In today’s episode, Anna looks at being self-employed and taking time off: why it’s so important to take proper time off in your day, in your week, and your year, even as an early-stage entrepreneur.
It’s very easy to tell yourself, and I did that in the early days of my business, “Oh, yeah, I’m working all the time, but I don’t mind. I just love it so much.” And you know what? Yes, it’s amazing that you’re working on creating something that you’re so passionate about, but that doesn’t mean, of course, it’s the only thing that matters. And I know you know this, but it bears reminding. It’s just something we tend to forget in the day-to-day hustle. So it’s not good for anybody, for you, for your business, for your friends and family if you blur those boundaries so much, that you’re always on. So, again, taking care of you is taking care of your business. Taking time off can also, by the way, give you new ideas. You can come back feeling inspired and energised, you have a new type of clarity of thinking. And bear in mind, I’m pretty sure this is the reason why you started your business in the first place. So you need to learn how to switch off, and take proper time off – during your day, your week, and your year.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Self-employed and taking time off
Hello there, and welcome back to the Reimagining Success Podcast as we look at something that’s quite fun today, I think, that’s certainly very important, which is planning time off and planning time off in the sense of an hour here and there during the day, a day during the week, but also, and perhaps most importantly, weeks or even months during the year.
So we’ve talked about the importance of taking care of yourself, and that really is taking care of your business, certainly when you’re a solopreneur. We’ve talked about getting really clear on your priorities and then establishing boundaries between work and play. So in case you need a reminder, why is it important to learn to switch off?
Now, as you know, I’m a big fan of work-life integration. But again, as you hopefully know, if you’ve been following along the last few weeks of the podcasts, then you also know that I don’t believe that you should be working all the time.
It’s very easy to tell yourself, and I did that in the early days of my business, “Oh, yeah. I’m working all the time, but I don’t mind. I just love it so much.” And you know what? Yes, it’s amazing that you’re working on creating something that you’re so passionate about, but that doesn’t mean, of course, it’s the only thing that matters. And I know you know this, but it bears reminding. It’s just something we tend to forget in the day-to-day hustle. So it’s not good for anybody, for you, for your business, for your friends and family if you blur those boundaries so much, that you’re always on. So, again, taking care of you is taking care of your business.
Taking time off can also, by the way, give you new ideas. You can come back feeling inspired and energised, you have a new type of clarity of thinking. I love lying by the pool with a notebook and planning the vision for my businesses; it’s one of my favourite things. My boyfriend got annoyed at me when we first met, when I wasn’t taking holiday, he thought, but I said, “Look, you don’t get it. This really is something that I enjoy. It’s no stress at all!” And it’s just a really great opportunity to look at the big picture of what you want from your life and from your business as well.
And bear in mind, I’m pretty sure this is the reason why you started your business in the first place. I have clients come to me and say a little bit tentatively, “Oh, I’d like to be able to take three months off at some point in the future, to be able to travel with my husband or something like that.” And you know what? It’s totally possible. There are people, I know lots of people, especially in sort of the nomadic community, living different types of location, independent existences and businesses. And it could be six months as a base, and then six months travelling around. It could be ongoing travel. It could be, again, six months in the Southern hemisphere, six months in the northern hemisphere, and then the business can either be integrated with that throughout the year or in fact, again, people are taking complete time off.
Now, this requires a lot of planning in terms of the business model, in terms of setting yourself up for success and so on, and we’ll talk about that, but it is feasible, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it’s totally feasible if it’s something you want to do and it’s something you’re going to work towards.
So you need to learn to switch off. And that means, as we talked with the boundaries last week, literally, and physically switching off your computer, turning off notifications on your phone, closing the door to your home office and so on. It means taking breaks throughout the day, at least every one to one and a half hours. You know what, again, there are lots of studies that say we can’t concentrate for more than 20 minutes or 45 minutes. Whatever that number is, we can’t just work, work, work.
Now my schedule is quite enforced at the moment because I have my daughter without childcare. And so I’m basically working during her sleep time. And that’s perfect because it’s anything from an hour to two hours at a time, and then we take a break and we have some nice family time, and then I work in the afternoon and perhaps in the evening.
So that works really well for me. And that’s, again, sort of forced, I guess, by the situation. But you can create that with more intentionality as well. Make sure you have a proper lunch away from your computer. I worked in an office where the dumb thing was just to sort of run down to the cafeteria, get a tiny little salad of a hundred calories and then go back and eat that at your desk. No name of the employer shall be mentioned.
Going outside to get some fresh air, all those things, right? So taking breaks throughout the year… the day. Sorry. But yes, that is the next thing I wanted to say, and that’s what I want to focus on really, taking time off during the year.
And why is this difficult? Well, you’re not getting paid vacation, right? That’s the issue.
When you’re working for yourself, you don’t have an employer who says 21 days, 23 days, whatever it was when I started. In America, I guess it’s only two weeks. Germany, I think, it’s much longer. There’s lots of public holidays, but our boss is not giving us paid vacation.
