Highly Sensitive Refuge
A self-employed highly sensitive woman

3 Steps to Take if You Want to Be Self-Employed as an HSP

HSP strengths — like being deep thinkers and creating meaningful connections — are big benefits when it comes to working for yourself.    

At first glance, self employment seems like an incredibly daunting prospect — even for the 80 percent (approximately) of non-highly sensitive types on the planet. Figuring out what to offer the world and pursuing it is vulnerable and scary, yet people do it all the time. And HSPs, with our gentle, artistic souls, often get caught in thinking that creating a successful business from the ground up is truly unattainable.

I think the reason for this, in part, is an error in what we make “success” mean. The values of the standard Western workplace don’t align with ours, but we’ve been led to believe that business success can come only by playing along at those same toxic, competitive games we’ve seen throughout our professional lives. The traditional approach of forging ahead aggressively, breathlessly running our hustle, and grinding ourselves to the point of burnout? HSPs operate in direct opposition to these methods.

HSPs are reserved, taking time to think deeply before acting. We tend to work more slowly because we are intentional with every step. And because our energy is hard-won and precious to us, we’re conscious of spending it wisely on thoughts and actions that light us up instead of grind us down.

As an HSP, I Thought Becoming an Entrepreneur Wasn’t in the Cards for Me … But I Was Wrong

As an HSP, I thought becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t in the cards for me. I believed business ownership meant living in a state of constant overwhelm, running a business on exhaustion and stress. That wouldn’t work for me — I may as well stay at my office job, right? So, for a long time, that’s what I did: pushed the business ownership dream aside as wishful thinking and tried to be happy in my office employee role.

I’d clock in at work again, sit down at my desk, and inevitably pine for the freedom and autonomy of the creative self-starter I truly wanted to be. It just seemed so far outside the realm of possibility. How could I go self-employed and sustain a business of my own making with my HSP sensibilities intact? 

I’d always wanted to be a writer. But coming from a background in medical billing, I had no idea who might need my help, whether anyone would take my writing seriously, or if I could really hack it in writing. But guess what? I did it, and I’ve broken the journey down into a three-part framework that served to plant, cultivate, and grow my independent career.

3 Steps to Take if You Want to Be Self-Employed as an HSP

1. Plant the seeds for the self-employed career and lifestyle you want.

As singer-songwriter Jewel says in her memoir, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, “Hard wood grows slowly.” By that, she means the strongest, most sustainable foundation of success doesn’t happen overnight. To that end, to plant those early seeds, I started building my business on the side while working at my day job.

Starting slowly with a primary stream of income in place relieved the pressure to instantly become self-supporting, and prevented my HSP temperament from going into overdrive. It gave me space to consciously create the work I truly wanted, figure out exactly what to offer in my business, and identify my desired clients. I was able to set up my website, start a blog to serve as my writing portfolio, and reach out to offer my services to potential clients through networking emails and LinkedIn

I also gave a lot of consideration to the work culture I needed in order to thrive. Going self-employed was my chance to curate my ideal environment (when you’re in charge, you create the exact work culture you want), where my sensitivity is a strength in the workplace (as a virtual assistant for coaches, I can offer help where I intuitively see a need) and my creative, conscientious nature is valued (my clients say they love the quality of my work). As HSPs, embracing our reflectiveness and envisioning our ideal working environment (like a creative, collaborative partnership with each client) helps us decide what kind of clients we want, the kind of work we’ll do with them, and the kind of energy to nurture within our businesses.

Another must for supporting my HSP trait was setting up my workspace intentionally. I’ve found that my physical workspace becomes indicative of my mental state. If my surroundings are cluttered, my mind feels chaotic. To support myself in how I want to feel mentally and emotionally, I keep my work area quiet, open, and spacious. I have a wide, comfortable desk, a simple laptop, and a bulletin board to keep important reminders in my line of sight.

Whether it’s a corner of a room, the dining room table, or a full-fledged home office, carving out an HSP mini-sanctuary for work helps reduce stimulation, increases focus, and creates an impactful business. 

