Phil Benton – Self Employed Photographer

Being self-employed can be really, really good. You get to pick your own hours, be your own boss and do whatever it is you love the most (well, hopefully). There are also downsides. No holiday pay, no sick pay and no one to take up the slack if you can’t work.

Phil Benton loves working as a freelance photographer but was finding it a struggle to cope with, whilst also trying to deal with the fact that he has M.E. (MyalgicEncephalomyelitis) also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Typical symptoms of M.E. are:

• Fatigue, unrelieved by sleep or rest

• Muscle and joint pain

• Cognitive issues

• Brain fog

• Short term memory loss

• Depression

Phil also suffers from Vasovagal Syncope which is caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure which is often triggered by a reaction to an external stimulus. This can cause a person’s heart to slow down, thus pumping less blood to the brain which ends with the person losing consciousness. In itself it is an unpleasant condition. Combine it with the M.E. and it becomes even more so. All of these health issues made Phil feel like he was unemployable and so self-employment became the only way forward.

As a photographer, Phil gets the opportunity to do something he loves while working the business around his health. Whilst this has its advantages, sometimes getting jobs done was becoming a bit of a struggle, particularly on bad days when he was more exhausted than usual, in more pain and just unable to think clearly. The pressures of working to a timescale then become incredibly stressful and working as a sole trader added to that, as there’s no one to share the load. Trying to develop his business meant that he was required to learn new skills, for example, website maintenance, social media marketing and finance which was particularly difficult due to his inability to absorb and retain information.

Enter Michelle Dobson!

Phil had known Michelle from both being members of Mint Business Club and she approached him directly to see if he would be interested in having a support worker through Access to Work. He jumped at the chance and he says his life has improved dramatically, all for the better!

Having a great support worker has lifted a weight from Phil’s shoulders; he no longer feels alone and knowing the support is there helps to make things clearer in his mind and remove some of the pressure. His business is much more efficient now that he has an accounts system in place as well as an administration system for stock control and has even been able to update his business website with new products. Phil’s support worker has also helped Phil on days when he’s out and about with his pop-up stalls which allows him to have a bit of rest and recovery time.

The benefits of having a support worker were felt by Phil almost immediately. Getting general support and someone to talk to has helped him to stay more positive; depression is a common problem with chronic illness and being a sole trader, and the loneliness that comes with it, has definitely contributed to it. He now meets his support worker twice a week when they review the week gone by, looking at the positives and the negatives. As a team, they then decide on a plan for the next week and what assistance is going to be needed, keeping in mind deadlines and work commitments. Between meetings they stay in contact via e-mail and/or phone so the support worker can keep track of what Phil’s doing and if he needs any additional help.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing however. Incorporating new systems and team members, especially when you’re used to working on your own, can be difficult. Phil can become very frustrated when he’s trying to learn new things and can’t quite absorb the information so learning how to manage their sessions together has been a priority. It takes time to build a relationship and when you rely on someone to help you with your livelihood the trust and friendship have to be paramount. Fortunately, with time and patience, the relationship between Phil and his support worker has flourished meaning that in turn, Phil is flourishing.

Trying to work, and in Phil’s case run a business, with his health troubles has often felt impossible. Having the support and assistance has not only helped to make him more efficient professionally but also has improved his general well being. That feeling of not being alone any more is fantastic. 

Phil’s advice would be to not hesitate. There is help out there and it absolutely does make a difference.