And I see this with people in my close circle that they just don’t take that time off. They do, when they have to, again, perhaps because of children having holidays or whatever, but some, again, take only two weeks or so in the year. And if that is your definition of success, if that’s what you feel you want to do, have to do, maybe, then by all means. But I think for most of us, that’s not the reason why we started a business. That’s not why we’re working for ourselves. And so if we’re not being given that paid vacation, we need to give that to ourselves.
So imagine that you were working for an employer, what would you like? How many days did you have in your corporate job, if you already left, and you want to maintain that or probably ideally increase that? And again, it’s something you work towards.
Now, if you’re just starting out, you’re a solopreneur, you’re a company of one, you also don’t have a team to support you while you’re away, right? So that can be a challenge. And you might feel like you risk losing work because you’re not available. Again when you’re just starting out or if things are going really well, it can feel quite difficult to say, “Oh no, sorry, I’m not available.” It can seem like, I suppose, I’m not keen enough. And so now, if it’s just a week, I would argue that, hey, most clients can probably wait. If they’re coming to you that last minute, then probably it’s not a massive project. It’s not something that is perhaps as important as we make it out to be.
When I first started at Procter & Gamble in my first proper job, I went on holiday and I may have said this before, but I went on holiday for the first time for a week. I gave my boss and my colleagues… So I was in kind of a design role. My colleague was in a delivery, commercial media type of operational role. And I gave them such strict, clear instructions as to what they were supposed to do while I was gone.
What happened when I came back? They hadn’t done any of those things. Now, this is not the way I would have done it if somebody had asked me for support while they were away. However, I suppose to some extent I was naive thinking that my projects were so important and five days off would just collapse the whole company, right?
And that’s not the case. CEOs, senior marketing directors and general managers, and so on can take time off I hope. And so certainly, a junior assistant brand manager could take time off as well. And yes, when I came back, it was a little bit stressful to kind of catch up with things, but you know what, within hours, days, everything fell into place again, right? So a week isn’t going to be an issue.
Obviously, if you’re taking three months off, that can be more of a barrier, but then that’s something you want to plan ahead, you want to manage expectations with clients and so on. So that’s what we’re going to talk about.
Again, taking a look at your day, your week, your month, and then now we’ll talk about your year, you want to be working out how you can set those boundaries, as we’ve said last week, and carve out some me time, family time, rest time. And again, all the research says that you need to work less, not more in order to be more productive. So even from a purely mercenary business profit standpoint, it’s really important to learn to switch off. And that’s the key message here.
How can you take that time off? Well, the first thing to do is to shift your mindset and really to give yourself permission.
Now, hopefully if you haven’t listened to the last few weeks of the podcast, please do go back because there are all sorts of golden nuggets, hopefully, to help you do just that. Again, taking care of you is taking care of your business. All those studies saying that you’ll be more productive and not to mention reminding yourself of your definition of success, why you’ve started this business in the first place, what kind of life it is that you want to lead by yourself, with your partner, with your family, whatever.
So as ever, it starts with your mindset, and really by the way, also of course, getting clear on what your definition of success is, if you’re not yet clear. So someone in my Facebook group was just saying, “You know what? I want to make sure that I have 50% passive income. And that means only 50% of the year do I need to be working actively on client work,” or again, I’ve had several people recently say, “I want to take three months off to travel.” Whatever that looks like, you need to first know what kind of time off you want to be taking.
And that might sound really crazy to take three months off, but again, you can work towards that. So number one, shift your mindset. It is possible. Give yourself permission, and let’s look at how to make it happen. So not if we can make it happen, but how, and when.
The second thing of course is to plan. Plan ahead. Now, in terms of knowing when to take that time off, there might be things like family holidays. If you do have kids, you have half term as we call it here in England, maybe Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer holidays. There might be certain times where you really know that you have to, or want to take time off to be with your young children. So that’s one factor.
And when I was travelling with my business on the road, in a way, a few years ago, I would actually plan my travels around… my cousin got married in Colorado and there was this other thing in… Oh, in fact, another friend got married in Hungary. I just kind of plan my travels around people’s weddings as it was, but there may be events of the year that you want to plan around.
Another piece of course is the business cycle. So for a lot of businesses, the summer is, anyway, a time when things slow down. Christmas might be when it slows down.
However, it could also be that your particular business and industry actually picks up at those times. So you need to look at and understand when are the peaks and troughs in your business. If you’re in, an obvious example, fitness, personal training, nutrition, coaching, that kind of thing, then probably the beginning of the year is a really important time. Now, yes, it’s very cluttered, but that’s when people are wanting to lose weight. And it’s when they’re sort of getting back into healthy eating and exercise after boozing and so on over Christmas. So that’s probably a peak time when you don’t want to be taking time off.
So really look at, if you’ve been in business for a while, where the peaks and troughs are. And if not, then look to the industry and look to your understanding of your clients and so on when that is.
