Back in January, I wrote about my experiences over the first six months as a full-time designer/business owner. Well, we’re now at a year and some things have changed…while others remain the same.
So, as I enter my second year in this life-altering adventure, I have a few new lessons that I have learned that have helped me in scheduling, work-life balance and overall sanity.
1. Know When to Say, “No”
We have all heard of the “feast or famine” cycle. As a full-time designer, knowing that a steady paycheck is not in the cards can be a scary thought. In fact, it has kept me up many of nights.
With this, it is easy to justify taking on any and all projects as a means to support yourself and your family. However, all work is not good work…and an abundance of projects can be more harmful than helpful to your career.
All work is not good work.
I recently completed a project which tried not only my patience and initiative, but also my family’s well-being. I took on this project simply because the pay was good. However, all of the signs of a terrible client were there.
Fast forward several months of consistent night and weekend work, scope creep, withholding pay, lawyers, and general bad client attitude. The payment from this project no longer seems viable and the sheer mention of the client’s name causes cringing.
It was a dark cloud over my office. And, when your office is your home, it also shadows your family life. Money is not worth that to your well being and your family. I was continually complaining about this client, and my energy to produce great work was quickly overshadowed by a sense of urgency to end the project.
My point is this, you have to strike a balance between paying the bills and accepting work that fits within your scope of expertise and is good for your business. Saying “NO” to “red flag projects” and not accepting work just for the paycheck can benefit your business in the long run.
WIll you possibly make less money? Yes.
However, will your business improve in the long-term? Yes.
Your business will improve because you will be focusing on good, worthwhile projects and fostering healthy relationships with your clients. You will have heightened energy for these projects. And, you will produce better work and be a more improved designer.
So, if the alarm in your head starts going off, say “NO” to that project. You, your business and your family will thank you.
2. Find the Right Work-Life Balance
It’s a beautiful Friday morning. In between blog sentences, I have been cooking pancakes for my son. He just had surgery and has been stuck at home for a few weeks. While he eats breakfast, I return to the office.
This is the joy of working from home. There are no end-of-the-year bonuses, no overtime or vacation pay, no 401k matching plans. The benefit of this job is the freedom.
However, it’s not all balloons and puppy dogs, you have to weigh the proper work-life balance to make it successfully. You have to take advantage of the opportunities that being at home provide you, while still being available for your clients and running a professional business.
There are no end-of-the-year bonuses, no overtime or vacation pay, no 401k matching plans. The benefit of this job is the freedom.
Take a day off, go to lunch with your spouse, run errands as needed. You might even be able to get in a relaxing round of golf. But, you must not let the fun/home life eclipse your work responsibilities…..and vice versa.
Here are a few tips…
- Set normal work hours.
Act like a business. Set normal work hours. If you stay in the office all day, walk away at 5 p.m. and spend time with your family. It’s easy to let work consume you when the office is 50 feet away. However, in the next point, I will discuss how this can sometimes be difficult.
- Take advantage of life’s opportunities, but make up your time if you do.
As I said, my son has recently had surgery, keeping him at home for a few weeks now. Much of our days have been consumed with taking care of him. He has been our priority…and rightly so. It has been my pleasure and joy to be able to be here for him, but my work time has decreased significantly. So, I have made up for it by working mornings, nights and weekends to make up for that lost time. With this, I have given my clients the time that they deserve, while not taking away from my family. This is a great opportunity that working from home allows you. Don’t misuse it.
So, use your own best judgement to decide what the proper work-life balance is for your situation. I have been able to enjoy my family immensely over the past year, while still earning enough to keep my business viable.
3. Keep Your Finances in Order
This is the most important point of all. As I spoke of earlier, the “feast or famine” cycle hits every designer at one point. It hit me during the months of December, January and February. And while these are typically slow months for any designer, this was the first time that I had to survive these months without a steady paycheck with which to fall back.
Luckily, my family had a plan in place beforehand. You must consider your finances at least three months in advance. Prepare for a slow time when things are going well. Don’t let the “famine” hit you without a survival plan in place.
You must consider your financial situation at least three months in advance.
Here are a few tips to help you keep your finances in order…
- Get an accountant or financial adviser
This should be a given for any business owner. An accountant or tax preparer can discuss your options, advise you on deductions and other financial tips and help you set up a quarterly tax plan. It is money well spent, and an expense that you can deduct on your taxes as well.
- Set up a tax account
Regardless of your income, the IRS will get paid. So, setting up a tax account and putting money aside from every project is a smart decision. We set up an Ally Bank online savings account for my business. It allows for only so many withdrawals per year. This way, you won’t be tempted to pull money out for non-business expenses. When you put money in your tax account, consider it the government’s money and not yours. Leave it alone.
Well, we obviously survived the “famine” this year. Business is picking up again and we are looking forward to a great end of 2013. However, the joy does not last for long. We are always in preparation for the next “famine” cycle, which is almost impossible to avoid.
UPDATE: I have now moved to the iPad to continue writing as my son has commandeered the office computer to play games. Like I said, work-life balance, people.
4. Exercise Your Professionalism
Just like you have to exercise your body to stay fit, I have realized that an at-home designer must also exercise their professionalism in order to keep it fresh.
So, how do you “exercise your professionalism?” It’s actually fairly simple. Make a point to do those things a brick and mortar business owner would do, or what you remember doing as a company employee that you may have lost.
Go to lunch with clients and colleagues. Attend business seminars, local chamber of commerce events or civic club functions. Mingle with friends.
What do all of these things have in common? You are getting out of the office and engaging personally and professionally with real people…..yes…..real live people. It’s easy to get caught up in office work, e-mails and phone calls and lose sight of the personal connections that make any business owner successful. Get out, network, have fun, promote yourself. Don’t get stuck behind your desk all day.
If you must work, move to a coffee shop or co-working space. Remind yourself what it’s like to work with other distractions around you. Take a break and talk to people around you. You might even make a connection or, even better, gain a new client.
5. Take a Break
As I have mentioned before, e-mails, phone calls, all night work sessions can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
It is a proven fact that sitting at your desk is detrimental to your health.
So, take 10 minutes out of your day. Turn off your phone, step away from your computer. Go outside and soak in some sunshine. Stand up and stretch out your legs and back. Take this time to focus on your breathing. Try to block out your professional or personal worries.
Then, go back in with renewed energy!
As I enter year two of this hopefully lifelong experiment, I continue to evolve and learn new ways of doing things as a business owner, husband, father and friend. And, while I am by no means a motivational speaker or business coach, I hope that my experiences can benefit you in your career. If you choose to “take the leap” as I did one year ago, with the proper planning and knowledge, you can be successful as well.