I’ve been freelance for many years now, running my own business from home. It can be tough at times working on your own, but if you get it right, not only can it be rewarding, but liberating.
Here’s the first of a three-parter on how to make homeworking work for you.
Organise your time
Working the hours you want depends on your personal set-up, but individual biorhythms also play a significant role.
For example, larks feel at their best in the early part of the day: they like to get on with things before the world wakes up, leaving them plenty of time later on to be with family or friends, pursue hobbies or simply relax.
Owls come into their own later, and prefer a gentler start: they might have a leisurely breakfast, go to the gym or do chores, then get to their desk for an 11am–7pm day – in some cases, even later.
Parents might split their day into chunks, working after they get the kids to school, stopping to collect them at hometime for dinner and family time, then getting back to their desks in the quiet period after the children are in bed.
Your time is your own
The key is to find what works for you. For example, if you’re an owl, there’s no point in pushing yourself to start at 7am if your system is screaming for rest, or your creativity is at its peak in the afternoons.
If your client contract states that you must be available between the hours of x and x to fulfil the work, then you do have to comply. Otherwise your time is your own, so long as you get the work done – and you don’t have to justify it. After all, that’s what the ‘free’ in ‘freelance’ stands for.
For many going freelance is, to quote that old cliche, a means to escape the rat race. However, when you begin working for yourself you may find that you’re spending longer hours than you ever did at the office. Working solo means taking care of admin, accounts, IT, marketing and other in-house services that you previously had on tap.
When it comes to fee-earning time, working for yourself works best if you’re prepared to set boundaries. At times you will need to say no to unreasonable demands, and no to an assumption that you are available 24/7, and mean it – and there are people out there who assume that ‘freelance’ means ‘always on’.
If a client or contact is difficult from the outset about something as basic as acknowledging your time, it’s possible they might be difficult to deal with generally: you’ll need to make an individual judgement call as to whether they’re worth dealing with. A high-maintenance situation can reap rewards, but it has to be workable (and profitable) for both parties.
Setting out expectations at the very beginning can help to avoid stress and confusion further down the line, and save you from unscheduled Sunday phone calls, or finding yourself in your dressing gown at 6am, bleary-eyed, responding to ‘urgent’ emails.
A highway to burnout
The bottom line is that if you don’t protect yourself or your time, it’s a highway to burnout and possibly even ill-health. You may need to work very hard at first to set things up, but past a certain point your business should be working for you, not the other way round.
When you work from home, setting boundaries with professional contacts isn’t the only way you need to protect your time. Friends and family may cause interruptions, or assume that because you’re at home you aren’t actually working. Calling on the phone for long chats, dropping by unannounced – it all eats up valuable hours.
Just be firm, and reinforce the message with repeat offenders if necessary; it may take some time for the penny to drop.
Tell friends and family that yes, you’re at home, but you’re not free – during the hours of x and x you are working. By all means organise a daytime appointment if you want to catch up with people, but keep control of your schedule: don’t allow interruptions to disrupt your flow.
Part 2 will follow soon. Work happy at home!