By the way, this applies to the week as well. If you’ve got clients who are parents with young kids, then probably they’re busy with their kids at the weekend. If the kids are at school during the week, then maybe that’s the time when they’re available to work with you. On the other hand, you might have clients who actually, let’s say, my clients who are perhaps some of them still in a full time job, Monday to Friday, the weekend is actually when they want to be working on the side hustle and so on. And so that could be when they want to talk to you. So looking at the cycle of the week, the months, the year for the peaks and troughs of the business, when your clients are available and when you want to take time off as well with the family.
And in terms of planning, we also need to look at the financials, right?
So funnily enough, this is something, and I did an episode on this last year about maternity leave. And it’s the exact same thing I’m realising, of course, because yes, maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave is specific to having children, but it’s the same idea, right? It means that you’re taking time off, completely off, hopefully, out of your business. And there too, we talked about potentially front-loading your business.
So let’s say, you know that you’re taking three months off later in the year. Whether it’s for parental leave or to go travelling or whatever that is, you probably need to make sure that your launches, you have the big launches earlier in the year, that you’re already front-loading, taking on a few extra clients, perhaps, and projects to make sure you’re hitting your financial goals early in the year. And of course, that means that you need to look at pricing and packaging and launch planning and so on almost excluding those three months, let’s say, that you want to take off.
So rather than dividing your total annual income target by 12 months, you’re going to divide it by just the nine months or the six months or whatever it is you want to work. So you just need to plan that financially as well.
So shift your mindset, plan, and then make it happen. And how do you do that? Well have a look at the, or listen rather, to last week’s episode on setting boundaries. Block your calendar, even if you haven’t booked it yet, and then you know to say no. The danger is if we don’t plan that out in advance, suddenly, or rather gradually over the year, you will have filled every single day, every single week. And since you haven’t booked a holiday yet, let’s say, it’s very easy for a client comes and says, “Hey, can you do this?” And you’ll say, “Oh yeah, well, I was going to go away then, but actually I haven’t planned anything yet, so,” and quickly your calendar fills up. So make it happen. Block your calendar, book the ticket, give yourself some accountability to force yourself almost to say no.
Then of course, you want to prepare and get really organised. So for me, I create a lot of content. As you can imagine, I’ve got my podcast. I’ve got Instagram, LinkedIn, et cetera, et cetera. And so I have, in fact, these episodes. I’ve been quite good at batch creating ahead of time. I have my content strategy. I’ve got my five pillars that I focus on in my content. And these last two months have been all around work-life integration. So I was able to plan the topics for those eight weeks, let’s say, record podcasts, record videos. And those are then ready ahead of time. And that’s the kind of thinking you need to put in if you’re going to be taking time off.
Other things you need to think about is using systems. So for example, social media scheduling, email marketing, tools and so on. So things can be automated while you’re gone and/or consider outsourcing, having a virtual assistant or a freelancer to help you out in terms of posting and maybe responding to clients or so, and as you’re out of the office.
And also from sort of a business relationship standpoint, you might want to nurture relationships with peers depending on the type of business you have so that you can refer clients to each other that can be mutually beneficial. So if you’re really taking a long chunk of time out and new clients approaching, you just can’t take that on. Perhaps first of all, you can ask them if they can delay, but if not, then you can recommend them to some trusted colleague who you know will do a great job knowing that they will do the same for you.
And then finally, manage expectations. You know, you need to give your clients advanced notice.
Certainly when I took maternity leave, I then told… My one-to-one clients were very much aware of that. I’d managed my group programme at the time so that had sort of… I was going to say died down. But I guess the actor component of that, at least, was no longer continuing during the months I took off. But I made it very clear, you know that this is what’s going to happen. And don’t worry, we’ll have the support from my team and I will be available to do X, Y, Z.
So set super clear expectations. Do you want to be checking emails or messages? In which case, great, fine. Let them know. There may just be a little bit of a delay. Or will you go completely offline? So you know what, digital detox, not bringing my computer, not bringing my phone… Well, that’s hard to not bring your phone, but maybe at least turn off your social media and you’re not going to be checking your work email, that’s something you need to inform them of.
So just to recap again, so shifting your mindset, giving yourself permission to take time off, planning ahead, making it happen, buying the ticket, whatever it takes, blocking that time in your diary, getting super organised and preparing ahead, and then finally managing other people’s expectations, as well as your own and your family’s, I suppose.
So that’s a little bit around planning time off when you work for yourself. Again, it can feel difficult when you’re starting out. You feel like you’re not getting paid for that time. There’s always more things on your to-do list that you want to be doing. And, you know, you worry that you’ll be losing work. But try to have that abundance mindset. Try to recognise that, you know what, clients who know you, who really want to work with you will be able to wait and worst case, there are other clients around who will be available when you’re available as well. So just make sure that you’re open to that possibility and you’re focusing on, again, the possibility of what it is you want to create rather than having that scarcity mindset of, “Oh my goodness. I have to say yes to everything.”
So next week, we’ll be looking at how to make this work a little bit more in detail from the point of view of the business model. So I’ll see you then. Bye for now.
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