How to Balance Work, Finances and Free-Time When You’re Self-Employed

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Just over a year ago, on January 1, 2014, I became self-employed. For over three years before that I was doing what is commonly referred to as the “side-hustle” which basically meant I came home from my day job as a university instructor, took my dog out, and then sat down to do a few more hours of work.

It was an extremely hectic and challenging time balancing both my day job and my online entrepreneurial pursuits, but before I knew it, my side hustle starting bringing in serious income. I started tracking this extra income, since money management is probably the most important skill any self-employed entrepreneur can have. Then, one day, in July of 2013, it surpassed my day job income, and I started to formulate a plan to work only for myself.

In my 15 months of being self-employed, I’ve had incredible months where I made more money than I ever thought possible. However, I also had one harrowing month when a technical glitch caused my income to plummet into the negative while I was the middle of a cross-country move with 6-week-old twins in the back seat. This is why it’s so important to take control of your finances and be extremely aware of your cash flow. (Luckily, Personal Capital has a great tool for that!)

To say it’s a challenge to be self-employed is an understatement, and every self-employed entrepreneur has those moments when the idea of a steady paycheck sounds downright heavenly. Of course, we always eventually find our way back to what motivated us to become self-employed to begin with, but if you want to build a support network, here are three great ways to go.

Connect With Other Self-Employed People

A recent study by a company called Economic Modeling Specialists Intl wrote about the characteristics of the self-employed. Interestingly enough, there are nearly 10.6 million self-employed jobs in the United States, and this study specifically profiled those who were fully self-employed versus having a part time side hustle. Additionally, the study showed that over 30% of those who are self-employed in the States are over the age of 55.

Below you can see a chart that shows the age breakdown among those who consider themselves self-employed. The ages range from 14 years old all the way to 55 and over.

self-employed_1

The study also researched the percentage of self-employment people in each state, which is shown in the chart below the age breakdown chart.

self-employed_states

What this evidence reveals is that regardless of your age, your place in life, or your location, you will be able to reach out and find someone else who is self-employed and utilize them as a sounding board and support system.

For example, if you are a housekeeper, meet regularly with other housekeepers in the area. Discuss wages, jobs, challenges, and triumphs. Find out where more experienced people save their money for retirement or even better teach them about using tools like Personal Capital to get an overall view of their net worth.

I personally interact with other financial writers every single day, and because of the nature of our work, I frequently talk to them about budgeting, finding out about hidden fees, and anything that might impede my ability to work and eventually retire. Usually conversations like this can easily pull me out of my slump because they remind me why I’m self-employed and that even though there are challenges, they can easily be overcome.

Thus, when you’re self-employed, you can’t view other individuals in your industry as competition. Instead, view them as your co-workers, people who you rely on for support when things aren’t going well. I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve confided in another blogger or asked for advice when things got tough. If you have trouble finding other like-minded individuals, visit your local chamber of commerce or look for some meet up groups in your profession. You’ll be glad that you did, especially if you are in the middle of a slump.

Acknowledge and Rectify Burn Out

The symptoms of burn out have been studied extensively over the past few years. They include things like becoming unmotivated with your work almost to the point of feeling cynical towards your work and not wanting to wake up in the morning. You tend to procrastinate a lot and start to care less about meeting expectations.

Most importantly, burn out is extremely common among those who are self-employed. Because we do not operate under traditional 9-5 norms, many of us who are self-employed work longer than typical 8-hour days, often putting in late nights and weekend hours to ensure things are running smoothly.

I know that I personally worked 7 days a week for well over a year, and I was so focused on bringing in an income for my family that I didn’t even notice it. It wasn’t until I started dreading Saturdays when everyone else in the world relished them that I realized I was completely overworked, and I had no one to blame but myself. Sometimes, when you are self-employed, you get so caught up in earning an income, making certain financial goals, tracking your expenses, and growing your net worth that you completely forget that you became self-employed to regain a bit of freedom and control over your life.

So, the first step to rectifying burn out is to acknowledge that you have it. This isn’t anything shameful and it’s incredibly common. You can find out by answering a short 45-question assessment on Psychology Today. Additionally when trying to assess whether or not you are truly burned out, consider all factors. Recent studies have shown that supportive spouses are just as important as supportive bosses. Plus, your work life will typically affect your home life and vice versa, so when trying to identify burnout causes, think beyond your work stresses and make sure that you’ve correctly identified the source (or sources) of your stress.

In order to rectify burnout, you might have to reduce your workload, change the projects your working on, or try something completely new. I personally rectified mine by taking yoga regularly and focusing on creating something just for me as opposed to only creating things for clients.

Outsource the Tasks You Hate

Many entrepreneurs suffer because we want to handle every aspect of our business ourselves. While I think it’s very important to understand and be involved in all aspects of your business, I also am a firm believer that someone who is self-employed should only do the job you set out to do.

For example, I am self-employed as a blogger. While I have garnered extensive knowledge about the technical side of website building, I still hire out many jobs that I cannot do myself. Sure, I could Google and try to find out how to fix a certain piece of code, and I have done that in the past. Now, I realize my time is more valuable than that. It’s much better to pay someone who can fix things quickly which allows me time to focus on what I actually enjoy doing.

In fact, many people recommend drawing up an organizational chart like the one below, so that everyone understands the structure of your business whether it is big or small.

coo

If you currently have no help, it might be wise to sit down and write out all of the tasks that are required to run your business successfully. So, you might have a box for accounting, marketing, shipping, customer service, etc. Because my business is so tiny, I would just have three boxes, one for my virtual assistant, one for my technical assistant, and one for me. However, any time I bring someone new on to the team, it would be helpful to show them the chart so that they understand how everyone works together. And, as I mentioned Personal Capital is great for viewing all of your accounts so you can see your debt, cash flow, expenses, and net worth all in one place. So, when you add this in with writing out the tasks I mentioned above, I promise you will feel so organized. I don’t have to spend time looking at multiple sites and logging on to tons of accounts to get a quick look at where I am financially because of Personal Capital. Usually I can take a look at it and then feel confidant knowing my business is going in the right direction. This reduces stress, which can also help ease those feelings of burnout.

While many people have different views on outsourcing tasks, I know one of the biggest mistakes I made in the beginning of my self-employed career was not outsourcing enough. I waited until I was completely overwhelmed and had hundreds of unanswered e-mails to ask for help. Now, I couldn’t go a day without speaking to my virtual assistant, and her help has drastically reduced much of the stress I experienced previously in my work. If you feel similarly or feel completely burned out by all of your tasks, slowly but surely start seeking out some help. You’ll be so glad that you did.

Ultimately, if you are able to focus on these three goals – connecting with other self-employed individuals, acknowledging and rectifying burnout, and outsourcing tasks – you will be well on your way to getting back on track during a self-employment slump. Just remember that falling into a slump or feeling unmotivated happens to even the most season self-employed professionals. What’s important is that you don’t lag for too long and get back in the game as quickly as possible.

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Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer who contributes to several online publications including The Huffington Post, top personal finance blogs, and her own site, BudgetBlonde.com. She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not reading and writing, she is taking care of her young twins. Follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde.

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