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Merle Becker

Much of the available literature about sustainable business models predominantly addresses large corporations, prompting me to question the adaptability of these models for solo-entrepreneurs and freelancers. I wanted to find an answer to the question: How does sustainable entrepreneurship apply to solo entrepreneurs?

In the 21st century, humanity faces tremendous challenges. The climate catastrophe, a huge loss of biodiversity, increasing inequality, and weakening democracies are just a few of them. To find solutions, it takes all of us, especially businesses. A sustainable future requires, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, a combination of social, ecological, and economic sustainability. Entrepreneurs thus have a responsibility to actively shape the future, aiming not only for profit maximization. While large corporations increasingly hop on the sustainability bandwagon (whether for marketing reasons or genuinely value-based), and there is abundant literature on the topic, little is known about the sustainability efforts of freelancers. This is intriguing because the number of individuals working as solo entrepreneurs, engaged in gig-based work, is rising worldwide and is likely to continue increasing. In the USA, for instance, 35% of all workers were freelancers in 2017, while in the EU, the figure stood at 16.1% – with an upward trend. At the same time, it is presumably more challenging for individuals reliant on gigs to consistently pursue sustainability goals and incorporate them into their business models with limited capacities. I therefore want to find answers to the question:

How can sustainable entrepreneurship be lived radically as a solo-entrepreneur?

Curious about how sustainability and self-leadership are perceived among freelancers, I conducted a survey targeting purpose-driven self-employed individuals, with 24 participants contributing to the study.

Initially, I presented the participants with various statements to which they could agree or disagree on a scale of 1 to 5. The results indicate that all participants believe they work autonomously and according to their values. However, the tide turns when it comes to questions more related to the realm of self-leadership. When it concerns time for oneself, for friends and family, and for personal health, fewer participants completely agree, with some even stating that they definitely do not have enough time for their individual level. Nevertheless, a large majority believe they manage themselves and their time well, and that they already adequately live the realm of self-leadership.

For me, this means that I can learn from the survey participants. Therefore, I asked them some open-ended questions. I will like to summarize them briefly.

The Structure

Initially, my curiosity was piqued regarding the strategies my colleagues employ to organize their work schedules, recognizing that effective planning is essential for ensuring adequate time and resources for the individual level. The responses revealed an interesting divergence between participants juggling caregiving responsibilities alongside their self-employment and those enjoying more flexibility. Some acknowledged the difficulty of adhering to rigid schedules due to childcare responsibilities, necessitating the prioritization of personal affairs, resulting in adjustments to work commitments. Another interesting answer came from someone who travels frequently. This person allocates buffer days before and after trips for preparation and recuperation.

Notably, all participants emphasized the utility of simple organizational tools such as to-do lists and calendars. Additionally, remarks surrounding part-time versus full-time work emerged, underscoring mental models regarding traditional notions of work hours. One respondent emphasized the sanctity of weekends, eschewing email checks during this time.


Furthermore, I was interested how my colleagues deal with clients and partners who demand constant availability. In many responses, it was clearly stated that the individuals consistently do not work with people who demand constant availability from them. So, the boundaries seem to be clearly set in this regard. However, exceptions are made for important clients. Again, the issue of children and family emerges as significant. Participants with caregiving responsibilities appear to draw stricter boundaries.

Autonomous work also presupposes not feeling driven by clients or partners. However, it is probably not entirely preventable. I wanted to know from the survey participants how they deal with this. Many participants write that they simply do not allow themselves to be driven, but rather clearly communicate their boundaries from the outset. Other participants, in line with the theory mentioned earlier in this work, write about inner work. They first take a pause or acknowledges their own feelings and accept them, whenever they feel driven by a client or partner. In the next step, they communicate their boundaries clearly. Methods mentioned for this inner work include therefore: direct communication, breaks, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, out-of-office times (not reading emails after work hours). All tips clearly aim to integrate body, heart, and mind and to get back into the flow.

But once more, a notable observation emerges: there exists a substantial contrast between self-employed individuals who also shoulder responsibilities for children and family and those who do not have caregiving duties. Participants repeatedly write unsolicitedly that the biggest challenge is organizing around childcare times and desired or needed time with the family.

Technological Support

The respondents employ a variety of technological tools to optimize their resource utilization sustainably. Interestingly, artificial intelligence remains peripheral in this context. Mentioned software tools include traditional calendar tools, CRM and financial software, tax programs, Mural and Miro, Trello, social media post scheduling tools, and Canva. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Teams are also cited, alongside Excel for task organization. Calendly is frequently utilized for scheduling, and Zapier acts as an interface between different softwares. Additionally, Apple’s Focus Mode, which restricts calls to designated numbers such as a kindergarten’s, is recommended. One participant mentions using a break app that prompts a 5-minute screen shutdown every 50 minutes.

AI primarily functions as a text error detector or brainstorming tool via chat GPT, or supports design work. However, several tools integrating AI were noted (e.g., Canva, ClickUp, Zoom, etc.).

In principle, less seems to be more for the target audience. There is little “playing around” with new tools, and the programs are used very lean and targeted. This also indicates that sustainable use of one’s own resources means seeking technical assistance while also not allowing oneself to be dominated by it.


It is also interesting to learn about what the self-employed did at the beginning of their business ventures and are now consciously avoiding. A recurring point is that too many projects and client inquiries were accepted, and constant availability was attempted. Fees were set too low to acquire as many customers as possible, and projects were accepted that did not actually suit the self-employed or did not motivate them. It appears that their own boundaries were not clearly accepted, and ambition became too great. Over time, the participants seem to have learned to better listen to themselves and to focus more on the individual and team levels.

The survey participants also wrote recommendations for new self-employed individuals. Several times, it is emphasized how important it is to know and communicate one’s own desires, needs, and boundaries from the beginning. Furthermore, it is recommended to stay calm, have a good financial plan, and generally adopt a simpler approach rather than overthinking one’s offerings. Additionally, having good and stable networks is repeatedly mentioned, as well as taking sufficient breaks (“Working healthily” and “Slow down to speed up!”). Mental models should also be dissolved according to the participants: “Do I have to work 50 hours per week? For what? Do I have to work 5 days (or more) per week?”

One quote summarizes this well: “Take breaks! Your most important resource is yourself, so invest in yourself, go to the gym, learn to meditate. Or whatever suits you.”


While the participants generally feel autonomous and aligned with their values, challenges arise in areas such as time management and boundary-setting, especially concerning personal and family needs. Most participants are still learning to align the needs of their body, mind, and heart. Strategies employed include clear communication of boundaries, engaging in inner work to acknowledge and address feelings, movement, and utilizing technological tools for sustainable resource management. Notably, the importance of prioritizing individual and team well-being over excessive ambition and constant availability is underscored. Lessons for newcomers emphasize the significance of networks, self-awareness, simplicity in approach, financial planning, and the cultivation of supportive networks.

Ultimately, prioritizing self-care and respecting personal boundaries emerge as essential practices for sustainable and fulfilling self-employment. Moreover, there seems to be a big difference in organization and structure of the job between self-employed with care-responsibility and those who are without:

“I only realized the importance of networks late. I completely overworked myself until I had children and thus gained a different priority in life.”