Bad habits are easy to adopt when you run a business from over-working and feeling guilty if you’re not sat at your desk all hours, to forgetting to rest and taking things too much to heart.
Freelancing has its challenges at the best of times. Which is why it’s essential to take a step back and remember the ten things you absolutely mustn’t do if you run your own business.
1. Don’t be too hard on yourself
You're an entrepreneur, so it's only natural that you're always finding new ways to improve and evolve. It’s part of your nature. It’s the only way you survive. But amongst all the hard work and sacrifice, you do tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself to push forward continuously. And then you beat yourself up when things go wrong. Stop!
You need to realise that you’re not perfect and mistakes will be made. It’s the only way we learn and progress. You also have to give yourself a break and remember to be kind to yourself. Life is short, and there is no need to take yourself or your business so seriously. You’ll work things out and succeed. You always do, so stop being your biggest critic and pat yourself on the back for making it this far.
2. Don’t feel guilty
It’s your business, so you care deeply about your clients and making sure you do a great job to keep them happy. You bend over backwards and worry about the relationship. So the minute you have any time away from work, you feel guilty. You think you should be doing more. And when you get calls from clients out of hours, you can’t bear to ignore them because the guilt would overwhelm you. Stop!
You have to dispel the guilt and realise you’re not a superhero and clients won’t expect you always to be working. Work hard and efficiently during the usual office hours, get everything ticked off your list and set things up ready for the next working day. It will allow you to switch off and enjoy your evenings and weekends without feeling guilty. Besides, what have you got to feel guilty about if you’re doing your absolute best in the time available?
3. Don’t get addicted to work
You’re at your desk for 7.30am, and you don’t look up until 7.30pm. You think “just one more hour, and I’ll go home…” – But you stay late again. You see weekends as opportunities to ‘catch up’ on work without the phone going. Sound familiar? Stop!
There is strong evidence to suggest that we are only productive for a certain amount of time each day, so there’s absolutely no point in working long hours. It’s fruitless. You have to prioritise rest to ensure optimum performance when you are working. If it’s money you’re worried about making, and you have to work long hours to earn what you need – you’re not charging enough. Take some steps immediately to increase your day rate and get paid more for fewer hours.
4. Don’t forget to take regular breaks
You never seem to leave your desk these days. You don’t have the time. You’re sat there all day until you absolutely must leave the office and go home. Lunches are for wimps, breaks…? Pah! What are those? Stop!
Breaks are incredibly important for your productivity, health and wellbeing. They give your brain a chance to process things and even boost creativity. Make sure you get up and away from your desk every half an hour at least – even if it’s to make a healthy herbal tea. Use your lunch break to get outside and stretch those legs. It won’t kill you to take a break; it will kill you if you don’t. Evidence strongly suggests that sitting down all day is one of our biggest killers. So get up, take a stretch, dance around your office if you want to (I do, much to the embarrassment of my colleagues at Boomerang) and even consider getting a standing desk if you want to push the boat out.
5. Don’t forget it’s all about relationships
When you’ve got your head down, working hard to get the job done – it’s easy to forget about the client and forget to organise meetings or pick up the phone and speak to them. Stop!
Business is mainly about relationships. If you haven’t got strong relationships with your clients, then the account is doomed to fail. Make communication, your new best friend and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and speak to your clients regularly. Organise face-to-face meetings at least once a month to catch up and strengthen your ties with each client. And remember most of all - people love doing business with people they like, so be a likeable character that others enjoy being around. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People for some superb tips on people skills.
6. Don’t forget to live
Running a business undoubtedly consumes you. It takes up a lot of your time, energy and thinking. It’s often the first thing you worry about in the morning and the last thing you stress about at night. You’ve allowed the business to overtake your life. It’s all you are these days. Stop!
Self-discipline is the solution to your problem if you’ve forgotten to live. You need to have an honest talk with yourself and realise that only you hold power to make positive changes to gain your life back. Become strict with your working hours, ensure you’re super productive when you are sat at your desk and then prioritise your ‘downtime’ and make it as important as your business. Create rules that will allow you to relax and enjoy time away from the office, such as never talking about the company unless it’s during working hours.
7. Don’t forget to prioritise health and fitness
Over-work and stress lead to poor diet choices, sedentary lifestyles, flabby guts and bad backs. You’re sitting at a desk for long hours and prioritising work over everything else. You haven’t got time to go to the gym, let alone make a fresh meal for dinner. Stop!
Your health relies on a decent diet and a regular fitness routine. Don’t you want to live to a ripe old age without too many body niggles? Do you still want to be laughing and living life to the full when you retire? Get your ass to the gym, ditch the microwave meals for healthy fresh food and make weekends an opportunity to get outside, enjoy some fresh air and sunshine and move that body! You’re not going to be much use to your clients if you’re not at your absolute optimum health, are you? Never mind anything else.
8. Don’t stop learning
You haven’t got time to learn something new, you’re too busy and overwhelmed with work. You’ve got deadlines to meet, clients to keep happy and bills to pay. Why do you need to bother with training? Stop!
In this game, you must prioritise learning new skills and keeping up with changing technologies and culture. And if you want to beat the competition and stay current. Take your trusty iPad and fill it with training materials that you can read or view for at least one hour each day. To get started, check out 58 of the best websites and apps to learn something new. And it doesn’t have to be related to work either; expanding your skills in other areas will be just as beneficial for the mind.
9. Don’t let the bastards get you down
Some clients seem to cause all the stress. You’re having to deal with all kinds of politics and toxic characters who only have their best interests at heart, without caring about you or your helpful input. And when you aren’t meeting ridiculous deadlines or answering tedious client questions over email, you’re pulling your hair out and wondering whether it’s all worth it. Stop!
All clients can be challenging. It’s all a matter of how you react to situations. Instead of responding negatively, see client annoyances as a chance to boost your people skills and embrace the opportunity to rectify things and ensure a happy outcome. You’ll feel on top of the world when you manage to solve a client issue and come out the other side looking good, and potentially with more work.
10. Don’t forget to book your next holiday
You’ve worked for yourself for two years, focusing on building your business and getting as many clients under your belt as possible. Holiday? You haven’t got time to take a holiday. It’s impossible. How would you earn cash while you’re away? Undoubtedly, your clients would leave and find someone else? Stop!
Clients will understand that you need to take a holiday now and again. They’re only human, after all. Just make sure you give them plenty of notice and have protocols in place should anything go wrong while you’re away, i.e. take your laptop and have an ‘out of office’ on your emails that include an emergency mobile phone number for clients to contact you, should they need to. Read of our tips on how to go on holiday and relax when freelancing for some further advice.
If you’re worried about being away for too long or not earning money during your time off, take smaller breaks more often. There’s nothing wrong with long weekends. And if there’s one final piece of advice I could give that has helped see me through seven years of running my own business, it’s this – as soon as you get back from your holiday, book the next one immediately, so you always have something to look forward to. It’s a real motivator.