#186: Hilary Jastram on Running a Freelance Business When You’re Chronically Ill or Disabled

Running a successful freelance business is challenging at the best of times.

But when you’re also dealing with a chronic illness or disability, those challenges are magnified.

Simple things that many of us take for granted become huge obstacles, adding more stress and anxiety to an already stress-filled life.

So what can you do if you’re facing health challenges? And what can you do if you become seriously ill or disabled in the future?

My guest today addresses those questions head on.

Her name is Hilary Jastram. Hilary is the editor to a number of successful and high-producing entrepreneurs. She was also editor at The Good Men Project, blogger for the Huffington Post, and writer for The Mighty and Influencive, among other publications.

Hilary was forced into entrepreneurship when she became chronically ill a few years ago.

She now realizes it’s the best thing that happened to her. In her own words, “It allowed me to take a no-excuses approach and to settle for nothing less than the results I wanted.”

Since then, she’s launched a nonprofit called Sick Biz, where she provides support to entrepreneurs who are chronically ill and disabled. And she also runs a thriving copywriting, editing and book editing company.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself and your business

Hilary Jastram splits her time between two businesses: her digital marketing agency and a nonprofit she launched in 2017. The nonprofit provides resources to people who’re also dealing with long-term illnesses.

Six out of every 10 people have at least two chronic illnesses. This isn’t a small issue. It’s something that impacts all of us either directly or indirectly.

Given those numbers, why aren’t more people talking about this?

There’s a stigma to being ill. We want to be perceived as unbreakable, confident and capable in our professional lives.

Everyone faces unique challenges. Even if you don’t have a debilitating disease, we all have stuff we’re dealing with.

We have to change our perception of success.

Success might not look like you expect.

When you project an image of yourself that doesn’t match your reality, you feel like an imposter. This contributes to your stress.

Will you share your story with us?

In her 30s, Hilary was working as a marketing manager. She loved her job.

In April 2014, she got sick. She noticed that her feet were swelling. Then she started to lose feeling. One day, she couldn’t stand without assistance. It took five months to get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

She lost her job because she could no longer do the work. She went on short term disability. She lost her insurance. Things got really dark.

Today, she continues to deal with her condition and experiment with different treatments.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

Hilary used to call herself a “reluctant entrepreneur.” She never planned to go out on her own. But she’s always been driven to work, even as a young girl.

When she lost her job, she became an entrepreneur as a way to make a living. She needed income to support her children. She had no choice.

She treated it as a new challenge. Failure wasn’t an option. She was determined to keep going.

Mindset is important. When you don’t have a safety net — when you have no other options — it’s amazing what you can do.

What can people do help themselves when they’re trying to run a business while dealing with health issues?

  1. Keep going. In Hilary’s case, she makes a conscious decision every day to pull herself out of her pain and keep going. For her, work is a valuable distraction.
  2. Use adaptations. She’ll make adaptations as needed. If she’s too tired to type an article, she’ll dictate it. If she’s too exhausted to sit at her desk and record her podcast, she’ll do it from bed.
  3. Be honest. You have to be honest with yourself and acknowledge the challenges that you’re facing that day. Show up as your best version of yourself on that day. Recognize that that version will look different day to day.
  4. Change your standards. Change the standards by which you measure success. It might not look like what you expected it to look like.
  5. Work smarter, not harder. Workers with chronic illness or disability are forced to work as efficiently as possible. They have no choice!
  6. Build extra time into every project. Add a cushion of an extra two or three days in case you need them.
  7. Use time blocking. It’s okay (and often necessary) to build breaks into your day.
  8. Get support from others. Join a community of people who’re facing the same challenges.
  9. Set boundaries. Not everyone around you will “get” your situation. Accept it and set boundaries with people who are toxic.

Is it necessary to communicate health challenges to clients? Or is it none of their business as long as you can deliver what you’ve promised?

Live authentically — whatever that means to you.

Hilary believes that her work speaks for itself.

Also, it’s okay to work for (and with) humans who face human challenges!

If you mask what you’re going through, you’re feeding a lie. Hiding your situation won’t

change people’s perceptions about work and illness.

When enough people speak out, it will change the world.

What advice do you have for people who are chronically ill or disabled and are thinking of starting their own businesses?

Take a multi-pronged approach. You can’t just try one thing a try and then give up when it doesn’t work.

Don’t wait until everything’s perfect before getting started. Start from where you are. The goal is to get money in the door — and fast — to build momentum.

Networking is important. Commit to doing it everyday. This doesn’t have to be in person! You can also network online.

The more challenges we face, the more resourceful we become.

Challenges can be a hidden blessing. They will make you better, stronger and more resourceful.

There’s never been a better time work remotely. It’s much easier than it was 10 years ago.

Starting her own business was the best thing that could have happened for Hilary. She ended up tripling her salary!

Where can listeners learn more about you?

The Sickbiz community:

Hilary’s website:

By the way … whenever you’re ready, here are 4 ways I can help you grow your freelance business:

1.  Grab a free copy of my book for ESTABLISHED writers/copywriters.

You’ll discover how to quickly and predictably reawaken dead leads, generate new client opportunities and convert not-yet-ready prospects into freelance writing clients. — Click Here

2.  Download a free copy of my new book for writers who are NEW to freelancing.

I’ll show you the 3 things you need to do to get your business off the ground safely and land your first paying client faster.  — Click Here

3.  Join my implementation program and be a case study.

I’m putting together a new implementation group this month. If you’d like to work with me to grow your income quickly with better clients (and become one of my new success stories). Just email me at [email protected] and put “Case Study” in the subject line.

4.  Get a 1:1 strategy call with me.

Are you a 6-figure writer who’s trying to earn more in less time with less stress? Let’s jump on a quick call and brainstorm some ideas for getting you there. Just email me at [email protected] and put “Brainstorm” in the subject line.