SMART Freelancing: Are You Being Realistic?

Take a Number

Take a Number

After a small pause to let you all settle into your SMART freelancing techniques, Elizabeth Fayle is here to give you the next key to rockin’ out your freelance biz.

If you’ve missed the series to date, you can read each post here:

The intro to being SMART
The first key: Specific
The second key: Measurable
The third key: Agreed Upon

Welcome to today’s installment: being realistic.

Are you staying up until all hours burning the midnight oil? Does your family refer to you as “the lump by the computer”? Do you not remember what the sun feels like on your face?

Then you are not being realistic when it comes to your business. And you can’t keep it up.

“But I have to!” you wail. “I have all these new clients asking for quotes! I have to keep accepting these projects!”

Why? What’s going to happen if you say not right now to a client?

“Well, duh, I’ll lose the client,” you roll your eyes.

Wrong. Well, you might lose the odd client, true, but that’s not really what’s important.

The most important part of what happens if you say, “Not right now,” is that you’ve stuck up for yourself. You’re booked solid. You have clients clamouring for your attention.

And you’ll fit the client in next Tuesday, thank you very much. That’s being realistic about how much you can accomplish this week.

“But I could fit him in,” you reply. “If I just work an extra hour or two, I can fit that client in no problem.”

No, you can’t. Take your 24-hour clock and divide it into the following:

• 6 – 8 hours of sleep
• 3 square meals a day
• 30 minutes of exercise
• Household chores
• Downtime with the family or alone
• Business administration
• Heads-down project work

I know that a lot of you are shaking your heads at my silliness, thinking you are getting that much sleep, that you do eat, and that you do get the chores done beyond dancing your fingers across the keyboard. You have plenty of time left for that client.

That all sounds very entrepreneurial and go-get-‘em, but it isn’t realistic.

You need sleep, good food, and exercise to perform your job well. You need the emotional bond with your loved ones so you don’t get frustrated and quit. And you need time to take care of the rest of your life, because that’s why you have this business, after all.

Telling yourself that you can make it happen, that all you’re going to do for the next week is work is not realistic. I realize there are times when you miscalculate a job estimate, and you have to work late. But this should be the exception, never the rule.

Doing it all the time is called burning out. Don’t do it. That’s when you become part of the the 90% of all businesses fail statistic.

You’re in this for the long haul. You are not a statistic. You are a SMART business owner. And you’re going to be realistic about your time. All the time.

Establish Core Business Hours

Your core business hours can be flexible insofar as when you’re generally most productive, but they’re set in stone after you’ve chosen them. If you can barely make a cup of coffee at 5 a.m., start your day at 10 a.m. You’re welcome to start work at 5 am if you want, but you can’t start at 9 am some days just because.

And whatever core business hours you pick, stay under 8 hours. If you work more than that, you cease to be productive.

Communicate Your Business Hours

To everyone. To your family. To your clients. Insist those hours be respected. … barring emergencies like water pipes breaking or all-out brawls between your kids involving copious amounts of blood. Keep repeating your business hours to them and find ways to enforce their respect of them.

Stick to it, too. Sometimes it takes people a while to believe you’re serious, especially if you’ve been a workaholic up until now.

Stick To Your Business Hours.

That means if you stop for the day at 5 p.m., DO NOT look at a single work email after that. You know you’ll get sucked in if you do. Your quick email check becomes a written response, some analysis, and finally that little voice says, “What the heck. I might as well just do it.”

It’s not just good for you to be realistic about your humanity, either. That client you told that you could fit him in Tuesday? Being realistic made him think of you as the most sought-after freelancer around. You’re full up and booked solid because you’re that good.

He thinks he’s lucky to get you.

And you know what? He is.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.