One of the hardest parts of working for yourself as a contractor, freelancer or whatever you call yourself is creating and maintaining a realistic schedule for work and family life. I know I started out in business thinking I would have loads of billable hours and I imagine most people start their business believing they will have around forty hours a week available as “billable hours” but soon learn that nothing could be further from the truth. But after years of working long hours I do know that it is possible, to craft a schedule that allows you to make the most of your business time and family time… and I call it business time simply to differentiate it from my family and my own time as this helps me make sure I have both work and family time.
Know Your Audience
Almost everything to do with business starts with knowing who your audience is and who exactly you want to work with. There is no point being a night watchman if you only want to work days … so know your audience first. What types of client will you get along with best and what services can you realistically perform for those people? Start with the client, and then solve a problem for them with your services instead of trying to find clients to match your service.
Know yourself and be Honest with Yourself.
Are you an early riser or do you like to stay up late at night? Most of the time people are one or the other, I personally seem almost unable to sleep more than four hours, so I’m often up all hours of the night working. If you are a person who doesn’t like to keep to a particular schedule, you’ll need to develop tasks that are deadline focused instead of time centric. For instance, if you don’t want to have to do a task at 8 a.m. each morning, don’t offer that service.
Know Your Family
What kind of schedule does your family have and how much can you rely on other members of the family to take your work seriously? Even if they don’t take your work seriously right now, you can still create a business around your family’s schedule. Just go into it knowing up front what is expected of you within your family and what you can expect from them. This reminds me, I think it took my family almost ten years to accept that I worked for myself and was pretty successful at what I did, it was only after ten years that the “when are you going to get a proper job?” type comments stopped… even though I had moved around the world and ran a pretty successful company. This is what families do, they know you best and you know them best so work, but they sometime have predetermined ideas of what work is and what it isn’t and in my case, playing on the Internet wasn’t work, it was a hobby I had… which is true but it’s one I turned into a business.
Know What Hours You’ll Do Client Work
Taking all the things into consideration, it’s important to develop a set schedule of when you will be able to perform your clients’ work. Even if the time you come up with is midnight to 6 a.m. it’s still possible to have a business servicing clients as a contractor. There is no wrong answer; you just have to match the work you will do with the time you can do it.
Know Which Hours You’ll Do Business Work
Don’t forget that you’ll need to save some of your working time for working on your own business, this is the thing most new business people forget. You will still have email lists to maintain, content to create, sales pages to craft and so forth for your own business. Not to mention billing, invoicing, generating sales, networking and bookkeeping.
Understand What Your Service Offerings Take
As you work on creating the services you’ll offer, go through what they take in your mind and then match them to the other things that you’ve figured out about yourself, your family, and the type of schedule you can maintain. Knowing what goes into providing a specific deliverable will go far in ensuring you create a business that works for you.
Schedule Everything in a Calendar
Don’t assume you’ll remember something, much less everything. When you have multiple clients you need to have a calendar. Not only will you need to calendar the work you are doing for yourself and clients, you also need to include in your calendar anything you really want to make time for, including date night with your wife or husband. Seriously, most people when they start a business work excessively long hours and this is fine with most families, at least at the start as long as you make some time to spend quality time with them.
If you are like me, you started out on your own so that you could have the sort of lifestyle you always wanted … well don’t get so caught up with work that you forget to enjoy your lifestyle because hitting retirement age and realizing just what you have missed out on is no compensation for all those long hours.
Use a Project Management System
Don’t skimp on purchasing and investing in tools and software that will help your business run more smoothly. Tools like Basecamp.com, FreshBooks.com, and QuickBooks.com as well as others can help you do more in less time.
Maintaining a realistic schedule requires you to be realistic about the time you have available and the type of work you really like to do. Don’t forget to spend time each work generating sales and leads, you might have a full order book but it takes work to keep it full. It might sound great to be “on the clock” 8 to 5, but it’s quite different in practice when working from home as a contractor, in fact the real secret is often learning not to work when you want to, at least from a family perspective … and as a business owner, never ever neglect your family.