How to Balance Your Hours While Self-Employed

6 min read

The self-employed may not view their day job as traditional employment. But, when looking at the hours worked, it’s not too different from the amount a regular employee spends toiling away.

The “employed” worked, on average, 7.7 hours a day in 2022, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) while the self-employed clocked in about an hour less per day (6.8 hours). That may seem like an advantage for the self-employed, but the BLS tracked the self-employed as anyone unincorporated. If you were incorporated, like in a limited liability company (LLC) or S-Corp, then you were wrapped into the full-time employee.

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Long work hours can derail a solo practice.

Rada Aslanova / Pexels

Other studies have found the self-employed work more than 40 hours a week, surpassing their employed counterparts. But they vary based on who collects the data and who they included in the data.

In essence, though, the government views you as employed when you’ve reached the point of professionalizing your business. And, often, you may feel employed when you’re working late into the night. That’s because, while many have dreams of short hours and plenty of downtime, the reality of private practice or self-employment is that you’re often working more than 40 hours a week – if you have the clients. If you don’t have the clients, then you’re working potentially far less, but you’re constantly searching for more income. Does that count as work? Maybe. Maybe not.

This creates a problematic dynamic: those with the income flow have little time to enjoy it, while those without enough income have too much time on their hands. How do you manage this when growing your private practice?

It will depend on what stage you’re in and will change as you grow.

Keep Realistic Expectations

When you’re beginning your private practice journey, much of the time you spend will center around marketing. Yes, hopefully, you have tools or presences in place that will draw in new clients. But as you begin, it’s important to remember that marketing and slow client growth is part of the process. This can result in a lot of unused hours.

One mindset reminder that I gave myself when starting my own business was to tell myself to enjoy this free time that I have now. I knew it wouldn’t last, so I tried (as much as possible) to enjoy the extra time when I had finished my marketing and other goals for the day.

For instance, I would go to a movie on a Friday afternoon because I knew once my business picked up, I wouldn’t always have such a chance. I also embraced taking on more care for my young children.

If you’re doing the things to grow your business, then it will come. But embracing the extra hours now will be key to getting you past these slower periods.

Build in Protections

As more clients begin coming through the door, it’s important to build in protections for your own well-being. This isn’t only to protect your finances, but also to protect your mental and physical health. Since self-employment can become a runaway train if you don’t manage your schedule, it’s vital to protect your financial and life goals while client growth expands.

To achieve this, begin scheduling time off just like you would if you had a job. Need a week vacation? Put in the request with your boss – you.

This, of course, brings fear to those self-employed, since if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid (typically). That’s why it’s important to build a backup fund for the time when you’re logged off the day job.

From an emergency fund perspective, it’s important to have three to six months’ worth of expenses covered in both your personal and business accounts. But you can also build in a vacation fund, which will pay you just like as if you didn’t step away for the week.

For some, formalizing this will be vital to create room to step away. For others, they will simply lean on the emergency fund to provide the opportunity for a break. Others still will work extra hard prior to the break, to avoid any difference in the monthly take.

Whatever tactic you choose to manage it, simply plan for the fact you need to step away, then have specific money designated for that purpose. This will give you the chance to truly rest.

Schedule Time for What You Need Most

As your business builds and you’re no longer only working solo but also incorporating either full-time employees or contractors, your day-to-day will also change.

If you are a counselor in private practice, instead of only seeing clients you’re now managing employees and the business. This can become a full-time job in-and-of-itself, depending on how big your organization grows.

For this stage, you need to realize that you cannot handle everything. If you need to pull back on seeing patients or clients, then you need to build time in your schedule to allow for that.

Say you shift your schedule from four days a week seeing clients to three. Meanwhile, the other two are meant to manage and grow the business. What would you evaluate? Understand what you will lose from a revenue standpoint by stepping back. How will you make up those funds? Will your other employees cover the amount? Will, instead, you hire someone new? What will you gain by doing so?

This will determine what value you will gain by stepping back. Maybe by taking one less day seeing clients, you can focus on growth tactics you have for the practice. This has value, even if it’s not yet fully clear what it provides.

Or, by reducing your client work, you can get off early twice a week to manage other family concerns. That can be far more beneficial than seeing the clients.

Whatever your experience, you need to understand what you will gain and what you will lose by taking time off. Then, from there, you can make a decision that makes sense for both your financial and mental well-being.

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