It isn't for everyone, but for those who can handle being their own boss, there's nothing quite like it. Calling the shots, having the ultimate say, setting your own hours - working by your own terms and conditions. It is a huge difference from being at the mercy of corporate policies and pre-determined benefits packages. If you can do it, do you ever have it made.
But there's a lot of things to think about when you're running your own agency. Not living the 9-5 life might sound like a sweet deal at first, but you can quickly fall prey to the beast that is being overworked. Only now there's no management to shuffle the blame and anger off to. There's just you. So how do you avoid working your fingers down to the bone and wanting to do nothing else except collapse into bed at the end of an absurdly long work day?
It's all about that work-life balance, and here's how you can figure it out.
Create boundaries for yourself
Here's something that you need to wrap your mind around to begin with: life isn't one size fits all. Maybe this sounds so simple it seems stupid, but think about how many fads get taken up and thrown back down again. Essentially, they're all proof that we really, really like the idea of a one-shot solution. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. You need to know what works best for you.
What does this look like? Well, obviously there are things that are good in general - physical activity, eating well, those kinds of things, which we'll touch on later. But what to do, how, when, and for how long are all things you need to understand and adapt for yourself.
This means that there is no ideal time to work, nap, eat or sleep that will suit absolutely everyone. So think about it. How do you do your best work? What times are you most creative or productive? Set digital “office hours”, and ensure that you are only answering those mundane questions and messages during those times. It may feel like you're being the best agency ever by answering that client's rambling 3 am email at 3:02 am. But think about the precedent you are setting. Now when they email you, they will expect an answer back within ten minutes. It won't matter what time it is or how busy you may be - and that's how you end up glued to your screen in a never-ending back-and-forth conversation, or squinting at your bright phone while in bed. Getting out of a regular 9-5 is great if that doesn't work for you. But make sure you're not trading it off for 12+ hours of daily work instead. It's easy to forget because you're not punching in and out - but that doesn't make it any less of a black hole for your time.
With that, you should keep track of the time you're spending hard at work. Yes, you should be charging by value and not by time. But if you end up working ridiculous hours, you really are spreading the compensation too thinly. This will also help you keep a schedule far better, be more punctual, and be able to meet deadlines more effectively. All while knowing when to call it a day, preserving your energy and your sanity.
Recognize the signs that you are overworked
Know when you're at your limits. And remember that it's your limits, not your absolute breaking point. This is an extension of boundaries, but it is also an analysis of your work habits. How long are you spending on tasks? Is there a better, more efficient way of doing things? A lot of this can be down to the sheer level of the tasks you're completing.
Are you working for an agency, or trying to run one? If you find yourself doing tasks that others can easily do, taking over small projects that should be completed somewhere else on the production line, or finding that you're only trusting your own work, guess what? You may actually be the problem. Can you delegate a task? Can you delegate at all? These are highly important things to recognize about yourself early on. Without this key skill, the mountain of things that you assign yourself will rapidly become insurmountable.
Are you tired? Getting sick more often? Stressed? Monitor your bad habits. We've all got them, and they tend to climb to the forefront when we're overworked, overstressed, underpaid, and underfed. Pay attention to these things. If you bite your nails, figure out if you're doing it as a stress reliever. If you are, maybe it's time to take a break. Pouring that fifth cup of coffee in the last two hours? Are you really that thirsty, or are you coping in the most jittery way possible?
Remember the basics
Here's where we all slip up: exercising, eating well, and general self-care.
Say what you will about jobs in the service industry; they keep your body moving. When you're in the world of freelance digital marketing, you will be shocked at how suddenly still you are throughout the day. Spending eight hours tirelessly working on a project may make you feel really productive, but it will get to you physically before you know it. Remember to take mini breaks to step away from the work. Make it a part of your working routine. There are plenty of guides out there about exercises you can do at work, and tips on how to help avoid things like vision problems that tend to plague people in this line of work.
As for a diet, again it's all about what works best for you. Anything that suggests a single diet or regime is drastically oversimplifying. What healthy diet suits your lifestyle and fuels your natural rhythm? Are you following it? Why not?
Overall, self-care means being self-aware. Know when you're coming up against a wall, and know why it's happening. Also know what activities you find the most relaxing, the most enjoyable, or the most rewarding. Take time to sit and read, or go have a meal with friends, or go out on a date night with whomever you like to go on date nights with, take a day off and go antiquing. Go out or stay in, just do what helps you detox. Don't pretend that the thing you just read in the new book or blog about unbridled success is definitely going to work for you. You know yourself better than anyone else, so treat yourself right.
A proper work-life balance doesn't necessarily mean lavish monthly vacations and a vivacious, never-ending social life. You can operate on whatever scale you need. Just figure out what you need to successfully operate. If you're not taking care of yourself, you're not taking care of your agency. The cracks will show faster than you think. So be smart, and know when to work and when to set the phone to silent and enjoy some Netflix. If you're working hard enough, you've already earned it.