Being your own boss has many advantages, when combined with working from home it may sound too good to be true. There’s the appeal of saving time and money on commuting, the flexibility of setting your own hours and the bonus of claiming back some of your living expenses for your home office.
However the reality of running a micro-business often doesn’t live up to the dream of working less and playing more.
When you answer a client’s 8pm email at midnight you’re setting up the expectation of 24 hour availability.
What makes or breaks being a small business owner is “boundaries”. When there is no clear delineation between your home and workplace there is often a temptation to blur working hours. When you couple a home-based business with parenting, boundaries often go out the window altogether.
Regardless of where you do business (from home, on the road or an external office), how you manage your working life can impact greatly on your wellbeing. Over the years I’ve seen many clients struggle with self-employment, not just the issues around getting new business and paying the bills but also the concept of shutting the door at the end of the day.
While any type of business is vulnerable to “boundary creep”, those working in creative fields such as writing and design often believe creativity and traditional business hours don’t go hand in hand. But when your workday is open ended, it’s even easier to be distracted, have that extra cup of coffee or check your personal email just one more time.
Being your own boss means setting your own rules and sticking to them. Managing client expectation is often challenging. Sometimes the combination of being hungry for new business and advanced communication technology can make you feel compelled to always be available. The trick is to realize that the phone, email and social media are only tools and you are the master them, not the other way around. When you answer a client’s 8pm email at midnight you’re setting up the expectation of 24 hour availability, take a weekend call when your business hours are Monday to Friday and the illusion of mastering your business is lost.
With social media the boundaries get even blurrier. You can learn a lot about a business owner (or an employee for that matter) by noting the time stamp on blog posts and tweets. Do they stick to hours that match the service they are providing or does work and pleasure get merged with a late night drunken tweet? It all adds to the message you are creating about your work boundaries.
The reality is if you’re trying to educate clients expectations regarding your working hours, you need to stick to them. Use the technology at your disposal such as the holiday setting on your email program and voice mail stating your business hours. Most reasonable clients are happy to leave a message as long as they know when they’ll hear back from you.
Once you’ve set your boundaries you may need to address the creep of play into work time. Flexible hours are great when you really need the extra wiggle room but how often have you ended up working at night because of spending time on Facebook, having a long phone chat to friends or taking time out for some comfort shopping during work hours? Breaks in the day are necessary for productivity but try to take them away from the computer and phone, get out of the office and go for a walk, or have a change of scenery.
In almost twenty years of business I’ve had a lot of experience tweaking my own boundaries. While my client contact and clinic hours are relatively contained, realistically my three days clinical practice of back to back consulting doesn’t account for all the other tasks that are necessary to run a small business. Behind the scenes the accounts need to be prepared quarterly, stock has to be ordered, monthly newsletters written and articles beg to be read. As I’m happy with the contact hours I have and don’t want to cut them back, I’ve made a realistic boundary readjustment. I work a 7 day fortnight, which takes into account a couple of admin days a month outside the clinic.
How many days do you work a week? But more importantly, are you happy with the amount of time you have created to work and play? Does your current work practice match your life needs and desires?
Being self-employed doesn’t suit everyone. But once you crack the code and set your boundaries, going solo can be the perfect ways to create a healthy and balanced life.
Do you need help with your boundaries? I consult with naturopathic clients to improve work/life balance, as well as offering supervision for health professionals. Give me a call if you would like some assistance in these areas.