2. Cultivate meaningful connections: find a mentor and others in your field.

Working alone is amazing, but it can get a little lonely sometimes — especially when newly self-employed. There aren’t any coworkers to bounce ideas off of, relate to your latest client struggle, or proofread that email to make sure it doesn’t sound rude. Because of this, having a mentor throughout the early stages of building a business was invaluable to me. I found my first mentor via her podcast for entrepreneurs back in 2018, invested in her course, and we developed a friendly/professional relationship that we maintain to this day.

My mentor was so generous with her time and advice, more than happy to respond to my inquiring emails, and effectively coached me through mindset blocks and limiting beliefs. Investing in that inner work with the help of someone who’s been there and done that is a priceless way for deep-thinking HSPs to kickstart the groundwork required for going self-employed.

Later on, when I wanted to expand my services, I discovered a woman through another podcast who was already successfully doing what I aimed to do. Before I could talk myself out of the idea, I emailed her out of the blue and asked if she’d be willing to mentor me. She responded the same day and couldn’t have been more gracious and accommodating. Now I’m helping her grow her business, which feels perfectly attuned to the kind of work that’s important to me.

The willingness to reach out to people who are doing what we want to do is a huge asset in business. Our HSP need for meaningful connection gets fulfilled, and those on the receiving end of our outreach are often more than happy to offer guidance (entrepreneurs typically are). We may risk rejection, but here’s a secret: almost everything we do has a risk involved. Making our risks mean something is a step in the right direction.

Like what you’re reading? Get our newsletter just for HSPs. One email, every Friday. Click here to subscribe!

3. Grow your own way: protect your energy and create boundaries to maximize productivity and prevent burnout.

I’ve chosen to be a company of one indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean I’m not growing. It’s taken more inner growth than I ever thought possible to create and run my business. Incorporating conscious mindset practices (especially learning to value my work and not go out of my way to take things personally — we HSPs can react strongly to criticism) has been instrumental in every area of development. 

In addition, personal growth books and podcasts offer me completely new perspectives and open my mind to a world beyond self-doubt and imposter syndrome (which HSPs can be prone to!). I take that knowledge with me and move forward, growing my own way and making my business stronger as I go.

To keep growing, HSPs also need to protect our energy — especially when going self-employed. Led by empathy, we have a tendency to give, give, give, working late into the evening, on weekends, or on ridiculously short notice … and sometimes don’t know when to stop. But as a business owner, time and energy are precious resources to be protected at all costs. HSPs in business must build boundaries around these and stick to them with conviction.

Before I set boundaries around my time, I would check my email every time I got a notification or reply to all social media comments in real time. I did this thinking that my responsiveness made me a better, more efficient business owner, but it wasn’t easy to balance my actual client work with all these little detours. Now, I set aside specific times for these tasks, and my clients know I don’t check or answer emails after a certain time in the evenings or on weekends.

Building respite and self-care into the workday was also an HSP lesson I learned the hard way. As a self-employed writer, nobody is verifying how many hours I spend on research, how much screen time my eyes absorb, or how long I’m hunched over the desk. I’m the only one checking in with my body, coaching myself through stressful moments, and making sure I take breaks. It’s very tempting to push ahead without rest in the name of progress and productivity. But before I know it, I’ll overextend, and the downtime needed to recover negates any progress made. Plus, it makes me cranky.

It’s much a gentler, kinder, and compassionate existence for HSPs to design a working style that welcomes rest and recuperation. That could look like exercising or journaling every day before work, taking short walks when overstimulation creeps in, or taking a long lunch while reading a book. When you’re the boss, you get to decide. Overall, just make sure your business decisions are serving you and your HSP nature. 

Want to get one-on-one help from an HSP-knowledgeable therapist? We’ve personally used and recommend BetterHelp for therapy with real benefits for HSPs. It’s private, affordable, and takes place online. As an HSR reader, you get 10% off your first month. Click here to learn more.

We receive compensation from BetterHelp when you use our referral link. We only recommend products when we believe in them.

You might like:

Join the HSP Revolution.

One email, every Friday. Our best posts.

X