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Managing mindset and mental health while running your own design business

Going ‘out on your own’ as a graphic designer comes with a myriad of emotions. And while there are plenty of positive ones to experience, the negative ones are likely to come knocking at some point too. 

Even those who have been running businesses for many years still go through a roller coaster of ups and downs, like Tonia Reid who has been working for herself for more than 20 years. We had a chat with her about all things mental health and she shared some of her thoughts on what she has learnt when it comes to managing her mindset as a freelance graphic designer.    

When imposter syndrome comes knocking 

Imposter syndrome has had a pretty bright spotlight shone on it over recent years. There have been plenty of professionals and well-regarded experts coming out to say they have had feelings of imposter syndrome, on many occasions. And Tonia knows it well. 

“I actually went through this quite recently, where my work confidence felt quite low and I was in a very ‘cocoon-like’ state. But I have also spent a time of time reflecting on it, and I think this is quite a normal thing to go through as a human. 

“For me, I seem to wave through peaks and troughs, where I feel empowered and on top of my game for sometimes quite an extended period of time and then, for whatever reason, go into a phase where I need to focus my attention inwards and become quite insular and protective of myself.. I really do think this is cyclical, as seeking shelter is part of growing and changing.”  

How to move on from the negative chatter

While philosophical that it is human nature to experience these highs and lows, Tonia has definitely had times where the negative voice has been louder than the one cheering her on. Her advice is to never take the thoughts in your head as the truth - whether they’re positive or negative. She says they’re simply a tool to point you in the direction of your next move, so keep going, keep questioning the validity of your thoughts,,do things that fill your tank, seek evidence that proves your worth, and surround yourself with people who believe in you. 

“Keep reminding and affirming to yourself that you’ve got this. The way we are designed is that we are often caught up inside our own heads and it can be hard to step outside this to see how powerful and impactful we are. 

“Accept it for what it is - that you’re human and sometimes it can be difficult to find the positive. But you can spend time working on your mindset and learning to reframe how you look at things.”

After a year of feeling quite insular, Tonia spent time reflecting and reviewing on what went well, and what didn’t. She says that keeping off social media was quite important, as it took her time and focus away from positive, impactful activities - which wasn’t what was needed at the time. 

“Social media is great for sharing and interacting with friends, family, business networks and followers, but you have to be very on top of your usage and be aware when it starts to suck you in to the void. When you start using it as a tool to distract you from the real world, or if it starts to inspire negative self-talk, it’s definitely time to take a break. . I have found that going into my own zone, choosing to exist predominantly in the real world and doing things my own way is how I have always worked best.”

Being authentically YOU

While Tonia will always limit her social media use, she now feels ready to start talking a bit more online, especially now that she has refined her offering and redefined her purpose.   

“I’ve realised over my self-employed work life that around every two to three years my work and knowledge has evolved to a point where I need to refresh things. I’m currently in a phase of rewriting my website copy and brand messaging. Once it’s finalised, I know it will boost my confidence and that I’ll be happy to share more on social media again.

And now that Tonia feels more secure in her vision for her business, she understands more about why it was so challenging to be present on social media. 

“Where you’re in a state of being confused and not quite sure of your direction, it’s hard to be authentically active online. I know that if it feels like I’m forcing it, it’s not worth it. When I can be genuine and on purpose, it’s enjoyable for me. 

“It’s funny, because it’s exactly the same problem that I help my clients solve on a daily basis. Even though I know the process, the problems and the outcomes intimately, I actively have to take myself through the process on a regular basis in order to keep on top of my confidence in my ever-evolving brand.

But it is still a time sap, and not the best for my mental health if I let myself fall down the rabbit holes, so I will do what is right for me, and not let social media consume me. It’s never been a huge part of my brand marketing strategy anyway” 

Which leads to Tonia’s next tip for managing mindset. Notice what does and doesn’t work for you, and even if it’s something that everyone is doing, it doesn’t have to be that way for you. 

“Feel free to run your life however you want it to be. Step away if it is causing doubt or insecurity, moderate your own activities and things you allow into your day-to-day life.”  

Finding a balance between home and work life 

As her family has grown around her freelance business, Tonia has adjusted her life accordingly. When the kids were little, she often worked evenings, but once they started school, more daytime hours were able to be devoted to her business. 

“I was able to grow in phases, and now they are in high school and much more independent it’s easier to juggle work and include other things that are important to me - like exercise, fresh air and non-screen time, which are crucial for my mental health.” 

Tonia admits that with preschool children, it’s hard finding a balance and prioritising the things that keep you sane can be difficult. But she remembers that when she did take an hour for herself to exercise or get outside, a productive day would almost always follow. 

“Sports in particular are great, because you’re really focused on what’s in front of you and it gives your brain a break from thinking about all the things you need to do. I know that when I do a pilates or yoga class, or go for a walk or run before work I will hit my desk and get into the flow much faster. And my evening netball games are a great way to ensure you don’t work away into the night and also get away from the desk by a certain time.” 

Tonia also enjoys a networking group with a bunch of like-minded business women. She says they are great to bounce ideas off, offer support and ultimately, it is another thing that is great for keeping her mindset in check. 

Managing client feedback  

When it comes to managing client feedback, Tonia is thankful she has built long term relationships with businesses who really value the work she does. Of course there have been a few over the years who have caused a few issues, but she remains practical in regards to the impact they have left on her. 

“It’s always an interesting experience, but it helps to highlight the kind of work I want to do and the people I want to work with. I always ask myself ‘what did work’ so I’m not constantly focusing on the bad. And then figuring out what didn’t work, taking responsibility for my part in it and being committed to what I am going to do to make it different next time. 

“It’s about taking steps towards the better version of what you want.”  

At the end of the day, Tonia likes to remind herself that the good and the bad is all part of working for herself, and she does her best to keep the emotion out of it. 

“It’s about finding practical solutions, because it’s business. And with action, you can move on from it, while using it as a learning experience.”  

The importance of community for mental health 

There’s no question freelancing can be lonely and isolating, especially when you are faced with challenges that knock you back and make you feel like you’ve dropped the ball. When this happens, Tonia recommends reaching out to a community or network of trusted people. 

“Interestingly, I don’t tend to talk about my work with my friends and family, as I’m not sure they really get it. Which is why my group of women in business is ideal. They understand what it is like to work with not-so-nice clients sometimes as well as all the problems we’re required as business owners to solve each day. The Rocketspark Partner Community is great too, those who you can seek advice from because they are in the same boat.” 

Curious to find out how you could become a Rocketspark Design Partner? Check out more info here, or get in touch with our awesome Partner Team - they would love to hear from you.  

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