, roadblocks, and obstacles. Resilience is key to being a successful business owner.
And if your first business idea doesn't take off, no matter, on to the next, and the next until you find one that does. I've tried approx. 7 business ideas over the last 5 years and only two have actually generated sales worth talking about! Several were never even launched. This doesn't mean I'm a failure, it just means I'm full of ideas! Some good, some not so!
Celebrate Your Achievements
Shout your achievements loud from the rooftops, there are lots of people waiting to celebrate with you. Don't feel like you're bragging, there's nothing wrong with sharing your achievements, more people should do it.
And I know I personally would love to hear about your success stories, my social links are in the footer, let's connect.
Don’t feel that you have to do it all by yourself, believe me when I say even none disabled business owners rarely do it all alone. They have business mentors, coaches or accountability partners. They form mastermind and support groups. Getting support, of any kind is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of realising nobody knows everything and we all need a little helping hand now and then.
Unfortunately I am unable to find business mentoring that is aimed specifically at disabled people but I do recommend contacting your local council and asking what is available in your area. In Greater Manchester we have Enterprising You and it’s been a fantastic resource, free workshops on marketing, copyrighting, social media and more. Plus you get your own business coach for three months who you’ll have regular calls with. They also give access to health and wellbeing support.
I hope you found this blog post useful, if you want to find out more about being self employed whilst being disabled, there are some useful links here.
Business without Barriers has some inspiring stories and has some useful links.
Scope - there's some useful information here about being self employed and how it might affect any benefits you receive.
RNIB has a downloadable factsheet with useful advice and information, including on the Access to Work scheme, you can apply for funding for equipment and adaptions even if self-employed.
Access to Work Grant - if you need a piece of equipment, or other kinds of support to enable you to be self-employed, you can apply for a grant here.